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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


On Monday night I was involved in my second Referendum debate and already I have three more in the diary. Doing this kind of thing is a completely new experience for me and there is no other option other than to try and learn as I go along. I am quite sure that there must be a whole bunch of people up and down the land who are sharing this particular boat so it seems like a good idea for us pool our experiences.

On the surface of things, being involved in the debates is a pretty tough gig. Many of us have already had to get ourselves over the hurdle of standing up and delivering a political speech. It is certainly something I would have never in a million years imagined myself doing and the first one was bloody nerve wracking. But they soon get better, especially when you realise how warm hearted the audiences are. The ‘Yes’ campaign is a place where everyone gets mucked in and gives it the best shot we can. For every word perfect, consummate pro like Tommy Sheridan and Jim Sillars there are loads of quaking first timers like me.

The good news is that nobody expects us to be great. All the audience expects is for us to speak from the heart and to use the language of the people rather than the kind of politics jargon we are all so heartily sick of. I have been really encouraged to hear that more and more local ‘Yes’ groups have made the decision to make their meetings politician free zones. I couldn’t agree more. When all is said and done, September 18th should have nothing to do with politicians. The Referendum does not belong to them. It belongs to us. How nice it would be if they would simply butt out and leave the field to everyone else. A variety of experts can give us the facts as they see them, and we can check out the facts and make our minds up. Once the deal is done one way or another on September 19th, the politicians can come back to the party and do the job they are paid to do. Hopefully this will be governing an Independent Scotland but if democracy doesn’t go our way, then it will be on them to govern us in whatever way Westminster dictates.

Over the last week or two the general tone of the debate has started to slide into the kind of spiteful, nit-picking, back-biting pit that many professional politicians are most comfortable in. We are about to decide on whether or not a whole new country is about to be born. That’s a huge thing. A unique thing. A thing for the next few hundred years and maybe forever.

Things don’t get much bigger than deciding to create a new country.

And yet last week the media was agog with the Lally story. The level of pettiness almost defied belief. A special advisor made the mistake of saying some woman was someone’s daughter in law when in fact she wasn’t. What on earth can something so completely inconsequential have to do with five million people deciding on the future of all their future generations?

The answer of course is nothing whatsoever. The problem is that professional politicians are hard wired to dive into the party political fray at the drop of a hat. We simply cannot rely on these same politicians to keep the debate where it should be. They have far too much riding on the decision, regardless of which side of the divide they are on.

This basically puts a massive responsibility on the rest of us. In an ideal world we could look to the media to keep the campaign above the antics of cat fighting politicians, but we do not live in any kind of ideal world. It has become abundantly clear that the vasy majority of the media is hell bent on securing a ‘No’ vote. They are not remotely impartial and unless there are any unexpected U turns over the next couple of months, we are going to have to live with their bias. It ain’t fair, but life seldom is.

The media loved the Lally affair. It enabled them try and steer everyone’s eyes off the big issues and onto a spiteful little squabble that had no relevance to anything whatsoever.

It seems very clear to me that this will be the main thrust of the Better Together campaign over the coming weeks. It is far too late for them to come up with any clear and compelling arguments to sway the vote. For years now, different Governments in Westminster have been striving desperately to explain what it is about being British that is so great. They haven’t come close to succeeding and it is inconceivable that they will find the magic button to press before September. It has also become clear that every single sensible economic argument offers a compelling reason to vote 'Yes' and thereby jump off the debt ridden sinking ship of the UK. Trying to scare us has got them nowhere and it is quite clear that ‘Project Fear’ is a busted flush.

All of this has left Better Together will only one card left to play: they need to drag the whole thing down to the hideous, ugly level of squabbling party politics. They know we all hate this. What is there not to hate? If the campaign is allowed to descend into a succession of Lally affairs, then the electorate might just become sufficiently disgusted to vote ‘No’ out of sheer contempt.

There is only one way to stop this happening. WE need to stop it. If we leave it to the politicians and the media, they will take the whole thing into their comfort zone of spiteful cat fighting.

So. Debates.

It certainly isn’t easy. More often than not, when Joe Public is invited to share a table with professional politicians, the deck is pretty well stacked against us. At the end of the day, we are amateurs and they do this kind of thing for a living. A bloody good living I might add. We have to get our heads around the fact that the normal rules we are used to in our lives will not apply in this particular arena. The basic manners that prevail in day to day life do not prevail here. This is their world. You get interrupted, mocked, sneered at, and called na├»ve and foolish. It is what they do. It is their default position. Like they always say, politics is a nasty game with no requirement for the kind of common courtesy most of us are used to.

So what have I learned? The biggest lesson is that the audience is much more on our side than the politicians. The audience absolutely hates it when politicians try to treat us with condescending contempt. We need to realise this and draw confidence from it. The audience also really likes it when we speak like normal human beings: they realise that we are not getting paid for putting ourselves in the firing line. They genuinely do get this and we need to remember this.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that it is quite OK to jump in and show my anger when other the panellists start to engage in any kind of party political cat fight. This is where we simply have to make sure we do everyone a favour. We have to find the bottle to speak up straight away and shut them down before they have the chance to get started on irrelevant nonsense like the Lally affair. It isn’t easy. In fact, it is bloody daunting. But I can absolutely promise that the audience will appreciate it.

From here on in, I am determined to try and hammer home this point at every given opportunity.

September 18th has nothing whatsoever to do with any political party. Instead it has everything to do with US.

Five million of us.

It is our decision and we will make it on behalf of all the future generations. How on earth can someone falsely identifying someone as someone else’s daughter in law possibly have any relevance to my great, great, great grandchildren? It can’t. It doesn’t. It won’t.

There seem to be more and more debates being organised and this is a great thing. Since the days of ancient Greece, debates have given people the chance to check out both sides of an argument and make the best decision they can.

There is no bigger picture than the decision on whether or not we create a brand new country for the next few hundreds years. We need to do everything we can to make sure that the big picture is the one we study and discuss. The likes of the Lally affair have nothing to do with this big picture and we betray the people in the audience if we allow the politicians on the debate panels to drag things down to that kind of level.

So long as the people who are arranging the debates continue to make sure that Joe Public has a place at the table, then it is vital that we find the bottle to keep level of the debate where it should be.

My advice to anyone who is about to take part in one of the debates is that you will find that the audience will be 100% on your side if you step up to the plate and stop the politicians having their way and reducing the event into a party political spat.

It ain’t easy but it IS possible and the onus is on us to do it.

One thing is completely clear – unless we do it, then nobody will.