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.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Just check out that smile! That is the smile of an ultra devious modern day Machiavelli whose cunning plan has just come through in spades. Ever since I tapped the ‘Publish’ button and sent my last blog winging off into the ether, I have been met with growing hostility by friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the ‘Better Together’ camp. These are people who are not really the getting angry type. And their anger is the kind that people tend to show when they are caught out in the act of doing something that is pretty damn embarrassing. To a man and woman, they are suddenly hugely ill at ease with the idea of being a part of ‘Team Osborne’. Having good old Bullingdon George step forward to become one of the main flag wavers for the Union was clearly not something they relished.

In my blog, I punted out the mischievous idea that our austere Chancellor is a closet supporter of the ‘Yes’ campaign. My gut feeling is that he would like nothing better than to see the back of Scotland and all who sail in her, most particularly those 41 safer than safer Labour seats.

This idea was met with a degree of wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was also pretty well rubbished.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am willing to admit that I didn’t completely call his much trumpeted trip to Edinburgh to tell us the Pound isn’t ours after all. My instinct suggested to me that his master plan was to play the role of the Oxbridge educated Public School Boy to the hilt and thereby rub five million Scots up the wrong way.

Well the fruits of his crafty labour have now been measured. A Survation Poll commissioned by the Scottish Daily Mail has revealed that in the wake of his visit support for the ‘Yes’ campaign has jumped from 32% to 38% whilst the ‘Better Together’ numbers have taken a dive from 52% to 47%.

All of a sudden there is a mere 9% in the thing and the momentum is all rolling in one direction.


In football commentator speak….The boy done great.

Job done.

With a single ride up and down on a train George has delivered a Stalingrad moment to the Unionist camp. I guess that in 50 years time history books will identify this as the moment when the tide turned.

…..Up until Osborne’s fateful trip to Edinburgh it seemed like that the Scots might well have voted to stay in the Union. After his visit, the ‘Yes’ campaign became unstoppable….

Can you picture it? I certainly can.

The same poll showed that a mere third of Scots believed a word he said. Two thirds bought into Alex Salmond’s assessment that the Chancellor was bluffing. Nice work George. For the next few months every poor sod who has signed up to fight the ‘Better Together’ campaign will have to constantly defend your words. Of course George wasn’t bluffing! He would never do that. George is a great guy…..

Oh they’re going to really love that…….

With one deftly arrogant speech he presented Alex Salmond with an open goal and the First Minister duly smacked the ball into the back of the net. The Scots hate being pushed around by aristocratic types from London. Let’s face it, this is hardly a new thing. The English haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory down the years when their armies have marched north from Carlisle. When blue blooded Englishmen come north to boss them around, the Scots look for one of their own to stand up and shout ‘Away and shite’ from the rooftops.

Hindsight however has revealed new and even more devious layers to George’s cunning plan. Not only did he deliver an 11 point swing to the ‘Yes’ campaign, he also gave the Labour Party a pretty severe kick in the nether regions. Basically, he carefully walked the Right Honourable Ed Balls to the end of a plank and pushed him off into the abyss. He put Balls firmly between a rock and a hard place. Was Ed to come out and contradict the rest of the ‘Better Together’ campaign by suggesting that in his opinion it would be fine and dandy for an Independent Scotland to share the pound? Or was he to step forward to rubber stamp the world according to George and thereby make himself look like a nodding dog in the back window of the Chancellor’s Bentley?

It’s call lose, lose Ed.

And you just lost.
Big time.

Johaan Lamont, the Labour leader up here in Scotland saw the writing on the wall as soon as George had finished with his spray can. With a mind boggling lack of judgement, she picked up the phone to the Scottish Daily Mail of all places and told them that Labour ‘had inflicted severe damage on itself by aligning itself with Osborne’

And thus another open goal was presented to King Alex. Whack. Two nil.

So there we are. There are still eight months to go and the gap is already down to nine points. After Field Marshall Von Paulus surrendered the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in early 1943, the war didn’t end. Instead it ground on for another two and a half hellish years. But after Stalingrad the result was never remotely in doubt. George has just manipulated his very own Stalingrad moment for the ‘Better Together’ campaign. Now all that is left is the long and agonising retreat all the way back from the banks of the Volga to the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

No wonder you’re smiling George…..

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I have to say that it came as something of a shock to the system when the poster at the top of this blog dropped into my inbox. After just over half a century on this bedraggled planet of ours, this Town Hall meeting represents my first ever step into any kind of political fray. It is certainly one the more bizarre developments in what has become something of a bizarre life. It isn’t something I ever remotely envisaged. My CV hardly suggests a kilt wearing, flame headed Scottish Nationalist with a poster of William Wallace on the wall and ‘Flower of Scotland’ as a ringtone.

A undiagnosed dyslexic failure on the ‘Dunce’s Table’ in a god awful 60’s primary school in a Lancastrian mill village. A regular for the cane at a Blackburn Grammar School. A near drop out at Magdalene College, Cambridge. A down the line hippy in India before the 'BRICS' boom. A market trader residing in Moss Side in the time of The Smiths. A Hillsborough survivor. An owner of a traditional dark satanic mill in Lancaster. Author. Blogger. Drugs worker. Charity manager. A ‘White Settler’ and now, against all sensible odds, a campaigner for Scottish Independence. Chuck in a black wife and two mixed race sons and the bizarre picture is more or less complete.

Why on earth and how on earth has my funny old existence reached a date with a podium in a Town Hall meeting in Lockerbie?

I guess a kind of tipping point arrived last year when I was driving along and the radio commentary of England 3 – Scotland 2 was on the radio. To my utter surprise I found that I was rooting for a Scottish win. How had that happened? The thing rolled around my head for a day or two and I came to the realisation that I had never really felt English in the first place. During all my youthful wanderings of the Third World I never owned up to being English. Whenever I was asked, I would say I was Scottish for reasons of pure pragmatism. Most of the time people don’t like you when you say you are English, especially when they live in a country where the British Empire once ripped off anything that wasn’t bolted down. Scotland on the other hand is a whole different story. People like the idea of Scotland. You only need to look at the different experiences English and Scottish football fans have when they attend a World Cup. The Jocks are welcomed with open arms whilst the English are greeted by ranks of riot police and snarling Alsatians.

Did I feel like I was betraying something when I lied about my nationality? Not at all. I always felt Lancastrian, not English. And like most Lancastrians, I have always held a deep and abiding contempt for the England to be found south of Birmingham and this only deepened through the Thatcher years.

In my lifetime I have never found a single thing that I have considered to be good about being governed from London. The difference now is that I have had 15 years experience of being governed from a smaller city called Edinburgh and believe me, it is incomparably better. The prospect of being completely unaffiliated to the Houses of Westminster and the City of London is a fine one indeed. I like the idea of being able to travel the world and not have to lie about my nationality. I like the idea of suddenly being at arm’s length from the nasty wars and gargantuan corporate crimes and the endless drip feed of hatred towards immigrants and the poor. I like the idea of being a citizen of a country with a semblance of decency.

I just like the idea of being cut free of the money grubbing nastiness, nepotism and corruption of London. All those Russian oligarchs are welcome to the place.

They are welcome to every over priced brick.

All of this makes it oddly logical that I have accidentally signed on the dotted line to fight the good fight to cut Scotland loose: I just wish they would redraw the borders a hundred and fifty miles south of Gretna Green so that millions of fellow Northerners might have the same chance. Such is life. At least like me they will have the chance to emigrate.

I am certainly not the only Englishman to join the fray to create an Independent Scotland over the last few days. I reckon good old George Osborne has done exactly the same. I have never met our gallant Chancellor of the Exchequer and I can only guess at his inner motives. He strikes me as a man who is a Tory to the very core of his being. He seems like a man who would put his party before everything else. Well, apart from his bank account of course.

Bearing this in mind it seems almost inconceivable that deep down he doesn’t share my hopes for an Independent Scotland. For George this aspiration surely comes down to simple mathematics. Scotland is home to 59 Westminster seats and right now, 41 of those seats are held by Labour MPs. Right now, just 1 of those seats is held by a Tory MP. Right now the Tories in Westminster have 303 seats and Labour have 257. As we all know, this means the only way for the Tories to govern is a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Without those 41 Scottish Labour seats, the Tories would be in Government on their own. Without those 41 Scottish seats, it is all but inconceivable that there will ever again be a Labour Government in England.

Now seriously. What is there not to like about such a dreamy scenario for good old George? Of course he’s going to like it. The prospect must keep him awake at night yearning for such an ultimate victory over the hated Reds.

But he has a problem of course. He is number two in the Conservative AND UNIONIST Party. And the Unionist bit is still supposed to count. Tories are hard wired to spout on endlessly about just how much they care about the Union and how they would lay down their lives to defend it.

Aye right.

Why on earth should these public school types with their 2-1 degrees in PPE from Oxford give a damn about places like Motherwell and Llanelli and Portadown? Of course they don’t give a damn. The people who live in these places hate the Tories and would have their fingernails pulled out before they would ever vote for them. Life would be so much better and simpler if Thatcher's children could cut all of these inconvenient Celts adrift and never have to think about them again.

But there is a big problem here for George and his cronies. No matter how much they might think such a thing, they cannot possibly ever say it. Not ever.

But George is nothing if not canny. After our First Minister, he is by some degree the most Machiavellian politician in the Realm and he knows only too well that there are many, many ways to skin a cat.

I figure he must have thought long and hard about how he could do his bit to swing a bunch of undecided votes into the ‘Yes’ camp without it being obvious. I can picture him with a crystal glass tumbler of ancient Scotch and a thoughtful expression on his face. And then a thin and cunning smile as the answer came to him.

Got it.

I’ll hop on the train to Edinbugh and make a speech where I look every inch the old Etonian Grandee. And I will be flanked by lots of broad shouldered security guys. And I will give it to them straight. So you want the pound do you? Oh really? Well you know what, you can forget it. In this particular playground you are the little runty kid with the worn sleeves and snotty nose. In this particular playground I am the big kid and when I say jump, you jump. OK little man? Got that? And if you don’t jump when I tell you to jump I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you. I’m going to give you a jolly good thrashing. OK? Are we understood? Just remember your place little man…..

Think about it. Is there anything more perfectly tailored to rub millions of Scots up the wrong way? And are we seriously to believe that a politician as smart and streetwise as George Osborne would say such a thing without knowing exactly what the outcome would be? No chance. Not in a million years.

So George. Welcome to the fold. Here we are, two middle aged Oxbridge educated Englishmen doing our bit to win a ‘Yes’ majority in the Referendum. As the guy who was originally called Gideon with a proper public school background to go with Magdalen College, Oxford, it seems only right and proper that you should be the one to stay under the radar. As a lad from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Blackburn and Magdalene College, Cambridge, I am more than happy to do the over the radar bit. And have no fear George, if we ever re-draw the borders south, we’ll make sure that your Cheshire seat stays well and truly in England. We really don’t want Cheshire thank you very much.  

In the spirit of partnership, here are a few ideas for future speeches you might want to deliver during your flying visits to Scotland. Some new and exciting ideas to make the 'Better Together' campaign oh so appealing.

-          Scottish couples will no longer be allowed to breed unless they engage the services of a chartered accountant to prove they have a joint disposable income of over £50,000 per annum.

-          A new Scottish minimum wage will introduced whereby workers are paid an amount of 500 grammes of porridge oats per hour.

-          Anyone planning to wear a kilt to a formal occasion must first pay a Kilt Tax Charge of £200 to HM Treasury and Customs.

-          20% of all revenues from Scottish oilfields will be paid into the Trust funds of nominated Public Schools in England.

-          On attaining the age of 16, all Scottish youngsters must travel to the South East of England to live in dormitory accommodation and undertake 2 years of unpaid slave labour for Her Majesty’s Government in Westminster. Jobs will include drain cleaning and weeding the gardens of bond traders in the City of London. You can deliver a superb speech extolling the virtues of this proposed scheme which will become a central pillar of the ‘Better Together’ campaign. You can point out to the Scots how character building it will be for their youth to spend two years scivvying for the good and the great of the South East of England and how living on a ration of daily porridge oats will get them fit and rid them of their acne. You can bring the speech to a rousing crescendo by promising that a re-introduction slavery for all young Scots will make our treasured Union all the stronger and kick start a new era of Empire.

That should do the trick.

Keep up the good work George!  
On a more serious note, please check out the link below for an article in today's Guardian which rubber stamps much of the 'Sanction' stuff that has appeared in this blog over recent months


Saturday, February 15, 2014


Over the last couple of days the second story on the news after the floods has been that of Abdul Waheed Majid, the first known British suicide bomber. According to a Jihadist video on YouTube, he drove an armoured truck packed with explosives into the walls of the prison in Alleppo. The reaction of both the authorities and the media has been universal.

Moral panic.

His actions have been seen as those of a radicalised, crazed nutjob. What makes it all the worse is the fact that the security forces seem convinced that there are at least 400 other Brits taking the fight to the Assad regime. What abject havoc will these maniacs wreak once they return home to our fair shores? The idea has caused a collective shudder and no doubt any funding cuts targeted at MI5 and GCHQ will have been put on hold.

The reaction to Abdul Waheed Majid’s supreme act of self sacrifice has of course been entirely predictable. Anyone who does or says anything in the cause of extreme Islam is by definition an enemy and a threat. It is completely inconceivable that the authorities and the media could even think of using any other lens to view this issue. As far as they are concerned, these cases are as black and white as any cases can ever get.

These are very, very mad and bad men and we should be very, very afraid of them. They are the new ‘Enemy Within’. They are dangerous madmen. They have been brainwashed by the 21st Century equivalent of James Bond bad guys. They need to be interned and surveilled and banged up for ever and a day.

All of which of course is exactly what Osama Bin Laden intended when he came up with the idea of 9/11.

The whole thing becomes rather more interesting when you take a step back and look at the facts in a spirit of neutrality. Without preconception. Without prejudice.

Here’s a timeline.

For decades a particularly horrible family has held sway in Syria. They have one of the most brutal secret police forces in the Middle East to crack the whip and a blank cheque from the Kremlin to enable them to crack it. For year after year, the Assad family has killed and tortured its civilians in eye watering numbers. Almost unbelievably they have done this with such a high degree of success that the family has been able to re-direct two thirds of the GDP of the whole country into their Swiss Bank Accounts.

Basically these are very, very bad people indeed.

Then came the Arab Spring and the oppressed masses of Syria sensed that their moment had come. They took to the streets in their thousands to demand democracy and freedom from having their doors caved in at four in the morning by the secret police. At this point I should admit to having something of a personal loathing for the Assads. On 27 occasions they arrived at the house of my good friend Ghazi and carted him off into the night to be tortured and locked up. Never once did he appear in front of any kind of court. They just did it. Why? Because he was a Palestinian and a school teacher.


I digress.

Did the Assad family take note of just how many people spilled out onto the streets to demand freedom? Did they dive an inch?

Of course they didn’t. Dictators almost never do.

And did Vladimir Putin waver in his unswerving support for his ghastly Middle Eastern puppet? Nope. Instead he upped the ante and poured in as many cluster bombs and napalm canisters as the Assads wanted.

And what did HM Government in London make of all this? Well they certainly made a lot of noise about it. They said that the Assads were very, very bad people and Putin was a very, very bad man for giving them so many cluster bombs to drop on defenceless civilians. In fact HM Government got so cross about it all that our Prime Minister asked Parliament for the right to sent our Military down there to crack the whip. Had Parliament given him the mandate, he would have done exactly that and maybe things might have been different. Had Parliament given him the mandate, maybe it would have been a squad of SAS guys blowing a hole in the walls of Alleppo prison rather than Abdul Waheed Majid.

It didn’t work out that way of course. Parliament said ‘no’ and Cameron sulked off to Chequers to lick his wounds and sink a couple of stiff gins before making the dreaded call to the White House.

So as things turned out, instead of the might of what is left of the British military going to Syria to put the Assads back in their box, the job was left to 400 volunteers like Abdul Waheed Majid.

In another time and another place, maybe our media might have seen these guys as being pretty heroic. Abdul Waheed Majid was no kind of Jason Statham sort of guy. He was a 41 year old road worker employed by the Highways Agency. He took unpaid leave to make his way to the worst place in the world right now to make a stand against oppression.

How odd that everyone seems so determined not to see that there is something truly heroic in what he did.

Is this because this is something that is completely new and our media finds it hard to get their collective heads around the idea? Well it isn’t new actually. It is uncannily similar to something that happened seventy something years ago. That something was called The Spanish Civil War and we now remember it mainly care of George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Ernest Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.

Here is a bit of compare and contrast.

After years and years of oppression the people feel empowered to take to the streets and demand democracy and freedom

Then – Barcelona and Madrid.

Now – Alleppo and Homs.

Instead of granting freedom, the regime cracks down and starts killing its own civilians. The freedom fighters beg and implore the Governments of the free West to come and help out. But the Governments of the West choose instead to turn their backs. Why?

Number one, they are weary of war

Then – the Great War.

Now – Afghanistan and Iraq.

Number two, the coffers are empty in the wake of a huge recession.

Then – the 1929 Wall St crash

Now – the 2008 Wall St crash.

But of course not everyone takes the same view. The oppressive regime can look to the unwavering support of a superpower to make sure they have plenty of tanks and planes and munitions to get stuck into some wholesale slaughter.

Then – Adolf Hitler and his ghastly Nazi regime that viewed homosexuals and black people as sub-humans.

Now – Vladimir Putin and his ghastly United Russia regime that views homosexuals and black people as sub-humans.

So the horrible regime is able to use its huge advantage in terms of high tech weaponry to deliver death and carnage on its terrified population.

Then – Then the town of Guernica in the Basque country, where the planes of the Lutwaffe’s ‘Condor Division’ rained hell from the skies and slaughtered 400 civilians.

Now – The Damascus suburb of Ghouta is subjected to a gas attack where shells fired from Putin’s artillery did for 1300 civilians.

In the light of the monstrosity of the regime’s actions, volunteers from all over the world make their way to the war zone to put their lives on the line in the cause of freedom.

Then – The International Brigade made up of Trade Unionists and socialists and artists and students. In the words of the much missed Joe Strummer, ‘Trenches full of poets: a ragged army.’ Maybe even a road worker or two? Maybe even a few idealists from Crawley in West Sussex?

Now – The various Jihadi groups of Freedom Fighters which are made up by similar young men from similar places driven by a similar idealism.

The problem for the idealistic volunteers is that once they arrive in the war zone they find that things are not what they thought it said on the tin. They discover that their side is more or less as bad as the regime. They find that atrocities come from both sides of the line. They find that there are also dodgy countries backing their side of things.

Then – The Soviet Union.

Now – Saudi Arabia.

And then, as the killing and the torture and the bombing reach new levels of  primordial cruelty, the Big Brother backer of the regime looks to distract the world’s attention from what their cluster bombs are doing to human flesh by splashing the cash and staging the most expensive Olympics in history.

Then – Berlin 1936

Now – Sochi 2014.

Let’s just imagine for a moment. Let’s imagine that a 41 year old road worker from Crawley, West Sussex had given up his job and family to head down to Spain in 1936 to sign on the dotted line to take on Hitler and Franco. A family man. A staunch socialist. A union man. A man who had never broken a law in his life. And let’s imagine that he volunteered to give up his own life to try and free 3000 lost souls locked behind the high walls of one of Franco’s prisons.

Would we have described him as hero or villain? I guess back then the media might well have looked into the Bible and come up with John 15- 13

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

There is one major difference.

Franco’s prisons were pretty brutal places, but I very much doubt if he ever came close to matching the medieval cruelty of the Assad family. After what the Assads did to Ghazi, I find it impossible not to see Abdul Waheed Majid as a hero. That doesn’t mean that I support Al Queda and I am about to convert to fundamentalist Islam. It simply means that there are always two sides to any story and it would be nice if once in a while the media were willing to give air time to both.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

'IF YOU TOO......'

There was something a little surreal about our January in The First Base Agency. Ten years of experience suggested that there would be a lull in people coming through the door and once again this proved to be the case. Why? I haven’t the faintest idea. This seasonal lull has never made any remote sense to me. Outside the endless rain cascaded down and all the ‘For Sale’ signs on Buccleuch St looked forlorn. The town was grey and deserted. The buses were still never more than a third full. Advertising billboards showing places bathed in sunshine looked as out of place and ridiculous as ever.

And instead of our usual 450 emergency food parcels we doled out just under 400. The evening news carried breathless tales of Britain’s GDP growing by a miraculously high 1.9%. Ministers with faces glowing from breaks in destinations offering winter sun told us that the good times were starting to roll again.


Was an unexpected 1.9% GDP spike really the reason for the first easing back in the demand for emergency food in many months? There seemed to be almost no logic in such a conclusion. After all, the experts seemed pretty well united in the conclusion that most of the much trumpeted 1.9% growth was down to Russian oligarchs hoovering up over priced houses in the South East. Could the influx of a few billion dodgy roubles really put food on the table for the struggling of Dumfries?

Well maybe it could. I don’t pretend to have the faintest understanding of economics.

A better clue seemed to be found in the fact that there didn’t seem to be so many people coming in with sanction letters from the Job Centre. This certainly made more sense than any ripple down effect that might have been caused by the owner of an Aluminium factory in Novosibirsk shelling out for an over priced Georgian pile in Belgravia.

So what was the deal?

Had the high and mighty in Whitehall discovered some unexpected compassion whilst hurtling down the crystalline slopes of St Moritz? Or had the spin doctors decided that the glorious tidings of a 1.9% growth in GDP meant that it was no longer necessary to beat the poor to win votes?

People do not need emergency food parcels in Britain as a result of some natural disaster like the typhoon in the Philippines. Ours is very much a man made crisis. People on six figure salaries in London offices take the decision to take away the incomes of people getting by on £60 a week in places where aluminium magnates from Novosibirsk wouldn’t dream of buying themselves a town house.

The taps get turned on the taps get turned off. For whatever reason, the word from Whitehall in January was that the taps could be turned back on. People were able to go along to Job Centre to sign on and duly receive their benefits a few days later. All of a sudden being 5 minutes late was no longer deemed to be a crime punishable by abject poverty.

Maybe this was where 1.9% GDP growth actually could have an effect on rain drenched Dumfries. Maybe the bean counters had suddenly found some light at the end of the fiscal tunnel and the need the bash the poor didn’t so desperate any more…

But night follows day and January becomes February and all of a sudden business as usual was very much resumed. The first Monday of the month saw nearly 30 people come in through the door looking for something to eat.

Two thirds of them had been newly sanctioned.

The taps had been switched back off.

Why? I guess there must have been a degree of fear in those Whitehall corridors that a few pesky elements of media might have been warming up for a batch of ‘Foodbank Britain’ stories over the Christmas break. Hungry kids during the festive season can soon become politically poisonous. Urging people to hate the poor at Christmas wouldn’t seem, well, Christian.

Well would it?

Better instead to send the word down the chain to leave them be for a month and pay them their benefits. Let things ride for a while. Get January out of the way and then start cracking the whip again. Come February, all of those ‘hard working families’ we hear so much about will be ready for some good old fashioned ‘hate the poor’ stories in the Redtops. In February all of those ‘hard working families’ will have bills landing on the mat from their credit card providers listing the sobering truth of all that money they borrowed to make Christmas the way the tele tells us it should be.

So last week over a hundred parcels headed out of the door and normal service was resumed.

And the cracks just get wider.

Here’s one to chew on. Two young lasses pushed a drenched pram through the door. The older of the pair was in her early twenties. The younger must have been fifteen or so and she held the hand of a toddler. She hung back and as the water dripped from her coat, she had the look of a refugee from a Balkan war. The toddler was still and mute. The pusher of the pram came to counter and presented a soggy letter from the Job Centre. Brief details. A family of three. A mother and two children. One four and one four months. No money.

No mention of the Balkan refugee with the hollow stare and pale cheeks.



How long? A month.

And the problems ran deeper than food. No baby milk. No nappies. Oh. And a mere 66p in the meter.

Had she applied for emergency money from the Scottish Welfare Fund?

Yes, but no joy. The Scottish Welfare Fund has replaced Crisis Loans as the place of last resort. It represents the last strands of the safety net of the State. Beyond the Scottish Welfare Fund there is nothing. Beyond the Scottish Welfare Fund is the Third World.

She told me that she had applied, but there would be no more money because she had already received three payments in the calendar year. And these are indeed the rules to be found in the small print. You are allowed to reach crisis point three times in any calendar year and after that you are on your own.

Does having a four month old baby with neither nappies nor milk make any difference? No a jot. The computer says no, and that is conclusively that.

We did what we could. We handed over bags of food and some packs of nappies that had been donated by one of the churches. We had no baby milk, but we dug out three jars of baby food. We suggested a fellow charity which might have been able to help out with £20 for the meter. And then they headed back out into the cascading rain leaving a memory of stretched translucent skin and the lost eyes of a refugee.

Decision time.

Like all charities we have policies to stick to. The welfare of children supercedes everything else. If we are worried that a child might be at risk, we are obligated to make the call no matter what. These policies are of course designed to guide us when we work with families where addiction rages. And from time to time we have had to make the call.

So what about a four month old with neither nappies nor milk and only 66p in the meter? Does that constitute at risk? Especially when the family has reached the point of three strikes and you’re out in the eyes of the Scottish Welfare Fund?

How ill can a four month old get in an unheated house in the freezing damp of a Scottish night in February?

Pretty ill I guess.

So I made the call.

I was passed around the houses for half an hour or so and experienced the joys of all manner of canned music care of the Council. In the end a duty social worker took the call and took the details. I could tell she didn’t want to. I couldn’t blame her. She obviously knew only too well that her department no longer has a budget to provide heat, light, nappies and milk. They have only one string left in their bow: remove the child and find a foster home.

A hundred years ago a young British Officer called Wilfred Owen penned a poem in which he strove to force the generals to take a glimpse of the hell and carnage they were causing with the orders they sent to the front from their luxurious Chateaus far away from the mud of the trenches. He described following a cart filled with the corpses of victims from a gas attack.

‘If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.’

Dulce et decorum est…

It is sweet and right to die for your country 

I put the phone down on the table and thought it would be a good thing if one of those Whitehall types could maybe have joined me at the counter to take a glimpse into those refugee eyes. I would have liked to have passed them the phone and watched them make the call and check out the anodyne canned music. Maybe hating the poor might not have seemed like such an easy thing to do.