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.

Monday, September 14, 2020

I HAVE NOW BEEN A PART OF TWO FOOTBALL MASS DEATH EVENTS. 15 APRIL 1989 AND 11 MARCH 2020. THE FIRST PLAYED OUT IN FRONT OF MY EYES. THE SECOND WAS INVISIBLE.

 




Over the last few months I have been struggling with an inexplicable fatigue. Some days I hit 80%. Other days I barely make it up to 20%. These are the days where life is a serious grind. An hour feels like half a day. Everything seems like it it is twice as heavy as it actually is. My brain can feel like a bucket of treacle.


Why? No idea. Maybe my ageing grey matter is overloaded. Maybe. Maybe my long term insomnia is starting to catch up. Maybe all the miles on the clock are kicking in.


Stress? I guess the recent times have been somewhat trying. Battling to come up with the wherewithal to feed 2500 people a month here in Scotland and a thousand people down in Uganda hasn't been much of a picnic. But has it seriously stressed me out? I don't think so. I have known much worse stress over the years and never felt so completely washed out.


Maybe it is just the unrelenting gloom of the times. The gnawing sense of something terrible waiting in the winter wings. Images of a post hard Brexit of empty shelves and riot police manning the doors of Tesco. Pitching up at the foodbank to find a Texas style mile long queue of the newly desperate. Two days worth of hungry with crying kids waiting back in unheated homes. Assuming a food bank can come up with a bread and fishes on the banks of the Sea of Gallilee class of miracle. Not ready to accept the reality of an empty basement and a bad news sign on the door.


Maybe.


We live in the days of Covid. Mainstream news and online news and rumour and hearsay. A world where the wild world of Facebook elbows its way into what was once the normal world.


The world of half whispered testimonies to a thing which is as often as not called Long Covid. A world of chronic and endless headaches. Depression as deep as the Pacific Ocean. Nausea and a complete loss of appetite.


And fatigue.


Chronic, endless fatigue. Marathon runners who can no longer manage to jog half a mile. Writers who can barely complete a sentence. An all encompassing, bottomless tiredness which goes on for weeks and then months and maybe forever.


Well. My fatigue isn't that fatigue. Not even close. So surely a brush with Covid isn't a place where an answer might be found.


But then there is the 'glancing blow' theory. Have you come across it? It seems to go something like this. Basically the harshness of the Covid dose you receive all depends on how much of a viral load you get hit with. If you spend a prolonged amount of close up time with someone who is breathing virus in your face, then you get the full dose experience. Days of being sick and thinking you're on the way out. And then maybe you actually make your way out. Or maybe you get through the worst only to be besieged with the full on nightmare of 'Long Covid'.


Alternatively, you might get hit with a glancing blow. A brief encounter with a carrier. A couple of breaths. Enough for a mere viral toe hold. You feel a bit rough and then you are fine. Well. More or less. The Long Covid isn't in your face. Instead it is somewhere in the background. Making life that little bit harder. But not unmanageable.


Could it be?


Maybe. But to catch a glancing blow of Covid, you need to be in the wrong place at the the wrong time. I have been here in Dumfries and Galloway where at the time of writing we have barely had 300 cases since lockdown. And all through the pandemic I have adopted the two metre radar. Could I have received a glancing blow? The odds against are off the scale.


Which basically takes me back to the evening of March 11. A few days away from the last gasp of the old normal. The evening news was filled with images of the nightmare that was Lombardy. Were we next? And what should we do to avoid becoming the next Bergamo?


On the night of March 11, I drove 170 miles south. To Liverpool. To Anfield. To Liverpool v Athletico Madrid. One nil down from the first leg. One of those legendary Anfield nights was all ready to be unleashed.


It was cold, but not freezing. A slight mist dropped visibility down. The expected roaring atmosphere wasn't quite there. Nearly. But not quite. Maybe there was a thing in the back of our minds. A troubling fact. You see, every other match being played across Europe that night was being played behind closed doors.


But not our match. Our match had received the green light. Did it cross my mind not to go? Be serious. A Champions League quarter final isn't a thing you don't go to. There wasn't a single empty seat. Not a one. Does that make us all stupid people who deserved all we got? Maybe it does. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.


A week later saw the end of the old normal as the lockdown was snapped into place. And soon the nightly news carried graphic images of the growing nightmare of Spain.


Of Madrid.


Of the home city of the 3000 Athletico fans who had bayed out their joy on that cold misty, Anfield night as their team ripped the European Cup from our grasp.


They had been singing in the street. Beaming. Close to dancing.


The dreaded guidance said ten days was how long it took for Covid to raise its ugly head. So I counted down the days and maybe I felt a bit under the weather, but it I was pretty sure it was just a cold.


And then it was all about the new normal and shipping out enough food to feed 2500 people a month in Scotland and 1000 people in Uganda.


By May, questions were starting to be asked. Had the Anfield game been a 'super spreader' event? People did their best to dig up the truth, but it was anything but easy. The University in Liverpool was tentatively sure over seventy of the city's Covid deaths could be tied to the game. But what about deaths in Madrid? And what about deaths everywhere else?


Impossible to say. If there were 70 deaths in the city, there would almost certainly have been the same again elsewhere. So was it 140? Or 280? We will never know.


What seems pretty certain is that the number of people killed by going to Anfield on that misty night in March was more than 96.


Oh yes. More than 96.


More than the number of people who died on a sunny April afternoon way back in 1989.


In South Yorkshire. In Sheffield. In a football stadium called Hillsborough.


At an FA Cup semi final.


At my very first football mass death event.


I guess some compare and contrast is in order.


Similarities? There are one or two I suppose. 

Neither game should have happened. The stadium at Hillsborough had not been granted a safety certificate because the whole crumbling shed was patently unsafe. The rules were clear enough. The FA was not allowed to stage an FA Cup Semi Final in a stadium which lacked a safety certificate. Not exactly rocket science. But things didn't turn out that way.


The Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday was also on the FA committee tasked with allocating the Semi Final. Sheffield Wednesday were pretty much flat broke so the Chairman pulled a string or two and blind eyes were duly turned.


By 11 March 2020, it was already clear stuffing tens of thousands of people into a football stadium was a pretty dodgy thing to do as the Covid virus was starting to march across Europe. Every other government recognised this and ordered games to be played out behind closed doors.


Our government took a different view. They were still very much 'herd immunity' curious. So they gave the game the nod. And once again a bunch of people paid with their lives.


Any other similarities? I guess there is one. Before the disaster of 1989, I had attended two previous FA Cup Semi Finals at Hillsborough. One against Arsenal in 1980 and one against Nottingham Forest a year earlier in 1988. On both occasions my ticket put me in the Lepping Lane cages. On both occasions it was an utter nightmare. On both occasions something very, very bad could easily have happened. These two previous experiences saved my life on 15 April 1989. Course knowledge prompted me to take a step back at the moment thousands of my fellow fans poured into what was to become a tunnel of death.


But there is another point I really should admit to. I knew the Leppings Lane End was potentially lethal. I knew it was a catastrophe waiting to happen. And yet I went anyway. For the third time. And it wasn't like I was some naive kid. I was twenty nine years old and I went anyway. Just like 50,000 others. Just like the 96 who never made it home.


In March this year I was well enough aware of what was going down in Lombardy. The nightmare of Bergamo was front and centre in the news. And I was fully aware of the fact that our game was the only game in Europe which was to be played in a packed stadium.


I went anyway. 53,000 of us went anyway. 3000 flew in from Madrid and went anyway.


Contrasts? Visibility is everything. In 1989 I stood and watched 96 corpses yanked clear of the death cages. The nightmare played out right in front of my eyes. And straight away the reason for the catastrophe was clear to every one of us who was there. An appalling, over aggressive police force. Cages which became death traps in the blink of an eye. Human beings being treated worse than cattle because football fans were deemed to be the scum of the earth. Enemies within.


The Government of the day created the preconditions which cost those 96 lives. During the Miners Strike, the South Yorkshire police wer encouraged to morph themselves into a quasi para military force who believed they were well and truly above the law. Throughout the 80's, the Thatcher regime saw Liverpudlians as dangerous subversives who should at all times be dealt with harshly. And most crucially, the Thatcher regime had dehumanised football fans to such an extent it was deemed OK for us to be crammed into death trap cages.


On March 11, I didn't see anyone die. The stadium was its usual magnificent self. The police were efficient and low key. There were no preconditions to hundreds of people losing their lives as a consequence of attending a football match.


The deaths were down to a single wrong decision. A miscalculation. A mistake, but it seems to have been an honest mistake. And of course hindsight is a wonderful thing.


After 15 April 1989, I was proud to play a small part in our 30 year fight for eventual justice. Will I be doing the same in the wake of 11 March 2020? No. We all make mistakes. I drove down to Liverpool with my eyes wide open. I don't think I considered missing the match for a single second. In many ways, we football fans are a bit like lemmings. There were ten year's worth of warnings in the run up to the Hillsborough disaster and the Thatcher regime chose to ignore each and every one of them. This time there were barely any warnings. Covid was a 'Johnny come lately' threat and it took all of us a while to get our heads round how we should avoid it.


So I won't be kicking off this time. Instead I will have to accept the consequence of being a football lemming. Hillsborough left me with thirty years worth of a very mild PTSD. It also irrevocably broke any last modicum of faith I had in the British State. Six years after staring down at the corpses laid out on the green grass, I emigrated and signed on the dotted line to become a New Scot.


I guess these strange bouts of chronic fatigue will be my legacy of 11 March 2020.


So be it. When all is said and done, I am still living and breathing.


Hundreds of of my fellow fans are not.

Monday, August 17, 2020

THESE PHOTOS ARRIVED WITH ME LAST WEEK AND QUITE FRANKLY THEY KICKED ME IN THE TEETH

 

Over the last few months I have been doing my level best to deal with two food emergency. One has been right here in South West Scotland. The First Base Food Bank foodbank has issued over 11,000 emergency food parcels.

And if we hadn't? If there had been no First Base? Would anyone have actually starved? Almost certainly not. Thankfully. Our Welfare State safety net has been pretty much shredded over the last ten years. But not THAT shredded. Not completely shredded. From time time people actually DO starve to death in Austerity Britain. But it is very, very rare and usually down to chronic mental health problems and isolation rather than a lack of emergency help.

The ten thousand or so citizens of Dumfries and Galloway we have helped out genuinely needed the help. Absolutely they did. And without our help, their lives would have been much more difficult. But would anyone have actually died? No. I don't think anyone would have actually died.

My second food crisis is rather more severe. 200 families in South West Uganda were flooded out of their homes and land and left with no choice but to live under makeshift shelters. One of the young volunteers of our Ugandan charity, the Kupata Project, took on the task of trying to make sure they didn't starve.

We said we would do our best to help him. Of course we did. How could we not? We went online to ask the people of Scotland for help and the people of Scotland came through with flying colours.

Of course they did.

For the last three months our young volunteers have turned up at the two refugee camps once a week to distribute enough food to keep the bodies and souls of the 1000 flood refugees together.

They don't get food parcels like the ones we issue here in Dumfries and Galloway. They don't get pies and bread and eggs and milk and Scotch Broth and biscuits and pasta and baked beans and cereal. Instead they get Cassava meal and Maize meal. 

Do they get enough food to feel full?

No.

Do they get enough food to stay alive?

Yes.

1000 adults and children have been given food over the last three months thanks to the kindness of the people of Scotland and not one person has died.

Would somebody have died if the people of Scotland has said turned their backs?

Probably. Almost certainly.

A sobering thought, right?

Over the last three months First Base has received two 'thank you' cards for the help we have given. Which is completely and absolutely fine. We don't do what we do for a pat on a the back. And of course lots and lots of people have said thanks when we have delivered the food.

So why mention it?

I'll tell you why. Because these pictures arrived with me last week and basically kicked me in the teeth.

The women in the two camps wanted to do something to say thank you to all the people here in Scotland who made sure their children had something to eat. 

So what does a person who has absolutely nothing do to say to thank you to someone who has riches beyond their wildest dreams?

They make stuff. They use their hands. They deploy skills handed down through the generations.

The teeth kicking photos show the crafts the women in the camps have made as their way of saying thank you. 

One way or another we will get their gifts back to Scotland, though it might take a while. And then we will do our best to give them out to the people who donated the funds.

'Humbled' can be an over used word. But, yeah. I feel humbled. 

Completely humbled.

As I write this blog, we have the cash to feed the families for another four weeks. Hopefully it will be long enough for them to find a solution to their nightmare. If you want to help us to extend this period, you can donate to the Kupata Project be following the link below.

THE KUPATA PROJECT ONLINE FUNDRAISING PAGE

Here are the photos which basically kicked me in the teeth.










Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A VAST VOLUNTEER ARMY HAS GATHERED ACROSS SCOTLAND TO MEET THE COVID 19 CRISIS. WHAT IT HAS ACHIEVED HAS BEEN REMARKABLE. IT IS A HUGE SOCIAL ASSET THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT REALLY MUST KEEP ALIVE.


23 March 2020 is a date which I don't suppose I will ever forget. It is locked in the brain. A moment fixed in time. I have been thinking about it quite a lot over the last few days as I have been driving around the wet fields and hills of Dumfries and Galloway.

The day everything changed. The day everything came tumbling down. The day the old world was suddenly done and dusted.

The day when it seemed like the First Base foodbank was well and truly stuffed.

For 17 years we had carefully built up a network which was capable of providing 600 people a month across our region with something to eat when they found themselves unable to go to the shops to buy anything. On a few occasions over the years things had gotten pretty precarious, mainly when our bank account started to have a Venezuelan look about it. One way or another, we always found a way through.

But this time ..... ?

This time it seemed we had arrived at a bridge too far. Everything had collapsed over the course of a couple of days.

To issue 600 food parcels a month you need quite a lot of food. I know. Duh.

Almost all of our food came from two sources. Donations from the public, mainly churches, and purchases from the supermarkets. On 23 March both of these options were as dead as Dodos. The public were locked behind closed doors and the supermarkets were rationing. Three tins of beans is not a lot of use when you are accustomed to having 150 tins a week delivered.

Two thirds of our parcels were collected from a wide variety of locations dotted across the region – libraries, offices, fellow charities. And now? Now they were all closed for the duration.

This was one half of the nightmare. The other half seemed even more impossible and daunting. For it was blindingly obvious demand for our service was about to completely explode. We thought it would probably double. As things turned out, it has quadrupled.

23 March seemed like a perfect storm. One option was to close the doors and accept the impossibility of the situation. Lots of front line charities did exactly that.

This wasn't a decision which detained us for very long. A vast food crisis was days away and one way or another we were going to do our best to meet it.

At this moment of absolute crisis, two very important things happened. Game changing things.

Up in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government committed a huge chunk of cash to the front lines of the coming social crisis.

I digested this and called up Rob Davidson, the deputy leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Was the cash real? Yes, the cash was real. The Government had been crystal clear in its instructions to Scotland's local authorities. Get the money to where it is needed. Do it fast. Screw the bureaucracy. No fifty page forms. No complicated service level agreements. Just get the money where it needs to go and get it there fast.

So how fast will fast be?

No idea Mark, but we're going to bust a gut. So Rob, here's the big question, if we use up all our reserves in chasing this thing will you guys have our back?

Yes. Completely. Do everything you need to do and the money will be with you soon enough. You have our word on that.

Old school. A solid relationship between a front line charity and a local authority built up over many years. A solid relationship between a foodbank manager and an elected Councilor built up over many years. 

As in mutual trust. A promise made and a promise trusted.

So we got cracking and re-invented the First Base wheel. We bought freezers as if they were going out of fashion. We hired a big van. We hunted out local food manufacturers and wholesalers who could guarantee supplies. Pies and eggs and bread rolls and biscuits and milk and bags of spuds. We signed up a team of volunteers at Summerhill Community Centre to knock us up thousands portions of Scotch Broth and Pasta sauce.

Could we have done all this without the nailed on promise of financial support from Edinburgh? Not really. Not sensibly. It would have been crazy to blow through every penny we had to our name in a frantic attempt to keep up with the crisis. First Base will still be needed in 2021. And 2022. And 2023.

So. We had food supplies. Now we had to find a way to get them to the mouths which needed feeding. Nobody was about to collect. Everyone was locked behind closed doors and terrified of the invisible plague stalking the land. Instead we would have to deliver. 

Our existing satellite points were all closed for the duration. We needed new distribution points and we needed them in a hurry.

Within a week we had seven. Each had the use of a public building and a bunch of volunteers willing to do what was needed. Each and every one was a classic example of something happening from the bottom up. Our role soon became crystal clear. It was on us to source reliable supplies of food and to get them to the distribution points. Once there, the food would be parceled up and delivered to anyone who needed it. 

It soon became clear these new operations were going to be about much more than food. They started picking up and dropping off prescriptions. They went street by street to make sure the vulnerable were not forgotten. They called people up on the phone to make sure they were OK. Not deserted. Not left hanging.

The speed with which all of this came together was truly amazing. Heart warming. Inspiring.

And within a week the whole of Dumfries and Galloway was covered. Every square mile of our vast rural region was catered for. A huge volunteer army self mobilised over the course of a few March days in the midst of the country's greatest crisis in seventy years. And they said there was no such thing as society. Well. Not they. She. But let's not go there.

A couple of weeks later the money from Edinbugh did indeed arrive. Each and every one of the new hubs was given money to do what they were doing. Nobody told them what to do. Nobody claimed to know better than them. Nobody tried to impose demands and strings. Instead the money was used to oil the wheels.

Well 23 March is now a long time ago. First Base Base has managed to provide food enough to fill 10,000 emergency food parcels. And nobody has gone hungry in Dumfries and Galloway. Nobody has been left behind. Nobody has become colatoral damage.

The seemingly impossible has been achieved. The volunteer army has come through with flying colours.

I have no doubt the story of Dumfries and Galloway is the story of the whole of Scotland. In just a few months the country has added a whole new layer to the Welfare State. A new line in the sand. A new volunteer army which has proved itself in the midst of a nightmare.

In short, we suddenly have a priceless new asset. A social asset. An asset we will need for many months and years to come as the fallout from the crisis hits home.

When so many people have been involved in this social miracle, it seems almost wrong to put a focus on a single project. However the best way to show how something big is working is more often than not to focus on something small. Bite sized.

Like the town of Moffat and the wonderful Jane.

Moffat is a small, very Scottish town nestled in under round hills and just far enough away from the M74 to avoid the shake of the wagons. The high street is home to crafts and cakes. Tourists buy postcards. Poverty isn't much of a feature.

Our food parcels have been available to the good folk of Moffat for years and most of the time the good folk of Moffat haven't had much need of them. Ten parcels per month was about as busy as it ever got. Keeping up with Moffat demand wasn't overly taxing.

On 23 March, the local library closed down and we needed an alternative. Angela from our Management Committee came up with a freezer and organised us a berth in a church. A couple of volunteers made contact. It was bare bones, but hopefully it would be enough.

Then the phone rang and Jane's voice exploded from the earpiece. Does a mobile phone actually have an earpiece? Whatever. You know what I mean.

Jane is one of those force of nature people. She's all constant energy and enthusiasm. She told me she was from the Moffat Town Hall Development Trust and they were determined to step up and do their bit. We arranged to meet up and by the time I arrived the place was full of volunteers and local food donations had poured in. Her attitude to the crisis was pretty straight forward. We haven't done emergency food before but we will learn how to do it soon enough. 

And so they did. Within a month they were delivering a hundred emergency food parcels a week to a wide area around the town. Most of the people they are helping are families where the main bread winner has been furloughed. In the old normal, these were the working families who by hook or by crook just about made the incomings meet the outgoings. A 20% pay cut quickly forced their heads beneath the waterline. All of a sudden genuine poverty was a problem in and around Moffat. Well, thanks to Jane and her team nobody has had to go to bed hungry.

Lots of people have been involved in making all this possible and not a single one of them is being paid a penny. In all of its long history, the Town Hall can never have been more of a beating heart for its community.

But now Jane is having to look at a bunch of 'what next?' questions. She wants to keep on with the emergency food work, but it is complicated. Normally the Development Trust relies on booking out the main hall for much of its income. Right now the main hall looks like an emergency relief centre. The first tranche of Government funding has enabled them to step up to the plate. Now we are at the moment of 'what next?'. Will the Government up in Edinburgh keep on with the funding or will the well run dry?

You can do a lot with boundless enthusiasm, but there is a limit even Jane's upbeat energy can't overcome.

All of which means we have reached something of a moment. All over Scotland, hundreds and hundreds of Janes have built something amazing. Almost awe inspiring. We have an extraordinary social asset all ready and raring to help with the dark days to come. Thousands and thousands of huge hearted people who have done something quite remarkable in the midst of the biggest crisis Scotland has faced in years.

It is a social asset which is almost priceless. However it is a social asset which lacks a lobbying voice in the corridors of power. Which of course explains my motives for writing this. I don't suppose too many people will read these words. But I will do my damndest to get our local MSP's to give it a once over and to press for the high heid yins to carry on providing enough support to keep things going. And come on guys, think about it. When it comes to bang for the public buck, you'll never get better value. The new volunteer army goes without pay and not many armies are willing to do that.

And I suppose I have to face up to the fact Jane will also probably read these words and she's going to have my guts for garters the next time I show up in my van! 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

MR FRANKLAND, YOU ARE CHARGED WITH RECEIVING SUPPORT FROM RUSSIAN TROLL FARMS. HOW DO YOU PLEAD. GUILTY YOUR HONOUR....



I was in Tesco yesterday to collect our weekly order of their own brand Corn Flakes. Yeah, I know. I lead a truly glamourous life. To kill some time, I skip read the front pages of the newspaper stand. Shock and outrage jumped out at me from the front page of the Telegraph. I cannot recall the exact words, but the gist was clear enough.

Russians tried to interfere in the Scottish Referendum!!!

POW!! ZAP!! GOTCHA!!

Here was yet more damning evidence of the near bottomless wickedness of Scot Nats like me. Let's face it. We're borderline evil people who are more than happy to collude with Vladimir Putin and his shadowy forces. To a man and woman, we are people who crossed over to the dark side six years ago. We are the new 'Enemy Within' who are more than happy to collude with a hostile foreign power to disrupt and destroy.

It's a hell of an accusation. So how do I plead..... ?

Well, here's the thing. I actually made my confession several years ago. 

Guilty as charged, your honour. 

I have been in bed with the dark forces of Putin's Russia for six years now. I didn't actually ask them to share my bed. They just yanked the duvet back and clambered on in. I had no choice in the matter.

So why don't I throw them out? Really? Are you being serious here? Have you ever tried to chuck a Russian bear from your bed?

So how did this traitorous behaviour come about? How did an upstanding food bank manager in a small sleepy Scottish town hook up with shadowy forces from the East?

I don't suppose going to Cambridge University can have helped much! The lads from Moscow have always had a high degree of success in drawing Cambridge types like me into their evil plots.

So did I get a knock on the door from a guy in a really bad suit as I nursed a hangover way back in 81? Not that I can remember. Was I granted an all expenses paid trip to a world youth event in Leipzig? Nope. My memory isn't so clever these days, but I am pretty sure the KGB never recruited me. But there again, I suppose they could have dosed me with some fiendish drug and wiped my memory bank clean of signing on the dotted line to become a Cold War warrior for the Komitat Gosudarstrenoi Bezopasnosti. See. I know what the letters KGB stand for without recourse to Google. A bad, bad sign. Not that I will have spelt it right.

So when did it happen? How did it happen?

I think I know the answer. How a food bank manager from a small, sleepy Scottish town can become embroiled in Vladimir Putin's worldwide web of wickedness.

I started writing a blog. This blog. And for a couple of years, nobody much read it. A hundred hits was a big deal. Then in early 2014 I penned a piece explaining why I would be voting 'Yes' in September 2014.

All of a sudden I seemed to have new friends. Lots and lots of new friends and almost all of them were from Russia. These were canny friends. If one of my blogs was receiving thousands of reads from within the UK, my new Russian friends were nowhere to be seen. But if a couple of weeks passed with no new blogs posted, my pals from the East would suddenly appear in their droves providing hundreds and hundreds of visits to make sure my page wasn't forgotten by the search engines.

These new friends of mine were not of the fair weather variety. Anything but. Fickle friends might have deserted me the very day our Independence dream crashed and burned in the early hours of September 15.

Well not these friends. These friends are in it for the long haul. They are still very much with me after all these years. Last week I posted nothing onto this page. And yet I still attracted over a thousand visits. So who came a calling? Well 662 of my guests made a long trip trip though cyber space all the way from Turkmenistan to Scotland.

It is hard to find too many reasons for my blogs being so popular among the good folk of Turkmenistan. I have never been to Turkmenistan. I have never met anyone from Turkmenistan. I couldn't name the capital of Turkmenistan.

My new Turkmanistani pals showed up in the statistics at the very time my old pals from Russia suddenly disappeared. Maybe they are the same pals? Maybe relocating to the steppes of Turkmenistan is all part of a fiendishly cunning FSB plan to cover their tracks?

No wonder the patriots at the Daily Telegraph are so morally outraged. This is true Tower of London stuff. Scottish traitors like me deserve to be hung, drawn and quartered. Putin puppets to a man and woman.

Maybe it is time to get to point.

You see, nobody seems to be asking why on earth someone in an FSB funded troll farm in a warehouse on the outskirts of St Petersburg would want to support an independence supporting blog written by a two bit nobody like me.

I mean seriously, why?

Where is their angle? What is the point?

It isn't so very hard to work out when you take a step back and give it a moment's thought. Let's do this step by step.

What is one of the big differences which will soon become apparent in the weeks and months following Scottish Independence?

Come on, you know the answer if you think hard enough.

Yeah. That's right. No more submarine base at Faslane. No more nukes in an independent Scotland. And in 2014 it became abundantly clear there wasn't a town in England willing to accept a Faslane 2.0. No chance. Glasgow being wiped from the surface of the earth is one thing. But Portsmouth...... Well. That's another thing altogther. Lots of good chaps have second homes in that neck of the woods.

Right now Faslane is home to 72 Trident missiles. I guess about half of them are locked and loaded at any given time.

Let's say 36. And where are they pointed? Cities in Russia. How many Russian civilians could each warhead kill? Let's say half a million. So the maths are a tad daunting when looked at through Russian eyes. Our pesky little island is capable of wiping out 18 million Russian within half an hour of our Prime Minister choosing 'the press the button' option.

Not great if you live in Moscow. So it's no wonder they like the idea of a nuke free Independent Scotland. Do you blame them? I don't.

But this isn't really the thing. I mean, is this really cricket? Or is it all a bit wicked and underhand? Typical Johnny Foreigner stuff. Not playing up and playing the game as it should be played. With decency and honour. Good chaps would never stoop so low.

Surely not? I mean we are British when all is said and done. Aren't we?

Ahhhhh.

Well, maybe it isn't quite so black and white. Back in the days when I nursed my hangovers and waited on a knock on the door from a guy in a bad suit and a gangster hat, the Warsaw Pact had tens of thousands of tanks lined up along the Iron Curtain. Locked and loaded and ready to roll west at a moment's notice. The Red Peril. We were told they could be in Calais in three days and there wasn't a thing the British Army on the Rhine could do about it. Had the Red Army ever started to roll our way,  we would have had two options – go nuclear or lose.

Not great. And we didn't like it any more than the Russians like having those thirty six Tridents pointing at them right now.

So what did we do? Well the most effective thing we did was to quietly fund and support dissident groups in the countries living under the firm smack of Moscow rule. In Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Romania. We did it quietly and patiently. We played the long game. We tugged at loose threads. We pricked and nudged and harried. And slowly but surely, it started to work. Solidarity happened in Gdansk. And as we moved through the 80's, the cracks in the concrete walls of Lenin's Empire started to get ever wider.

And then 1989 happened and the whole house of cards came down.

It is a memory which apparently haunts Vladimir Putin to this day. He was there in person as the people of East Germany took to the streets to throw off the Soviet yoke. His Soviet yoke.

Within a few short months all those tens of thousands of tanks were pulled back. Returned to their bases in Russia.

Supporting all of those dissident groups in Poland and East Germany and Hungary and Czechoslovakia turned out to be a mighty fine investment. A job well done.

No arguments from me on that front. And I guess the people of Russia will feel much the same on the day when the last of Faslane's Trident missiles is loaded up onto a wagon and driven away down the M74 to England and redundancy.

So do I feel bad about my blog being supported by Russian troll farms? Nope. In the 80's we did all we could to support the likes of Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel in their efforts to free their people from the suffocation of Moscow Rule. It was the right thing to do. We did it to take away the threat of all those thousands of tanks.

If the endgame my Russian pals have in mind is a Scotland free of nukes, then it is fine by me. More than fine. Are they doing anything we didn't do? Of course not.

Not that those wonderful patriots at the Daily Telegraph are about to see it that way any time soon.

Monday, July 6, 2020

THE VIEW FROM THE BORDER? INDEPENDENCE IS COMING AND IT IS COMING SOON.




Borders never lie. Instead they reveal inescapable truths.

On one side of a border you have one reality. Then you travel a couple of hundred yards and lo and behold, you find a completely different reality.

Am I being a bit obscure? Probably. Here are a few examples from my own scrapbook.

Early 80's. Snow everywhere. A sub zero Christmas card worthy world. The last town in what was then very much West Germany. Me and a couple of pals in my venerable VW Beetle gliding down a well gritted road of perfect tarmac. Shiny new houses built with no expense spared: German style.

A new Mercedes in every driveway: German style.

It was a million miles from the festering decay of Thatcher's Britain. The last town of the Western World. Reagan's world. Thatcher's world. My world.

The road brought us to the top of a shallow valley. How wide? Not so wide. Maybe 300 hundred yards. And in the crystal clear winter light, we could see the first town of the German Democratic Republic on the other side. A line of low rise concrete blocks looking like a set of stumpy teeth.

The invisible Iron Curtain ran along the bottom of the valley. What was very much visible was the razor fencing. The watch towers. The killing zone.

We glided down the smooth tarmac to the last outpost of our world where wryly smiling West German border guards waved us on our way.

Through the fence. Through no man's land. To the barrier where the hard faced East German guards waited. Park here. Get out. Passport. Bags out. Open them. And following advice from a mate, I had left a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label in clear view at the top of my rubbish packing. A glance. A shrug. And the bottle duly disappeared.

An angry thump of print into my passport.

Did anyone say "Welcome to the German Democratic Republic"?

What do you think?

We picked our way up the other side of the shallow valley. Potholes and potholes. We reached the top. The road pointed East. Four storey blocks of crumbling concrete. No pavements. A couple of bent old ladies. Beat up Trabants covered in snow. The place made Toxteth look like Hampstead.

I had never drunk the Kool Aid when it came to the Communist East. If I had, all my pipe dreams would have been shattered by one look at the blighted street.

The border didn't lie and nine years later the rotten to the core DDR collapsed like a pack of cards.

Early 80's again.

Ireland. The outskirts of Derry. Where the UK met the Irish Republic. No need for a passport this time. No actual border post. Instead a whole bunch of British soldiers armed to the teeth. Sandbag emplacements and bored stares.

The last few miles of the UK were a dual carriageway which could have been anywhere. Smooth tarmac and white lines.

The first change was the change of line colour. White to yellow. And suddenly there were potholes everywhere. Bloody deep potholes. Deep enough to make any speed above 40mph borderline idiotic.

And straight away there were six brand spanking new garages all in a cluster. Six garages, but no town. What was that all about? Ah. Check the prices. A gallon of Southern Irish fuel was 20% cheaper than a gallon of Northern Irish fuel. Cheaper enough for people of the North to drive miles to fill their tanks on the other side of the border. All of which made the last garage on the UK side seriously weird. It was selling a gallon of unleaded 5% dearer than other garages in the North.

25% more than the cluster of garages a few hundred yards into the South. 

What the hell was that all about? Then it hit me. This garages was for the Unionist nutters who would drive out of town to make a point of spending 25% more on filling up their tanks. To show their contempt.

So there it all was in a nutshell. In two hundred yards. A bunch of armed to the teeth squaddies proving there was serious shit going down. Smooth road one side, potholes the other. And a 25% swing in the price of fuel. Fair enough it wasn't the Iron Curtain. But it was a pretty big deal in its own way.

One more.

A few years ago I used to go into lots of high schools across Dumfries and Galloway to give drug and alcohol awareness presentations. I had a stump speech of sorts. It seemed to get the attention of the S4's who were on the brink of heading out down all the wrong tracks. And the tracks back then were as wrong as tracks could be. These were the days when 7% of males in Dumfries and Galloway were addicted to heroin or valium or both.

Part of my stump speech involved a bit of knockabout. The Buckfast culture. Crazy 'Buckie' fueled rituals played out in Friday night parks from Gretna to Stanraer.

Anyway. One day I received an invitation to take my stump speech to a high school in Carlisle. As in south of the Border. As in England. As in about five crow flown miles across the Solway from Annan.

When my stump speech arrived at the 'Buckie' section, I noticed a blankness on the faces of my audience.

So I stopped. Took a pause.

"Buckie? As in Buckfast? How many of you know what Buckfast is?"

A hundred in the room. Only two hands raised. The Buckfast culture was a Scottish thing. Only the week, before a client had shown me the truly epic Bebo page of the much vaunted AMP – the 'Annan Mental Posse'. There they all were, clad from head to toe in Burberry. About thirty of them. Average age of 15 or thereabouts. Each and every one of them was brandishing a bottle of Buckfast like a Claymore.

And yet here I was a mere five miles away across the border and out of a hundred kids only two knew what Buckie was.

In my book, that's a pretty serious cultural difference.

All of which brings me to now. To July 2020. To the same border. Scotland one side. England the other side.

Are there any armed to the teeth squaddies? Nope.

Are there super smart houses on one side and crumbling houses the other side? Nope.

Are there potholes one side and no potholes the other side? Nope.

So where is the unavoidable truth? Where is the chasm of difference?

Well it's a difference you can't actually see. Not in the flesh as you head south down the M74 through Gretna.

Instead we see the difference on maps in the newspapers.

It's a pretty major difference. As serious as a difference can get. We're talking the difference between life and death.

On one side of the invisble line is a country where a calm and sensible Government has taken a slow, measured grip on the Covid 19 crisis. On the other side of the invisible line is a country where an inept and corrupt Government has dished out multi million pound contracts to cronies like Deloitte and Serco and lost any semblance of control of the virus.

On one side of the line, trust in the Edinburgh Government is sky high. On the other side of the line, trust in the London government has withered and died.

Both regimes have the same amount of cash to splash on halting the spread. One Government has been pretty successful. One Government has failed more or less completely.

In 2014, a big part of my Indy stump speech was all about how governments of small countries tend to be a whole lot better than the governments of large countries. And it went down OK. But it was never close to being a game changer.

And we lost 55 to 45.

Well. The game has just changed. The border at Gretna has become a matter of life and death.

Death figures don't lie. Just like borders don't lie. And the people of Scotland are anything but stupid. They can read a simple set of numbers. They can see a screaming truth Covid 19 has crystal clear.

No wonder the most recent poll has Yes up to 54%

Once the dust settles on the London government's utter incompetence and corruption, the figure will be nearer 60%

Because borders never lie.

And our Independence is roaring towards us like a German train in the night.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

A VAST CRISIS. EMPOWERED YOUNG PEOPLE OUT ON THE STREETS. A CORRUPT AND INEPT GOVERNMENT IN WHITEHALL, NEW HEROES EMERGING... I WONDER IF WE ARE SEEING THE FIRST KNOCKINGS OF THE BRITISH REVOLUTION OF 2020?




In America, they have come up with a name for everything going down at the moment. The Floyd Rebellion. 

Not the Floyd Protests.

Rebellion.

A rebellion against the Status Quo. A rebellion against the endless, wall to wall propaganda A rebellion against the swaggering power of the hated 1%.

Could the murder of a guy none of us had ever heard of in a place thousands of miles away really be the cause of walls starting to come tumbling down right here, right now? Surely not?

Maybe we should rewind the clock all the way back to 28 June 1914. Ring any bells? A complete nobody called Gavrilo Princip got lucky and managed to assassinate a semi nobody called Archduke Ferdinand on a Bosnian side street and the rest, as they say, became history.

If we bother to take a few minutes of time out, there are all sorts of boxes starting to get ticked. Right here and right now. Which all leads me to wonder if we are seeing the first knockings of the British Revolution of 2020.

Box number one. The big one. The one which needs to be ticked before any rebellion or revolution can get properly underway. Basically, you need two key ingredients to create a human fertiliser bomb to blow things apart. You need a whole bunch of severely pissed off and angry young people from the poorer parts of town. Then you need a whole bunch of students who are every bit as pissed off and angry as their counterparts from the schemes and the tenements.

These two groups are not natural bedfellows. It takes something special to bring them together. To give them a common cause. A shared banner to march under. A way to see each other as brothers and sisters. To straddle the class divide.

Usually this common cause is found when a tiny number of utterly corrupt people at the top of the tree behave badly enough for millions of young people to say you know what, enough is enough. Time to march. Time to own the streets. Time to tear it all down.

In Russia in 1917 it was all about the war. A fumbling, inept Tzar surrounded by similarly inept ministers and cronies was killing off hundreds of thousands of woefully equipped Red Army soldiers as a result of their bottomless incompetence.

The 1% demanded sacrifice and patriotism. The 99% ran out of patience and finally said 'screw you'. Tzar Nicholas pulled all the familiar levers and ordered his attack dogs out onto the streets to thin out the mobs with carefully placed machine guns, only for the attack dogs to say 'screw you'.

Much the same thing happened on the very same Russian streets in 1992. The old guard of the Politburo had no more luck with unleashing their attack dogs that Tzar Nicholas had seventy five years earlier.

In 1968, two killings and one disgraceful war brought the ghettos and the university campuses together. The slaying of Dr King and Bobby Kennedy provided the spark to light up the powder keg created by the Vietnam War. The young people of ghetto were sick of being drafted to serve for 13 months in a far away charnel house. The young people from the universities were appalled by the sight of Vietnamese civilians being char grilled by napalm strikes.

In 1917 and 1992, the walls came tumbling down.

In 1968, the walls just about stayed in tact. But only just.

So what about 2020? Have we reached a similar place? A similar moment in time? A moment when young people from both sides of the tracks suddenly come together to feel their collective power?

Maybe we have.

Once young people suddenly find themselves marching in step, another ingredient is required to turbo charge the situation.

Heroes. More to the point, varieties of John Lennon's brand of working class heroes. Men and women who suddenly emerge from the 99% to get right into the face of the 1%. Some of these heroes make their names over many years. Their legends are a long time in the making until their moment finally arrives.

Leon Trotsky. Rosa Luxemburg. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. Lech Walesa. Vaclav Havel. Steve Beko. Jerry Rawlings.

Others come out of nowhere. Like the guy who stood down the Chinese tank in Tiananmen Square. Or the monk who burned himself to death in Saigon. Or the market trader who did the same in Tunisia. Or Rosa Parks taking her seat at the front of a Deep South bus.

OK. Time to check the boxes.

Pissed off young people from the poor side of town? Oh yeah. We've got them by the million. Young people in our modern ghettos with postcodes which guarantee long term unemployment and bully boy police. Stop and search in Hackney doubled in April as the Met Police took predictable liberties with the new lockdown rules. No wonder the residents lost their collective rag when they watched the evening news showing pictures of thousands of white people being left to their own devices on the beaches.

Pissed off students? Same story. Before Covid 19, £30,000 worth of lifetime debt was more often that not rewarded with a job in Costa Coffee and a box room in an overcrowded hovel with fungus on the bathroom wall. Now even the job at Costa Coffee looks like a pipe dream. Finally students are having the wool ripped from their eyes and seeing they are little more than victims of an epic Ponzi scheme. They take on tens of thousands of pounds worth of lifetime debt to pay Vice Chancellors £500,000 a year and predatory landlords hundreds of pounds a month for box rooms.

Heroes? I think we can tick another box. As yet, we don't have any long time in the making heroes cut from the Trotsky/Mandela cloth. But we are starting to see some unexpected heroes.

Heroes like Patrick Hutchinson. You know, the Black Lives Matter protestor with a face carved from granite who hoisted a Millwall FC supporting fascist onto his mighty shoulder and got him out of Dodge. The pictures snowballed into a worldwide phenomenon.

Heroes like Marcus Rashford, a young mixed race lad from the wrong side of the Mancunian tracks who leveraged his fame as a Man Utd centre forward to humiliate Boris Johnson into a shambling U turn.

The corrupt Tory Government met the Black Lives Matter protests with a well worn playbook. Rally up the right wing press and brand those out on the streets as thugs and low life hooligans with a touch of dog whistle racism thrown in.

Well Patrick Hutchinson and his crew shot them down in flames.

The corrupt Tory Government met Marcus Rashford's plea for poor kids to be fed with a contemptuous wave of the hand. Who do you think you are to tell us what to do? A footballer? Really? It's time you learned to know your place young man. It's time you went back to kicking a ball around.

Except it wasn't. They picked a fight with a young man who was way more eloquent than they were. A young man with moral fibre they could only dream of. A young man with absolute right on his side. And in less than 24 hours, Johnson crumbled like a high rise block in Aleppo hit by one of Putin's barrel bombs.

And all of a sudden people are starting to see the corrupt Tory Government for what it is. Inept. Pathetic. Totally reliant on daily propaganda from what they were foolish enough to believe is a tame right wing press. But it seems the tame right wing press isn't so tame after all. The right wing press has put Patrick Henderson and Marcus Rashford front and centre on their front pages.

Covid 19 has put the Tory Government into a tail spin. Johnson's woeful collection of yes men and women have proved utterly incapable of any kind of competence. And north of sixty thousand have paid with their lives. So far. Johnson and Co have dished out fat, multi-million pound contracts to their cronies in Serco and Deloitte and their cronies have banked the cash and completely screwed things up.

'Twisting and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart.
The centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.'

Well things are certainly starting to fall apart. And the centre is slowly but surely loosing its grip.

Mere anarchy? Maybe. It will all depend on the last box being ticked.

The young people have hit the streets and started to feel their power. All they need now is a goal. A target to aim at. Something achievable which will completely transform their lives.

Will they find it? You know what, I think they just might.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 'The Rent Strike'.

Rent is a common grievance shared by young people from both sides of the tracks. 

The poor kids are sick of over paying for rotten social housing in the ghetto. They are sick of Council waiting lists which run into decades. They are sick of never getting the chance to move out of the bedrooms they grew up in. 

The rich kids are sick of being ripped off by landlords in over priced university towns. They are sick of seeing the housing ladder being pulled up far beyond their reach. They are also sick of never getting the chance to move out of the bedrooms they grew up in.

Rip off rent is a thing they share. A common purpose. A common goal. And what is the answer to being charged rip off rent? Simple. You stop paying rip off rent. And if enough people simply stop paying rip off rent, then there are not enough bailiffs in the land to handle all the evictions. And there are not enough police officers in the land to back up the bailiffs.

We saw a bit of this in Spain at the height of the Euro crisis. Government austerity measures meant an axe was taken to old age pensions. Slashed pensions meant millions of old people couldn't afford their mortgage payments and the banks sent out bailiffs to dump the old people out onto the streets.

Except things didn't go as planned. Young people came together. They called themselves the 'Indignados'. They worked it out. If a young person's granny found the bailiffs at the door, all she had to do was make a call to her grandson or granddaughter. The grandson or granddaughter put her address into a ready made WhatsApp group and within minutes the bailiffs would be backed off by a crowd of over a hundred. The bailiffs called the police and the police said thanks, but no thanks. And very quietly the banks gave up on even trying to evict pensioners from their homes.

If a rent strike starts, it will spread like a bush fire. Will there be enough police to stop it? No chance. And slowly but surely, young people will start to realise the beauty of their actions. A successful rent strike will lead of a huge crash in the cost of British housing.

An average British house logically should be worth three and a half times the average British wage. As in £25,000 x 3.5 = £87,500. Instead the average British house right now costs £215,000. It is the bubble to end all bubbles and a rent strike will burst it in a big way. 

And the longer the strike goes on, the further house prices will fall. In fact they will fall all the way down to a place where young people can suddenly get themselves onto the housing ladder.

It if a 'win, win' plan walks like a 'win, win' plan and quacks like a 'win, win' plan, then it almost certainly is a 'win, win' plan.

I reckon they might just do it. And then? Then the 1% will suddenly be reeling. The Stock Market will start to nosedive. Banks will stare into the abyss. The old order will start to fall apart piece by piece. And over the the long months of summer, we might just make our way to the place where the last box waits to be ticked.

If Johnson calls out his attack dogs, will they obey him? Will British police offices and soldiers be willing to take to the streets to defend the ill gotten gains of the 1% and their corrupt, useless puppets in Whitehall?

Will they make like the attack dogs of the Communist Party of China in 1989 and dutifully open fire on thousands of young demonstrators? Or will they make like the attack dogs of the Communist Party of the German Democratic Republic in 1989 and say thanks, but no thanks. 

Not this time. Not for you lot. Screw you.

We might just be about to find out. I'm an optimist. I think our police officers and soldiers will make like their East German counterparts and stand back to watch the walls come tumbling down. I don't think they will be ready to shoot young protesters in the name of Boris Johnson and his big money puppet masters.

We could be about to live through some pretty exiting times. We could be about to live through the British Revolution of 2020.

We'll see I guess