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.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Let’s face it, pulp fiction writers have made a pretty big splash in the referendum campaign this week. Well, that isn’t really right, is it? One pulp fiction writer in particular has made a big splash.

JK Rowling.

She has handed over a cheque for a million quid to those good people at 'Better Together' and the media been predictably gushing about the whole thing. I was listening to James Forsyth from the Spectator discussing it the other day. Normally, I have a lot of time for James. He is always well and truly on the ball and certainly knows his stuff. He pointed out just how little the politicians in Westminster understand what is happening up here. I certainly agree with that. But I certainly don’t agree with what he said next. For James sees JK’s big handout as being a potential game changer. The crucial fact is that she is absolutely NOT a politician. Instead she is an artist, a national treasure and she hasn’t hopped it off to some tax haven like Monaco. Instead she has chosen to stay in Edinburgh, pay her taxes and speak up for the Union.

James thinks her gesture might well prove to be a turning point.

I disagree on several levels. I have never met JK Rowling and I have never read any of her Harry Potter books which to honest are not really my thing. I have however read ‘A Casual Vacancy’ and I thought the way she depicted the day to day realities of heroin addiction was unerringly accurate and pleasingly sympathetic. It would also be seriously wrong of me not to mention the fact that First Base has been generously supported by her charity, The Volant Trust, for our project supporting young women at risk of violence as a result of their addictions.

So what do I make of her gifting Alistair Darling a million quid? Well, I would rather she hadn’t. Obviously. But we do live in a country that is more free than most, and for that we should be grateful. A lot of guys have shed a lot of blood over the years to ensure that someone like me is allowed to say what I like and post it on a blog without fearing men in long leather coats turning up at the house at four in the morning.

To paraphrase a very famous sentence, I absolutely do not agree with your decision to give such a hefty lump sum to 'Better Together', JK. But I absolutely agree with you having the right do so.

Am I in any way impressed? Not really.

Let’s face it, if you have several hundred million pounds in the bank it isn’t the toughest thing in the world to give away a million. I would have been genuinely impressed had you had followed the example of many of your fellow Scottish artists and chosen to join the fray in person. Over the last three weeks I have shared a platform with two fellow writers – Keiren Hurley and Karen Campbell – and I have sat in the audience to listen to a third – Alan Bissett. None of us have sold even a fraction of the books that JK Rowling has sold, not many authors have. But that doesn’t make us any worse as people. I don’t know about the other three, but I haven’t handed over any cash yet.

Well, as of this morning, that is going to change. Once I finish writing this blog, I am going to get myself online and give two £10 donations. The first tenner will go to Stuart Campbell to support his ‘Wings over Scotland’ site. The second will go to Michael Greenwell to support his ‘Scottish Independence Podcast’.

Neither of these guys are either rich or famous. Like many others who are providing the ‘Yes’ campaign with its growing momentum, they are just regular guys who have signed up to do what they can. From where I sit, they have both done a spectacular amount.

‘Wings over Scotland’ has been such a stunning success story that Stuart now finds himself well and truly in the merciless spotlight of the Establishment as a so called cheerleader of the so called CyberNats. James Forsyth was particularly impressed that JK Rowling had publically predicted that she would receive a torrent of abuse from the dreadful CyberNats in response to her decision to support Better Together. I guess she will find a way for living with it. Stuart not only has to deal with a constant stream of threatening tweets, but he also had just about every newspaper in the land taking pot shots at him. I haven’t noticed him moaning about it, he just sees it as part and parcel. I certainly haven’t noticed the media giving him any credit for putting himself in the firing line for of all the abuse he receives, unlike their gushing respect for the brave and heroic JK.

But of course the likes of Stuart and Michael don’t count. They are not A list celebs after all. And of course the media would be doubled over with laughter at the thought of a pathetic little guy like me stumping up my £20. Now, I am not pretending it is any huge sum. Of course it isn’t. But the fact of the matter is that there is no money in my bank account whatsoever. Instead my bank account is permanently overdrawn and home to lots of red numbers. So which is the more praiseworthy? Giving £20 when you are broke, or giving a million when you are well up the Sunday Times Rich List with £570 million in the bank? I guess that is down to everyone’s personal opinion. But I think James Forsyth should maybe look at it again. One super rich individual handing over a fraction of their personal wealth to support a Status Quo that has done them proud is hardly a game changer. It is a gesture made from the very depths of the comfort zone.

I would have though very differently about JK Rowling had she decided to give her time instead of her money. If she had volunteered to sit on the ‘No’ side of the table in town tall debates, then she would have had my respect big time. Imagine the turn out at any community centre in the land if the posters on the walls announced that JK Rowling was going to fight out of the ‘No’ corner.

Of course the celeb obsessed media would scoff at such an idea. Of course she couldn’t do that! She isn’t a politician after all. And those dreadful ordinary people in the audience might be nasty to her! Nationally treasured celebrities can't be expected to suffer that kind of thing! Well Keiren and Karen and Alan aren’t politicians, but they have all decided to leave their comfort zone to stand up and to be counted. So Have I, and at times it is indeed uncomfortable. But when all is said and done, that is what democracy is all about. People are allowed to have their say, and sometimes they say it loudly. It can get angry and passionate and heated. Well Halle – bloody – lujah to that.

You see James, this IS the real game changing story if you care to have a look at it. You clearly know your politics inside out. So have a think about this. When was the last time that so many people filled so many town halls and community centres in so many towns? Night after night after night. All over the country. You will know better than me. What I do know is that it must have been a long, long time ago. Many thousands of people have chosen to leave their comfort zones to do what they can. They hand out leaflets and they knock doors and they man stalls on the High St and they stand up to give speeches to packed meetings holding their notes with trembling hands.

They are the game changing story, not one very wealthy individual handing out a tiny fraction of her fortune. If you want to take a drive up to take a closer look James, I think you might be surprised at what you find. On one side, there are an awful lot of very powerful vested interests and they are throwing the kitchen sink at getting the ‘No’ vote they crave. They are fighting hard and they are fighting dirty and on the surface of things, they seem have all the big guns at their disposal. One the other side there is a growing army of little people who are signing on the dotted line to take the fight to them. The fact that so many ‘Yes’ meetings are now standing room only affairs really should be newsworthy. This kind of political enthusiasm isn’t supposed to happen in Britain any more. We are supposed to be to apathetic for that sort of thing.

But it is happening, whether it is reported or not. Every day Twitter carries photos of full meeting rooms from all corners of the land. One of the absolute stars of the campaign is my friend Tommy Sheridan who is doing five meetings a week. The numbers who are turning out to listen to what he has to say are extraordinary. 300, 400, 500. Can you think of any of our mainstream politicians who could manage anything even close to that? Just look at the pitiful, artificial audiences who turn out to listen to the likes of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Do we see Tommy on the news much? No. Hardly at all. Funny that. But if you type Tommy Sheridan into Google Videos, you will find that his most popular speech has now been watched 132,000 times.

Now that’s what a game changer looks like James. Remember the last time a politician got that kind of volume of YouTube hits for a half hour political speech? It was an up and comer called Barrack Obama and they all said he had no chance as well.

The fact is that the game up here is changing ever week, James, and JK’s million isn’t about to alter that. Make no mistake, what is happening is a slowly growing rebellion. It is so polite that people in London are obviously not noticing it yet. There is an assumption that no matter how many little people step up to the plate, they will never make any actual difference. Look how many marched against the invasion of Iraq. Millions. Did it make so much as a jot of difference to Tony Blair? Did it hell. But this is very different. All of the meetings are not there to put pressure on a distant leader to change his mind. September 18 is entirely down to us: not the newspapers: not the British Establishment. And if we have even one vote more than the ‘No’ campaign in September, there will not be a thing anyone can do about it.

It’s democracy stupid.

The 'Better Together' campaign has become ever more arrogant, condescending, bullying and strident over the last few weeks. And they still retain their air of self certain smugness. They remind me of Nicholae Ceausescu when he stood on the balcony of his Presidential Palace in Bucharest for the very last time in 1989. The crowd started to heckle and boo and he raised his liver spotted hands to quieten them. I will never forget the look on his face when it suddenly dawned on him that they were not going to fall into their usual terrified silence. The game had changed without him noticing. Instead being obediently quiet, they only got louder. And louder.

A couple of hours later he was making like the Americans in Saigon and fleeing from the roof in a helicopter.

That’s why I think you are so wrong about the JK million, James. Maybe it might have worked in times gone by, just like Ceausescu’s hand gesture had worked so many times before. But things have changed. Sure, the media is choosing to ignore all of the hundreds of thousands of little people and to focus instead on a single celebrity. But on 18 September JK Rowling will have £570 million in the bank but only ONE vote. The hundreds of thousands of little people might have overdrafts and maxed out credit cards, but we will also have hundreds of thousands of votes.

And that is when the game will really change.  


  1. Excellent summary.

    I too have never read any of the Potter books or any others and the fact JK has a different opinion from me on the referendum wouldn't deter me from doing so if the genre was my 'cup of tea'.

    Like you I am unable to contribute financially however I did get up and walk about 6 miles to Kirkcaldy to my first Yes meeting the day of Mrs Thatcher's death (or funeral) because it is the message that is important. A rich person trying to maintain the status quo (even though I don't believe a No vote will even mean that) in a society where 1 in 4 children (1 in 3 in some areas) does nothing for me. I believe JK is genuine in her belief and that she does a lot of charity work, however her letter explaining her reasons does not bear out scrutiny looking as it does like a list of misinformation from BT.

    Great article, as I say, and your book looks intriguing; I can't afford one - perhaps we can do a swap! (for mine)