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, May 4, 2014


On Thursday afternoon, I took some time out to do some more research for my referendum thriller, ‘Toxic’. There are many times when researching a thriller can be somewhat less than thrilling and this was very much the case on Thursday afternoon.

A section in the evolving story requires the writer to have an idea of what a ‘Better Together’ rally looks like. That can’t be all that hard, right? There isn’t much that is all that hard to find out in the age of Google.

So I had Googled ‘Better Together Rally’ to find 58 million hits in 0.7 seconds. No problem then. But there was a problem in fact. It seemed that just none of those 58 million hits referred to an actual living, breathing ‘Better Together’ rally with people and chairs and stuff like that.

It goes without saying that Googling the ‘Yes’ side of things will give you an entirely different experience. The video button will take you to a host of YouTube films of grass roots meetings held up and down the length and breadth of Scotland. Just about every one of these videos has more than enough to give a nosey writer all the information they might need to create a fictional equivalent. How many people are there? How old are they? Are they wearing badges and T shirts? Do they seem enthusiastic, involved, engaged, animated? What sort of rooms are staging the events?

You probably get the picture.

Well. It seems that there is no such YouTube record of a run of the mill ‘Better Together’ meeting. Not one. Out of 58 million results in 0.7 seconds.

This rather backs up the theory that Project Fear has become home to the so called disappearing meeting which for a while has a date in the diary and then all of a sudden is to be found no more. Why should this be? Maybe the organisers fear they will not even be able to achieve the requisite one man and his dog?

Bearing this in mind, you will understand why I was pleased to get an e mail from the local ‘Yes’ people highlighting the fact that none other than Ken Clarke was due to rally the troops of Moffat last Thursday afternoon.

Would Ken become yet another ‘disappeared’ statistic? Doubtful. Ken still has a box office appeal. Surely Ken would ensure a room filled with rather more than one man and a dog.

There seemed to be some concern in the e mails I received that steps might be taken to keep anyone wearing a ‘Yes’ badge away from proceedings. Would they really do that? To do so would surely be the worst of idiocy. Yet another open goal. Anyway, it didn’t greatly worry me. I’m not the badge wearing type and I was pretty confident that my Lancashire accent would be enough to be let in.

I struggled to get away in time and it was five minutes past the appointed start time by the time I got parked up. The meeting was held in Moffat Town Hall and large picture windows showed that the room inside was packed. So the man in the Hush Puppies could still pull a crowd.

One squad car and two bored cops seemed to be the extent of the security. For the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that if the guys with the long beards ever allowed their focus to move away from airports in particular and transport systems in general, they would actually find it pretty easy to do some pretty dreadful stuff.

Possibly those clever MI5 people in Thames House had dug out compelling intelligence that suggested that Al Queda are actually rather fond of straight talking Tories in comfortable shoes.

Outside the door to the hall there was a clutch of highly animated people in their early twenties. They were dressed smart and sharp and they were fingering their Ipads with great urgency. Their whispering voices were very public school. No doubt these were the much talked about Oxford University PPE brigade who were vying with each other to be gifted a super safe seat in Kent. Two of them reluctantly opened up a gap for me to squeeze through without taking their eyes from their touch screens for so much as a second.

I found a seat at the back and tuned into the words of the chairlady who said she was a farmer’s wife and promised to run proceedings with an iron fist. She expressed delight at the packed room and explained that to ensure things ran smoothly, they had collected up some advance questions.

So. That was how they planned to avoid any unpleasantness. After all, good old Ken has become something of a National Treasure these days. It wouldn’t do for him to have to deal with any awkward questions from a bunch of pesky nationalist types. No. That really wouldn’t do at all. Much better to write down a few open goals and duly present him with the ball. The iron fist lady promised that if there was time at the end, she just might open up the floor for questions. Oh really?

Next came the Right Honourable David Mundell, the one and only living and breathing Tory MP in the whole of Scotland. I am quite certain that David must be the only human being in the history of mankind to become the butt of a joke that involves him being outnumbered by giant pandas. Now I have to admit that I am speculating about this. I haven’t Googled it. Maybe there are lots of jokes like that to be found in China.

David was as dull as ditchwater. He explained to us that a referendum is a democratic thing and urged us all to abide by whatever decision we all arrive at in September. He hinted that it really would be rather bad form were we to take to the streets with claymores and faces painted with wode. If we vote ‘No’, it will mean that we are still ‘British’. And if we are still British, we all must remember to behave in the tried and trusted British way. With a proper reserve. With our upper lips as stiff as stiff can be. Jolly well done chaps. And jolly well played.

After ten minutes of so of this semolina pudding blandness, the floor was handed to the National Treasure who had once upon a time been John Major’s National Treasurer.

The applause that greeted Ken hardly raised the roof. To be polite, I might call it polite. To be realistic, I would call it tepid. Ken spoke like a man who was bored out of his mind. He rumbled along without so much as a shred of enthusiasm and didn’t say much at all. The crux of his message was that in a very, very bad world, you will be richer and safer if you are as big as possible.

I mentally penned a question, though I doubted I would get the chance to ask it.

Ken. I would like to go back to your theory that it is best to be one of the big kids in the playground if you want to be rich and safe. In the light of this, maybe you could explain why most of the richest ten countries in the world are actually really quite small. I mean Norway and Sweden and Holland and Switzerland. They all seem to be doing alright for themselves on the financial side. And I haven’t noticed anyone going out of their way to either target nuclear missiles at their capital cities or to bomb their underground trains. Why is this, Ken?

Ken was done and dusted inside ten minutes and it was time for the predictable prewritten questions.

Oh my God, how bad will things be if we are not allowed into the EU?

Oh my God, how bad will things be if we are not allowed to use the pound?

Oh my God, how bad will things be if they erect an electric fence at the border with Carlisle?

Ken didn’t have the heart to say the lines expected of him. Well. That has always been his thing.

He pointed out that Scotland is the second richest region in the UK after the South east of England and would be perfectly able to manage on its own. He said he would be delighted to see an Independent Scotland in the EU, but he warned that the Spanish would see things differently: they would do all they could to make sure the Catalans didn’t start getting ideas above their station. He warned that the Governor of the Bank of England would take no heed of Scotland when doing his calculations. Why would he? England is 55 million. Scotland is 5 million. And the guy who appoints the boss at the Bank of England is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As in Whitehall. As in England. Ken’s view was that an Independent Scotland would be better off with its own oil backed currency. Maybe he has a point?

All of the interventions from the floor came from people who were obviously on the ‘Yes’ side of the fence and their comments were met with considerably more applause than anything that came from the top table. Was there in fact a ‘Yes’ majority in the room? Or were the ‘Yes’ people just more inclined to clap? It was impossible to say.

I did a rough head count. About 200. Most were retired, though there were a few middle aged types like me. The pervading atmosphere was one of disappointment. People had come along to see Ken because Ken is always good value on Question Time. But Ken clearly finds Question Time rather more interesting than an afternoon with a bunch of retired people in Moffat.

Was anyone inspired? I very much doubt it. Were they frightened? Maybe. But they probably left no more frightened than they had been when they arrived.

Was there one single thing said all afternoon that gave a shining, positive reason why it is a great thing to be a part of the United Kingdom? Well, I didn’t hear one.

Predictably enough the Chair sadly announced that the sands of time had run out. There would be no time for any questions from the floor. Well fancy that.

She thanked Ken and Dave and she thanked all of us. There had been no iron fist needed after all. She said that David would be saying a few words to send us all on our way and I could stand it no more.

So I made my way through the gaggle of bright young things at the door. They were still locked into their Ipads.

Outside it was still fine and the policemen were still bored. I got into my car and drove back to Dumfries.

Was this the Dambusters?

Was this Project Fear?

None of the above.

This was abject dreariness.        


  1. I attended this meeting... your report has far more eloquence than I could manage... although I did feel that the Yessers were unbowed by the mass ranks of unionism and displayed their colours openly and without fear....

  2. Sounds like Ken Clarke was more pro than he ought to be? Maybe a closet Yes?

  3. Mark good article although Ken did give the project fear at the beginning and I have to say that you missed out two points of interest. One when Ken said it was not for the prime minister to come up to Scotland, debate with Salmond and to tell us how to vote, but ironically it seemed to be ok for him to do it. The second seemed to go over everyone's heads. As he told us all about the dark forces in the world today he said that it was only the Union that "kept bombs from the streets of Moffat".
    He was on his way up to Glasgow to meet with an American trade delegation and I couldn't help thinking that they must laugh all the way home that UK politicians actually speak like that.