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, June 27, 2014


Regular readers of this blog will know that I do not tend to feel a great deal of sympathy with the 1% of the world who are the Super Rich. However, much to my surprise, yesterday afternoon this is exactly how I felt.

The American guys who own Liverpool Football Club are very rich indeed. Like millions of fans all over the world, I consider Liverpool Football Club to be my football club. I have been a season ticket holder for over forty years. I damn nearly lost my life following the team in April 1989. However I am not completely naïve. I know full well that LFC is NOT my football club. It is THEIR football club, they being the Fenway Sports Group of Boston, Massachusetts.

The bought the club lock, stock at barrel for £300 million a few years back and at the time I was delighted because they guys they bought the club from had proved to be a pair of utter shysters who were about to send the whole thing down the pan.

At first the new guys seemed to be OK. John Henry and Tom Werner presented themselves as quiet, thoughtful men who were happy to take their time in putting our red Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Then they summoned Kenny Dalglish to Boston and fired him and I hated them for it. But like many other dinosaur Reds, I have been more than happy to swallow a pretty large humble pie over the last year as it has become increasingly clear that these American guys clearly know what they are doing.

Sure, they are in it for the money but that is how it is when you live in a capitalist society. Is that a bad thing? Not really. Having spent quite a lot of time behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980’s, I have little faith in communism.

When all is said and done, these guys have made Liverpool Football Club feel like Liverpool Football Club again and last year was the proof. For the first time in a long time, the old bond between club, players and fans was back and FSG deserve credit for that.

So they are rich guys, but at least it seems like they are in it for a slow buck rather than a quick one. Getting hold of tickets at Anfield is once again a tough task. They could easily have hiked the seat prices and they haven’t. They deserve credit for that.

Well, yesterday they were kicked in the teeth and it stinks to high heaven. Do I disagree with Luis Suarez being punished for biting an Italian centre half? Of course not. Surely no half way sensible supporter can have any argument about him having the book thrown at him. When we bought him from Ajax, we hoped it would be a case of once caught biting, twice shy. Then we moved onto hoping for twice caught biting, thrice shy. And now the bloody idiot has done it again.

So good old FIFA have made the political decision to throw the book at him and therefore paint themselves as the guys in white hats rather than a bunch of uber-corrupt crooks.

The problem is that he is barely going to be punished at all. He will not kick a football for a while and he will have to shell out two days wages by way of a fine. Apparantly the PFA rules will allow his main employer – Liverpool FC – to fine him a further two weeks wages.

So Luis can get his feet up for four months and feel sorry for himself. No doubt we will hear plenty about how what happened is down to some vast conspiracy against him. All the while he will become an even bigger national hero in his home country and when he eventually runs onto the Anfield pitch in November, the roof will come off. So, didums. Poor, tragic Luis. As if!

Of course he will miss football, but it is hard to feel sorry for him as he enjoys a few months off and gets paid £3 million to regale us all with lots and lots of sulking tweets.

Things are rather different for John Henry and Tom Werner. Last week they had a player who was worth £80 million who had just won a bunch of awards. What is he worth today? That is impossible to say. Maybe £30 million? Basically they have been fined £50 million because that moron decided to bite a fellow player. Had he been wearing a red shirt at the time, then they would have had little to complain about. All businesses have to take responsibility for the actions of their employees. It must be bloody sickening at times, but that is the way it is.

But this was different. FIFA demands that clubs make their employees available to represent their countries and if the clubs tell FIFA to bugger off, then there will be all kinds of consequences. So LFC had no choice in the matter. Send your most important employee to work for someone else for two months, oh and by the way, you keep paying their wages.

So we sent Luis off to represent his country. For two months we had no say whatsoever in his day to day routine. The World Cup has offered ample evidence of just how seriously the South Americans take their football. We know a bit about this kind of thing at Anfield, but even we look kind of quiet and reserved when compared to the red raw passion of these guys. Shanks was half joking when he said that football was more important than life and death. If one of the South American managers were to say the same words, nobody would see it as a joke. These guys will go to almost any lengths to get a win and their fans expect nothing else. So this was the kind of work environment that we were forced to send our most important employee to work in.

It is hard not to warm to the all consuming desire of the Uruguayans to punch above their weight. For a country of three million to do what they do is bloody fantastic. And we would be bloody hypocritical if we didn’t admit that this all consuming win or bust attitude is why we have taken to Luis.

We can only guess at the atmosphere in a Uruguay dressing room before a game. Maybe it is a really calm and considered place, but I very much doubt it. The way they play suggests that they have been fired up to a state of patriotic fervour where they are semi demented. The  team that goes out onto the pitch knows that they have a whole nation hanging on their every kick, and as the undisputed star player, Luis know this more than any of them.

So they wound him up and then wound him up some more and he lost the plot. Who was to blame? Luis first and foremost, obviously. But the Uruguay FA must also take their share of blame as well. Everything they do is designed to get the eleven guys representing a tiny country of 3 million to out perform nations which are vastly larger and richer. And sometimes they cross the line in order to achieve this. If as an employer you deliberately get your employees fired up to a state where they are semi manic, then you have to accept responsibility when things get out of hand.

In 1972, a civil rights march was organised in Londonderry. A crowd of 20,000 people was due to walk down the hill from the Creggan Estate to the Bogside. The odds were that trouble would break out and some crowd control would be needed. The authorities had a huge police force and 20,000 British soldiers at their disposal to keep the peace. In their wisdom, they decided to give the job of crowd control to the men of the Parachute Regiment. These guys were heavily trained for one particular role at the time. Had the Russians decided to sent their tanks into West Germany, the Paras would have been the first guys to take them on. Had such an event ever unfolded, the average life expectancy of one of the lads in the maroon berets was calculated to have been about 15 minutes. All of their training was about using those fifteen minutes to go completely mental and take as many Russians as they could into the next world with them.

It takes a very particular training regime to get men into the kind of frame of frame of mind to accept that kind of suicide mission. It means they tend to be pretty highly strung individuals. Trigger happy. And were they ever trigger happy on that cold day back in 1972. They executed 13 completely innocent, unarmed civilians. Obviously they shouldn’t have done it. But they should never have been given the chance. They should never have been deployed that day. They were the wrong guys for that kind of job.

Few people have any doubt that Luis is more highly strung than he should be. If he was an ordinary Joe who had been in court for a second time for biting someone, he would have been referred for some kind of mental health treatment. Of course that is what happened when he bit Branislav Ivanovic. However I very much doubt if all medical options were on the table. I have met many guys who exhibit the same kind of highly strung symptoms as Luis. They are the veterans with PTSD who come in to First Base for some help. Often they find it hard to contain their anger and they need medication in order to keep a lid on things. Unfortunately, this kind of medication almost always has side effects. As a rule of thumb once the meds are set to the right level, the patient will almost always put on a load of weight: two or three stones is pretty much the norm. This is no great problem if it means a guy can break a cycle of endless prison sentences. However I very much doubt that Luis would have been the Footballer of the Year last year if he had put on three stones of weight as a result of being prescribed the correct medication to keep his anger under control.

Sadly Liverpool FC has some previous when it comes to putting the balance sheet and requirements on the pitch before the mental health issues of an employee. The club saw Stan Collymore as an £8.5 million investment rather than a human being. He was only able to have access to the right mental health treatment and medication once he hung up his boots.

I am sure FSG would have dearly loved to carry out a risk assessment before handing Luis over to the care of the Uruguayan FA. Was it the right environment for him? Absolutely not. The best thing for all concerned would have been for the club to say thanks, but no thanks. Sadly it was not an option that was on the table. FIFA will not allow it. Clubs are given no choice in the matter. They have to send their employees to their countries whether they like it or not.

So FSG sent Luis to Brazil and continued to pay his salary. Luis predictably lost the plot and now Liverpool have to pay the price. A fifty million bloody quid price.

LFC has no responsibility whatsoever for what has happened and yet LFC is about to receive the harshest punishment. It is hardest on FSG because they are the ones who have just lost £50 million care of FIFA. But we fans suffer too. We shell out for our season tickets to watch the best players the club can attract do their stuff. Had we sold Luis for £80 million, we could have expected to see some pretty fine replacements. If we sell him for £30 million, the replacements will not be nearly as fine. So we suffer as well.

Maybe it is time for clubs to turn the tables and give FIFA a kick in the teeth. Maybe all clubs should meet up and make an agreement. All clubs could make a demand that before any player joins the payroll they must publically retire from international football. If they don’t, then they don’t play for a club. How would your World Cup look then FIFA? I don’t think you would have much weight to throw around then. And I don’t think you would have so many opportunities to stuff your pockets with all of those cash filled envelopes.

I for one would be delighted if no Liverpool player ever played international football again. I’m sick of lads getting injured or generally knackered or having their confidence shredded.

But this one takes the biscuit. FIFA have no right to screw Liverpool FC to the tune of £50 million. It is high time all of us tell them to take a hike.               

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 naïve 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.            

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.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014


This is about to be a very angry blog. A bloody livid blog in fact. It is ten o clock on a sunny Sunday morning and I had no plans whatsoever to feel this way. But I do and here’s why.

I woke up early, read the papers online, smoked, drank coffee and wrote 1500 words of my latest novel, ‘Toxic’. By 7.30, the sun was streaming in through the window to such an extent that I thought sod the writing. I collected up my two collie dogs and headed out into the early summer beauty of SW Scotland.

And all was pretty much well with the world.

I decided on five miles and mentally lined up three podcasts to accompany me. I kicked off with the ‘Anfield Wrap’ which is basically a bunch of Koppites talking all things Liverpool Football Club. Then for half an hour it was BBC 4’s ‘Friday Night Comedy’ which is always good for a laugh.

For miles four and five I chose another offering from Radio 4 – Jonathan Dimbleby and ‘Any Questions and Any Answers’

By the time I got to mile four of my walk, any semblance of my Sunday morning good mood had evaporated to nothing. Had I had access to a flight of F16 fighter bombers, I would have quite happily given them the co-ordinates for Broadcasting House, London, W1A 1AA and told them to give it the full ‘Shock ‘n Awe’ treatment. And then I would have sent along a few unmanned drones to use their Hellfire Missiles to mop up anything that had managed to survive.

Harbouring such destructive feelings toward the BBC is not a usual thing for me. I’m 53 years old and for the vast majority of those years I have paid my licence fee more than willingly. I like the BBC. I think the BBC is probably the best of British institutions. I have always liked the fact that oppressed people all over the planet tune into the BBC to find the truth their oppressors keep from them. And right up to this morning, I have always liked Jonathan Dimbleby and his ‘Any Questions and Any Answers’

So what changed? Here’s what. I will get the basics out of the way first. The show was recorded in a village ten miles out of Dundee so it was clear from the get go that the Referendum was going to play big.

The BBC acknowledged this fact by setting up a panel with two from the ‘Yes’ camp and two from the ‘No’ camp. Quite right too.

In the ‘Yes’corner was Keith Brown MSP and a guy with a concrete business called Laurie Clark.

In the ‘No’ corner were two Scottish Westminster MP’s – Margaret Curran from Labour and Michael Moore from the Lib Dems.

I will be honest, I don’t much like either of the ‘No’ guys, particularly Michael Moore. This is based on nothing much. I have certainly never met him and I know little about him.

On the other hand I have met Keith Brown only a couple of weeks ago. He invited me up to the Parliament in Edinburgh to hear about the First Base Veterans Project. I was favourably impressed and let’s face it, it can’t be a bad thing to have an ex marine who served in the Falklands in charge of looking out for Scottish Veterans.

So I started out pretty biased and there is nothing unusual about that. I cannot criticise the efforts of either of the ‘Better Together’ MPs. They did their level best to paint positive pictures and at no point did they descend into the kind of bullying arrogance that we have all become so accustomed to. When they were asked what they thought about the pathetic, patronising and insulting Lego based ad campaign from Project Fear, they called it pathetic, patronising and insulting.

So, fair play to both of them.

And both of the ‘Yes’ guys did every bit as well. It was a down the line, 50/50 debate. Well I saw it that way.  

So what about the questions which the BBC selected? Well, there was nothing wrong with them either. Was Obama right to stick his oar in? Are the people of Scotland being confused by so many conflicting sets of statistics? Was the Lego thing childish? Nothing wrong whatsoever.

So why am I dreaming of reducing Broadcasting House to a heap of smoking rubble care of an F16 air strike?

The bloody audience.

There are a few things about the campaign for Independence which are surely indisputable. The main one of these self evident truths is that it is going to be a very close run thing. The polls narrow by the week and if it isn’t quite 50/50 yet, it is certainly close to that.

All of the enthusiasm and passion seems to be on the ‘Yes’ side. All over the country new ‘Yes’ groups pop up every week. Most meetings now need extra chairs. The likes of Tommy Sheridan, Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan are filling Town Halls and Community Halls that haven’t been filled in years. Obviously it is easier to generate this kind of energy when promoting the idea of ‘Yes’. ‘Yes’ is all about hope and change. ‘No’ means hanging onto a status quo which is never going to get anyone’s juices flowing. The ‘Yes’ campaign is gathering in an energetic, younger, more passionate type of supporter. ‘No’ attracts an older, quieter demographic who keep themselves to themselves. That is why there are virtually no ‘Better Together’ meetings and so many ‘Yes’ meetings.

We know this. ‘Yes’ is noisy and very visible. How many people do you see walking the streets with ‘No’ badges on their lapels? Or ‘No’ stickers in their car windows? Not many, right?

‘Yes’ is visible whilst ‘No’ is invisible. ‘Yes’ is noisy whilst ‘No’ is quiet. ‘Yes’ is younger whilst ‘No’ is older. ‘Yes’ fills halls and hits the streets whilst ‘No’ stays at home and watches the tele.

Surely nobody would argue about this. And in no way, shape or form does this offer any kind of guarantee that Scotland is about to vote ‘Yes’ on September 18th.

So what was wrong with the audience who attended ‘Any Questions and Any Answers’ last week?

Just about everything.

As soon as Michael Moore answered the Obama question, the roof nearly came off with applause. I very much doubt that Michael Moore has ever received applause like that in his whole life. I guess Margaret Curran will have got a few home town Glaswegian Labour supporters out of their seats in her time, but surely never to extent that the good people of that small village outside Dundee acclaimed her. Did either of them answer the Obama question with a JFK panache? Not remotely. They were competent and no more.

When the only non-politician, Laurie Clark, gave his view, there were a few muttered jeers and the tiniest smattering of applause you have ever heard.

This set the tone. The ‘No’ side were roared on whilst the ‘Yes’ guys were sniped at and jeered. I listen to ‘Any Questions and Any Answers’ most weeks and I have never heard anything like it. The only time I have ever heard anything remotely similar was the way the audience laid into Nick Griffin when the leader of the BNP made his one and only appearance on Question Time.

Someone at the BBC must have worked very hard indeed to secure t audience. Sure it would have been quite possible to engineer an audience that was split 60/40 in favour of ‘No’. If the polls are to be believed, them that would be an approximation of the way things stand. But it is an altogether different task to dig out 60% noisy ‘No’ people to drown out 40% of mouse quiet ‘Yes’ people. In fact, I think I am being far too generous when I talk in terms of 60/40. The way that audience sounded it was much nearer to 80/20.

At one point Keith Brown brought up the McCrone Report and how the secret of Scotland’s oil wealth had been hidden away for thirty years. He was hissed at and booed. Usually only politicians who say particularly nasty things about immigrants or gay people are hissed and booed in this manner. The audience reaction was beyond bizarre.  Just imagine a Liverpool audience jeering a local MP for mentioning the Hillsborough truths which were hidden away for 25 years. Or a Londonderry audience jeering a local MP mentioning how the 30 year rule had buried the secrets of Bloody Sunday. The way that audience reacted made no kind of sense.

Nothing will convince me that the audience wasn’t completely fixed. And for that, the BBC should be thoroughly ashamed. Not that they will be. Over the last few days we have watched the D Day vets return to the Normandy beaches where they saw their mates give up their lives to guarantee our freedoms. How dare a few grossly overpaid beaurocrats besmirch the memory of their sacrifice by such disgusting behaviour.

Somebody, somewhere ordered the hand picking of that audience. There is no other logical answer. There is no other plausible explanation.

And it makes me really, really mad.

Christ, we really do need to win this thing.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Last Thursday night marked another first for me. I was invited to appear in a proper political debate with along with three proper, professional politicians. Actually, that isn’t quite correct. I was asked to fill in for Henry who couldn’t make it. Whatever. I was there.

From the moment I arrived at Gretna’s Garden House Hotel, it was crystal clear that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. This is not unusual! The other three debaters were predictably suited, booted and well groomed whilst I probably looked like I’d been dragged through a hedge. My younger son Courtney had come along to watch and he caused some raised eyebrows. He’s been the TA for a year now and he seems to have grown six inches taller and about three miles wider. No doubt when people clocked me arriving with my crew cutted mixed-race son, they must have assumed he was my minder!

One thing was for certain: Courtney was the youngest person in the place by about thirty years. The polite chat was hard work. I have never really mastered polite chat. I suppose it is probably too late now. I was introduced to the two Better Together guys. I had the impression they had already checked out my scruffy trainers and frayed jacket and didn’t approve much. They gave off the same sort of vibe to the Council health and safety inspectors who every now and then used to turn up at our mill in Lancaster.

My debate partner hadn’t arrived by 7.20pm. He was coming down from the Parliament in Edinburgh. He was running late.


Bloody hell.

The guy who was chairing the thing said he would give my man until twenty to eight and then he would have to kick things off.

Fair enough. One rank amateur versus two professional politicos? What the hell.

I decided to take a properly Lancastrian approach to the situation, so Courtney and I grabbed a couple of pints and headed out to the smoking area outside the front door to load up with enough nicotine to cover a couple of abstinent hours.

Was I sub-consciously reaching for the Nigel Farage playbook? Christ I hope not. It meant that as most of the audience arrived, they clocked one of the speakers smoking and drinking with a mysterious tough looking mixed race lad! It’s bloody lucky I’m not even close to being in any kind of political party: the spin doctors would have had a duck fit.

A few familiar faces from the local ‘Yes’ campaign started to arrive and they basically told me to give it to the opposition with both barrels.

My partner in crime arrived just before half past seven and the chairman laid out the ground rules. He told us that this was an event which had been organised by the local churches so it would be good if we could all make nice with each other.

Fair enough.

Once I took my seat at the table, I picked out the faces of a few local ministers I have got to know over the last couple of years. These are guys who have prompted their congregations to bring tins of beans and packets of rice along to church on a Sunday morning for First Base. Without these guys we would never in a million years have been able to keep up 500 food parcels a month, so making nice was definitely a priority.

Introductions were made and the first of the Better Together team got to his feet to deliver his 5 minute pitch.

He ran us through his CV and he told us all he was from Aberdeen and then he pointed out how well the fifty states of the USA had done by being better together. It seemed to me to be something of a rewrite of the history of our American cousins. I was under the impression that on every July 4th they throw a big party to celebrate escaping from Westminster rule in 1776. But maybe I have that wrong.

An honest opinion of the speech?

I thought it was dire to be honest. I have heard lots of speeches of late made by people who have never spoken in public in their lives. They have all been full of enthusiasm and passion. This speech was filled with neither. It was a half hearted read through of a page and a half of notes. I am Scottish and proud of it. I am British and proud of it. I think we should leave things as they are.

It actually really annoyed me. We are coughing up £66,400 a year to pay this guy. We give him expenses for everything he does. And when he is done, we will be paying him a hell of a pension for the rest of his days. All in all, it is a pretty serious investment and in return the least we should expect is a degree of professionalism. Instead he came up with five minutes worth of monotone dreariness. Anyone volunteering to help us out at First Base has to prove that they have the required skill and heart to be friendly, polite and non-judgemental to anyone who arrives at our front counter for a food parcel. In return we pay them nothing whatsoever other than cups of coffee and slices of donated cake. Here was a guy who we are shelling out the thick end of £200,000 a year to keep in the style to which he had become accustomed. Surely the least we can expect in return is a decent five minute stump speech.

My man gave his address and when he said he was passionate and enthusiastic, it wasn’t hard to believe. He told the audience that before entering the Parliament in Edinburgh he had been an accountant in the East Side of Glasgow who had worked in the Voluntary Sector. I was glad to hear the accountant bit. It seemed a pretty good idea to have a bean counting wing man to handle all the inevitable economy questions.

At this point I got an inkling as to how the evening was going to pan out. When the Carlisle Tory had finished his speech, the audience gave him a gently polite round of applause. Me and my partner joined in. Well of course we did. Surely it was no more than basic manners. But when my partner finished his speech, I noticed that both of the Better Together team made a big point of not clapping. I mean, how bloody pathetic. They just sat there looking like a couple of sulking kids who hadn’t been picked for the school team. Jesus. Sixty six grand a year and you can’t ever show a few basic manners.

The second Better Together guy was a Labour councillor from Dumfries and he really could have done with speaking a bit louder. I could only hear two words out of three, but I got the gist. He was from Northumberland and he had lived in Scotland for quite a few years. He liked England. He liked Scotland. He liked Britain. He really liked a Durham cathedral. He thought we should leave things be as well.

To be honest it wasn’t a great speech, but that was fair enough. As a local councillor he gets £3000 a year or so from the tax payers of Dumfries and Galloway and when you divide that sum by the number of hours worked, nobody in their right mind would accuse any local councillor of taking a lend of anyone.

I gave my speech. How did it go? Not really for me to say.

And so battle commenced. The questions were better than expected, largely because many came from the church side of things which meant an interest in whether or not an Independent Scotland might be a fairer and kinder place. Would Jesus approve of the way we might run our new and independent railroad?

I had done my best to prepare so that I could answer questions with a few relevant facts and figures. Even so, I was pretty sure that this would be my Achilles heel. After all, the other guys were all pros and my day job is managing a tiny little charity.

It didn’t take very long for the dreaded question about keeping the pound to arrive. The Carlisle Tory said that hell would freeze over before this would happen. He pointed out that they were 60 million against our 5 million. Do the math little guy!

I had decided in advance that the best way to answer the question was to quote more or less word for word what I had heard from Ken Clarke when he spoke in Moffat recently.

Ken’s view? Of course an Indy Scotland could use the pound. It is a fully tradable currency after all. Anyone is allowed to use it, just like anyone is allowed to use the Dollar and the Euro. Is it a good idea? Not in Ken’s view. Ken points out that the Governor of the Bank of England will always be appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 11 Downing St. Guess who he will be expected to look out for first? 60 million English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters of course. Will he be bothered about 5 million Scottish non-voters? Will he hell. Ken thinks it would be much better if an Independent Scotland simply opted for its own currency. Such a currency would be deemed to be a ‘Petro’ currency because it would be backed up by huge oil deposits. The world money markets would be keen to hold such currency, so it would inevitably be very strong. This would mean good news for Scots going on holiday but not so good news for Scottish businesses looking to export stuff. If the currency got too strong, then at some stage Scotland might have to look to do a Germany and artificially weaken its currency by joining the Euro.

The Carlisle Tory’s response to this was to smirk and say. “Well obviously Mark’s ideas are completely naïve….”

Well of course they were. After all, who was I? Just some jumped up little person from the Voluntary Sector. Now it was time for the audience to hear from the Westminster Village.

Well bloody sod that.

I interrupted him and pointed out that I had done no more that repeat the words of a Cabinet Minister from his own Government, a Cabinet Minister who by the way had once upon a time been a Chancellor of the Exchequer. How on earth could he call that naïve?

His answer? His top notch, professional politician comeback?

He gave a smug sort of laugh and simply said ‘Ridiculous’.

That was it. That was all he could come up with. How completely bloody pathetic. Christ if I was representing First Base at a public meeting and had as little to offer, I would expect to be fired on the spot.

That was the tone of the evening. We quoted facts and figures to back up what we were saying, most of which came straight from the HM Treasury end of year accounts. They sneered and gave their derisive laughs and never quoted a single, solitary statistic to back up what they were saying. By the end, they had both pretty well lost the tempers. Their message became very simple and they repeated it on at least three occasions. If you are foolish enough to vote ‘Yes’ on September 18th, you will have to negotiate every single clause in the divorce settlement. So remember this. There are 60 million of us and only 5 million of you. You want to know what will happen? We’ll give you a proper kicking, that’s what will happen.

My partner tried to point out that fairness has always been at the very heart of the British psyche and he found it inconceivable that the rest of the UK would treat an Independent Scotland with anything other than proper decency.

In response, the Tory from Carlisle gave a mocking, derisive snort. Just you wait and see little guy. Just you wait and see,

So the evening drew to a close and the handshakes were cold and unfriendly. Most of the people I spoke with seemed to think the ‘Yes’ side had prevailed, but I guess most of them were ‘Yes’ voters anyway.

My impressions? I was staggered by the mediocre nastiness of my opponents. How on earth can we be shelling out a salary of £66,300 for that kind of complacent, arrogant smugness?

Next week I have my second debate in Langholm and this time I know in advance that I have nothing but the highest respect for my two opponents. Archie Dryburgh is a local Labour Councillor and Elaine Murray is our Labour MSP. Both are genuinely fine politicians who have gone out to bat for some of First Base’s most vulnerable and socially excluded clients on numerous occasions. I gave Archie a call when the date was fixed and made sure that we have a ‘no falling out’ agreement in place. That means ‘no falling out’ once the debate is done and dusted. We both agreed to try to kick lumps out of each other on the night itself. Archie is an ex Gordons Highlander and a typical old school, street fighting union man. If it came to a punch up, then he would batter me into next week. So long as we have a verbal battle, I might just about hold my own.

I cannot imagine any circumstances where Archie and Elaine would ever show the kind of lack of class and manners that were shown the other night. Not clapping an opponent’s speech? I mean, come on.

Final thoughts?

Simple really. The way that Carlisle Tory went about his business hugely increased my determination to get free of him and his kind forever and a day on September 18th. I cannot bear to picture the look of utter smugness on his face on 19th September in the wake of a ‘No’ vote. The thought is a complete nightmare.