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.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I saw a poll last week that gave the ‘Yes’ campaign for an independent Scotland a 1% lead. The last time I looked, the ‘No’s’ had it by a country mile. Is this phenomenal turnaround any kind of surprise? Not in the slightest.

In an era of such abject political mediocrity, Alex Salmond stands out like a Giant Redwood among a field of saplings. It is hard to imagine how far behind he would have to be for the ‘No’ campaign to feel any kind of confidence of success. A few weeks before the last Scottish Elections he was 20 points adrift, but when the ballots were counted he won by a country mile.

I am no kind of betting man, but if I was, it would be a no brainer as to where punt my cash. Not only is Salmond the stand out politician of his generation in terms of getting ballots into boxes, the line up who are going try and take him down are not even close to being in the same league.

All of which makes it seem more than likely that Scotland will be on its own in a year’s time. It occurred to me the other day that I have now spent a third of my life up here as a White Settler. I am now a well and truly established immigrant. My English roots do not deny me the chance to have a vote on Scotland’s future and, unless something changes in a big way, that vote is almost certainly going to be ‘yes’.


I guess when you have lived most of your life down in England it makes it easy to appreciate all the stuff that is so much better up here. A few years ago my dad wound up in a Wigan hospital having had a stroke. I couldn’t believe the state of the place when I went to see him. When compared to hospitals up here, it was Third World minus. Whenever I give presentations in English schools they seem like peeling, dismal places when compared to schools up here. There is less traffic, you can see the stars in the sky, you can park your car with worrying about it getting nicked or set on fire. It seems like more and more people down south are starting to notice all this stuff. They are picking up on the fact that whenever the news carries a story about yet another NHS crisis or some horrendous abuse in a Private Equity owned chain of childrens homes, it is always prefixed by the statement ‘….in England and Wales’. Whenever we travel south, we get asked questions like ‘how come you lot get free prescriptions and free university tuition and free care for the elderly?’ Why indeed? I can’t pretend to have many of the answers, but it is pretty damn crystal clear that the railroad is much better run once you find yourself north of Gretna Green.

As a born and bred Lancastrian, I have an instinctive loathing of the South East of England and all who sail in her. My formative years were spent in the 70’s and 80’s when the North was sent to hell in a handcart and no-one in London seemed to give a damn. In fact, they seemed to find the whole thing amusing. I spent many an afternoon penned into the away sections of Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane or Upton Park being spat on by hordes of leering Cockneys, every one of whom had made a point of bringing a £20 note to the game to wave in our faces.

“…. Hey Rock n’ Roll…. Scousers on the dole…..”

How hilarious.

For me this is the biggest difference. In many ways, Dumfries and Galloway is every much of a backwater up here as Lancashire is down there. The difference is that the Government in Edinburgh can’t afford to ignore us the way that Northerners are ignored by Westminster. We are a tiny independent charity based in a small, sleepy town and yet it has always been possible to make our voice heard. Over the years we have been invited to give the view from the frontline of things to Parliamentary Committees four times. Many politicians have also come down to see us to get a pavement level view of what’s going down. In our time we have played host to the First Minister, two party leaders, the Education Minister and the Parliament’s Presiding Officer. This would never happen in a million years in England. It’s the beauty of living in a country of 5 million. Things are more connected. Easier to run properly. And it is more than possible to make your voice heard.

So a life-long contempt for the leafy suburbs of Surrey and all those insufferable Etonians in the shining towers of the City and the bloated Billionaires of Belgravia is my main reason of sticking up two fingers in a southerly direction and putting my cross in the ‘yes’ box.

But there is no point in pretending that there isn’t a healthy amount of selfishness in my ‘yes’ vote. Salmond is smart enough and streetwise enough to make the place rock over the coming years. Even before I came up here to live, I would always say I was from Scotland when travelling around the world. Say ‘England’ and most people think ‘London’ and they hate your guts. Say ‘Scotland’ and a big grin appears on their faces. You only need to look at the different experiences that English and Scottish fans have when they travel abroad. When the English come to town, every door is locked, every bar is closed and lines of riot police complete with snarling dogs represent the nearest thing there is to a welcoming committee. When the Scots hit town everyone takes to the streets for party time.

Just imagine how the French will be. They’ll be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of an independent Scotland. Just imagine how much pleasure it will give to those in the corridors of power in Paris to help make Scotland boom at the expense of London. And the French will not be alone in this. Ever since Maggie rubbed our European neighbours up the wrong way back in the day, there are many in Europe who will relish the chance at getting some revenge eaten cold on the arrogant public school boys of Whitehall.
Ever noticed what they play when there is a huge police funeral in Philadelphia or Baltimore? Bagpipes. All over the world there is a fondness for Scotland. Sometimes this down to watching ‘Braveheart’ of ‘Whisky Galore’ or ‘Rob Roy’. Sometimes it’s down to having a surname beginning with Mac. There are a tonne of reasons and you can bet your bottom dollar that Alex Salmond will exploit every single last one of them.

I gather that he has all kinds of cunning tax plans up his sleeve ready and waiting for the day when the cord is cut. Scotland will be the new Ireland with Corporation Tax as low if not lower than any in Europe. And here is where he will surely hit the ball out of the park. Over the next fifty years, most of the money in the world will continue to flow out East. Let’s imagine a Chinese mogul taking a look around Europe to find the best place to site his new assembly plant complete with 500 jobs. First up, he’ll compile a list of the places with the lowest tax regimes and Scotland will be up there at the top. And then he’ll have a little smile to himself. The odds are that like most East Asians, two of his most favourite things in life will be whisky and golf. So he’ll create a mental picture of his regular visits to his new assembly plant. A flight into Edinburgh. An easy ride out to a big pile of a house in the hills where the air is a trillion times less polluted that his home air in Shanghai. He’ll picture sipping an old malt in front of a stacked up log fire. He’ll picture himself striding down the 17th at St Andrews like Tiger Woods. He’ll picture taking photos of his son graduating from Edinburgh University. And all the other names will soon be crossed off the list.

Of course as a long term fifty a day man, I would just love it if Alex decided to seriously piss off London and adopt a Luxembourg pricing strategy for fags. Imagine that! Every weekend thousands and thousands of cars from Manchester and Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle would come piling over the border to stock up on tabs at £3.50 a pack. Gazilions of extra tax for Edinburgh and seething rage in Whitehall.

It is ironic really. When it came to doing the very dirtiest of the Empire’s work, the Scots were always front and centre. A majority of estate managers in the slave plantations of the West Indies spoke with a Scottish twang. History’s two greatest ever drug dealers who managed to get the nation of China hopelessly hooked on opium were Jardine and Mathieson, fine Scotsmen both. But for one reason or another, this somewhat uncomfortable fact seems to have been quietly airbrushed from history. The blame for all the bad stuff we Brits have done over the years now lies squarely in London whilst the Scots are seen as all nice and cuddly and blameless. Well, no-one is complaining up here.

So in my very humble opinion, a low tax Scotland with Alex Salmond at the helm will be a place that with boom and keep on booming. Quiet roads, well educated people, low crime, clean air, whisky and golf courses and all the sweeteners in the world for any business wanting to locate here. London will hate it and no doubt there will be those who will dream of going back to the good old days and sending the army up to Carlisle.
But will London suffer? Not really. The City of London will still launder cash for any crook with a suitcase full of it. Tourists will still flock in to buy replica models of Big Ben made in China. Russian Billionaires will still pay tens of millions for their mansions in Hampstead complete with razor wire and underground cinemas and pools.

This is the point at which my emotions become mixed. London and the South East will not pay the price for a booming Scotland. London and the South east will become a permanent gated community where the immigrants work for buttons and the poor are despised and the super rich are fawned over and pampered. And the Express and the Daily Mail will have the same front page every day where they report yet anther 10% increase in London property prices with breathless excitement.

Sadly the price will be paid yet again by the North of England with its worthless minority of Labour MPs who will become yesterdays men once an Independent Scotland deprives them of the votes they need to stand a chance of ever holding power again. What chance will Lancashire or Yorkshire or Humberside or Tyneside have of attracting that new Chinese assembly plant and all the jobs that go with it? No chance. Competing with a booming, low tax Scotland will be completely impossible. And all the kids of the north who do well in school and university will start to get on the bus and head north instead of south to seek their futures in the new Caledonia.

For all of us who live up here, the future looks pretty damn good. I only wish that the price won’t have to be paid by the North of England.

But it will be.           


  1. Great piece, Mark. But I have to disagree with your conclusion that "Sadly the price will be paid yet again by the North of England with its worthless minority of Labour MPs who will become yesterdays men once an Independent Scotland deprives them of the votes they need to stand a chance of ever holding power again."

    The simple fact is that Labour doesn't need Scotland to win a majority at Westminster, and never has. The numbers are all here:

    You can, of course, make the argument that Labour are useless at protecting the North of England too. But that's an entirely separate argument from Scotland.

    Tony Blair won three majorities that would still have been comfortable Labour majorities without a single Scottish vote. England doesn't need us, and will not be served by us suffering along with it.

    An independent Scotland showing that there's a viable social-democratic alternative to the right-wing neoliberal consensus shared by all three main UK parties is the North's best hope.

  2. I can only hope you are right. Maybe the best thing would be to move the Scottish Border down to the Lancashire/Cheshire line!

  3. Mark - I did the numbers and the RevStu is correct - only in 7 years out of the last 70 (by 2015) will Scottish MPs have affected the Westminster result. Not a price worth paying, especially considering that 5 out of those 7 years was a weak government that blundered (Callaghan) into failure and the inevitable Tory(Thatcher) landslide.

    Moreover, logic clearly indicates that the North of England being our closest trading neighbour will benefit from trade arrangements - especially if the North should opt for a devolved parliament so that we can trade with the North completely by-passing London.

  4. Would still love to run this piece for Wings Over Scotland's 70,000 readers, just with the last couple of paragraphs tweaked :D

  5. That is absolutely fine by me. Just let me know if there is anything you want me to do. More the merrier as far as I am concerned. You can get me on

  6. Looking to the failed state that is Ireland for inspiration? Dear, oh dear.

  7. Brilliant. I think I might be able to get away with only changing the last line.

  8. No problem. Please let me know when it is posted

  9. Ireland: 15% unemployment nationwide
    Corruption in every aspect of public life. Two centre right parties perpetually in charge. €100 to visit a&e THEN pay full price for your prescription. €600 to send your kid on the school bus. My latest Paypacket€800 of deductions. That's for a fortnight. Meanwhile google etc are allegedly getting preferential tax rates. Be careful what you wish for...