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, April 30, 2016


Every now and then people ask me why I write this blog. I hope the answer I give is an honest one. I think it is. As far as I am concerned, most of my blogs are a part of my job of managing the First Base Agency which among other things is a foodbank. Ours is a door people walk through when their lives have hit the bricks. Crashed and burned. Gone down the tube. We see a lot of the forgotten people who live in the dismal half world at the very bottom of Britain's ladder. Their lives are quiet tragedies which nobody much cares much about. I guess they are the forgotten people.

These people have no voice. And so it has always seemed to me as a person who has written 23 novels that part and parcel of my job should be to do my level best to provide a voice. To tell their dismal stories. To shine something of a light on the way they are being treated.

So that is what I try to do. When I started the thing off I never ceased to be amazed when more than ten people found their way to reading the stories I had to tell. Then slowly but surely I found more and more readers were eager to hear the voice of First Base's forgotten people. As I write this, the 'Page Visits' counter on my page tells me almost 350,000 people have chosen turn up and survey the bleak little pictures of modern Britain I do my best paint.

But this is a very different blog. I guess you could call it an effort at self-therapy. Catharsis. An attempt to clear the spiders that have been crawling through my brain for the last few days. I guess it is a case of putting my money where my mouth is. For years I have sat quietly whilst all kinds of clients have drained the poison from their souls. Young female heroin addicts burying memories of beatings and rape. Skin deep hard men forever using violence to blank out what a so called uncle did to them when they were eight years old. Ex Soldiers trying to find a way of live with things they once did in the name of their Queen. And sometimes I suggest they get a pen and some paper and write it down. All of it. Like lancing a boil. Like throwing up a manically swigged bottle of scotch. Use words like bleach to scrub the soul.

Does it work? For some. For others not so much. And most don't try it at all. In the end the human brain is one of the last undiscovered horizons. There is no right or wrong way. We are all so very, very different.

I remember one lad telling me how after twenty tortuous years he finally found a way to break the stranglehold the childhood abuse he had suffered in a 1970's borstal had held him in. He took a pen. He took a piece of paper. And he wrote it all down. All of it. Every last festering detail. Then he screwed the paper into a ball and entombed it with a whole fat roll of sellotape. And then for five lunatic minutes he attacked the makeshift ball. Like a maniac. Like a psychopath. Screaming and swearing and dripping sweat. And all the while all the other lads in the rehab cheered him on like the crowd must have once roared on the gladiators in the Coliseum. And when it was all over the poison was purged. The spiders in his brain were evicted. Finally he was able to resist the honeyed whispered lure of heroin. He found he didn't need it any more.

The very moment the jury of nine wound up two years worth of the coroner's Inquiry into Hillsborough, I felt a dam burst in my head. At first I put it down to nothing more than an explosion of emotion. I don't cry much, but when the answer to Question Number 7 exonerated the Liverpool fans of all blame, I found my cheeks were soaked. I felt relieved I was on my own. Sitting behind the wheel of my van. Parked up in the middle of a million acres of Scottish nowhere.

It passed.

I smoked a couple of cigarettes and semi absorbed what people were saying on the radio. Then I got on with day. And I waited for things to normalise.

But they didn't normalise. Instead there were spiders in my head. Lots of them. Spiders on speed. Spiders like a mob of hyper active kids. Itching, scratching, teeming bastard things.

For years I have considered myself to be one of the lucky ones. I wasn't one of the 96 who died. I wasn't one of the hundreds who were injured. Lady Luck saw me turn right rather than enter the tunnel of death a mere matter of seconds before Duckenfield ordered the gate opened. Before a few square feet of crumbling concrete were turned into hell. I was on the right side of the cage. The side where you didn't die. A mere few feet away from a massacre. Able to breathe. Able to live.

And for years I felt hugely lucky to have avoided the mental wreckage so many of my fellow survivors have been afflicted with. From time to time I would hear of the suicides and divorces and alcoholism and drug addiction. I was never signed off sick. I never had to beg my GP for anti depressants or my smack dealer for a line of credit. My brain managed to process what it had witnessed.

Triggers? Again I was one of the lucky ones. I have learned a lot about triggers over the last few years from talking with clients of our Veterans Project. Sights and smells and sounds to transport a person back to a moment of trauma. A moment of blind terror and shame and guilt. One young lad with raw desperate eyes told me how he had lost his job in Tesco. I said that he had no problems with the afternoon shift. It was the morning shift that did for him. Because in the morning they baked bread. In the mornings the store would fill up with the smell of fresh baked loaves. For most of us this is a favourite smell. But not this lad. For this lad the smell of baking bread took him straight back to Helmand Province. It had been the smell in his nostrils on two separate occasions when mates had been blown to bits by roadside bombs. One minute he would be working quietly away. The next minute he would be all over place. Off on one. Way too far out of line for the management of the store. And he could never find the words to tell them how the smell of the bakery took him back to the worst place in the world.

I only have two triggers which carry me back to 15 April 1989. There is the smell of hot dogs and fried onions on a very particular kind of spring day. A few years ago this was common enough but not any more. Street hot dog stands seem to have gone the same way as coal mines and shipyards.

And then there is a sound rather than a smell. Think news items about famine zones. Think of a flatbed truck loaded up with fifty kilo hessian sacks of flour. Imagine sound it would make if someone dropped one of those sacks down onto a concrete floor. It is a very particular sound and not a common sound. It is a sound you hardly ever hear. Thank Christ. Because it is the very same sound as an inert body makes when you push it up and over a South Yorkshire steel fence and down onto a South Yorkshire floor. The sound of dead meat.

So. Not dead. Not injured. And afflicted by two triggers that hardly ever happen. Like I said. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. One of the luckiest.

And then things changed the very second the answer to question 7 was 'NO.' I haven't felt right since. Listless. Lethargic. A stomach full of inexplicable doom. Spiders in the head. And a feeling of guilt that doesn't want to go away. I tried to explain it to my two sons on Thursday night when we went to the pub to watch the Reds in the Europa League semi final. I couldn't seem to engage with the pictures on the screen. It didn't seem to matter somehow. More to the point, I felt if I allowed it to matter I would somehow be letting the dead down. And of course there was no logic to it. There never is. Just spiders. Just a general feeling of emptiness and doom. And way back in the back of my mind is the feeling that maybe I should have done more. On the day. In the years that followed. When I gave my first statement to the police. When I appeared at the Inquiry. Had I really done as much as I could have done?

And no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to make the answer into a yes. Hence the spiders. And already I am sick of the spiders. And the constant sense of … of what? It's impossible to describe. Foreboding? Emptiness? Rage? A mix of all sorts.

Whatever it is, I need it to go away. So like I said. This is an effort to practice what I preach. Write it down. But I'm not going to print it out and wrap it in sellotape and attack it with twenty seven years worth of bottled up fury.

No. I'm going to proof read it for typos. And being as dyslexic as I usually am, I will miss most of them. And then I will click the 'Publish' button.

And then I will send these words spiraling away into the ether. Hopefully the bastard spiders with go along with them.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In some ways it is similar day to that day twenty seven years ago. That South Yorkshire day. That Sheffield day. That Hillsborough day. An ice blue sky with cotton wool clouds. It was warmer twenty seven years ago. Lads were in T shirts. Today the temperature hits the deck every time the sun hides behind a cloud.

I'm out and about running the errands of a guy who manages a food bank. And second by second the clock on the dashboard is ticking its way to eleven clock. And at eleven o'clock a jury of six women and three men are about to pronounce on two years worth of what unfolded in a matter of minutes.

So I take a couple of back roads. Hedges and lambs and pot holes. A lay-by on the side of a hill giving an overlook onto a Scottish postcard. Hills and sea and buzzards in the sky. And an ice blue sky with cotton wool clouds. Like twenty seven years ago.

How long will it take? No idea. Probably ages. But after twenty seven years it doesn't seem to matter much. So I chain smoke and I wait. How do feel? Queasy. Braced for yet another kick in the teeth care of the British Establishment.

I remember my own part in the Inquiry. I was ambushed. All those promises of the process being non adversarial and mindful of the feelings of those who lived through that sunny Sheffield afternoon proved to be yet another lie. Instead I experienced the joy of being hauled over the coals by Mr John Beggs, the QC of choice for all top cops in trouble. Non adversarial? Aye right. He gave it to me with both barrels. According to John Beggs QC I was nothing more than a fantasist. Just another whinging Scouser. I half expected him to break out into that witty little number so favoured by United fans.

'It's never your fault... it's never your fault... you're always the victims .. it's never your fault...'

He was particularly angry at the letter I wrote two days after the disaster which I ended with a quote from Wilfred Owen. 'What passing bells for those who dare like cattle.' What kind of person would quote poetry in a letter to members of Parliament? A self aggrandising fantasist. An over blown Scouser off on one. A pound shop John Lennon. A person to be ignored and discounted and discredited.

I have to admit that for a while his viciousness worked. I was pretty distraught as I left the courtroom. Having waited two and half decades to finally be granted the chance to tell the truth about what I saw that day, I felt like I might have blown it. I felt I had let everyone down. The dead and the families of the dead. A version of survivor's guilt I guess. The M6 seemed a bleak place. So you want to take on the British Establishment little man? Oh really? Don't be so naïve little man. Just disappear back to your nasty little life. There's a good chap.

Later several of the families who had been in court got in touch to say thanks. They told me it had been better that I thought it had been. They reckoned I had given the hated Beggs a bloody nose. Thank Christ. In the end being vilified by John Beggs QC turned out pretty well. One of the family members told me that only one other witness got the same level of personal attack as I did. Who? A certain Kenneth Matheison Dalglish. That'll do me!


One by one the fourteen questions are answered. And finally after twenty seven bloody years the blame is placed squarely where the blame needs to be placed: where it always should have been placed. The South Yorkshire Police. The South Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Sheffield City Council. Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.

And the fans of Liverpool Club? Question seven?

No blame. Not so much as a shred of blame.

The fans are identified as the true heroes of those desperate hours.


And I am surprised at how emotional I suddenly feel. Suddenly the Scottish postcard beyond the windscreen is blurred by tears. The buzzards up above are indistinct. All those conversations. Those Hillsborough conversations in the bleak years when the cover up had been clamped into place. What? You were there? Really? And I would tell them what I saw. What we all had seen. And in return there would be quizzical expressions. Or even open aggression. Because for all those years I was nothing more than a typical whinging Scouser. Always the victims, never our fault.

Because in those wilderness years we were still very much Thatcher's 'Enemy Within'. Not to be trusted. Not to be listened to. Only mocked with a thousand 'Scouser in a suit' jokes. Or a shell suit.

We got to understand how it must have been for the guys who tried to explain how the world was round when the Establishment demanded everyone tow the party line of flatness. I guess we can count ourselves lucky not to have been burned at the stake for our heresy.

When the cops came up to Dumfries to interview me in advance of my giving my evidence to the Inquiry, they brought along a copy of the letter I had written all those twenty seven years ago. The ghost of a younger me who had bought a £6 ticket to the killing cages of the Leppings Lane End. The same letter that John Beggs QC had taken such an aversion to. They asked if I had kept a copy of my own? I told them I hadn't. They asked if I would like to take a few moments to read the words of a twenty nine year old me? I said I would.

And there they were. Words written by the younger me less than 48 hours after the killings. 

'It is already clear that a cover up is being put into place.' 

Christ. It was already that obvious. I could see it without any need for hindsight. They had already laid out their cover up for all the world to see. They were brazen. Well of course they were. This was the British Establishment. These were people whose fathers and grandfathers had perfected the art of the cover up all the way from Amritsar to Bloody Sunday.

They didn't care that there had been 54,000 eye witnesses. They didn't care that the whole thing had played out on live TV. They didn't care because they held all the cards that counted: the Government and the Police and the media. What did we have? 96 corpses. Only the British Establishment would have the front to cover something up that had played out live in the nation's living rooms.

These were guys who had taken on board Hitler's advice on how to lie. If your going to tell a lie, tell a big lie. A huge lie. One of the biggest lies ever told. And let's face it, they did a hell of a job. Their huge lie remained doggedly in place for twenty seven years. Long enough for all of the main players to draw their gold plated pensions.

And for year after year those of us to did our best to attack the lie were treated with derision and disdain. And when we stood in the away sections of football grounds up and down the country we would hear the chant of 'Murderers!'

We were the ones who had urinated on corpses and picked the pockets of the dead. Scouse scum.
'Always the victims... it's never your fault.'

Even after two years of the truth being told in the Warrington courtroom nothing changed. When the Liverpool fans made their way to Old Trafford for the second leg of our Europa League clash, they were met by a banner hung from a bridge over the M602.


Yesterday everything changed. We got something the people of Amritsar and Londonderry never got. We got the truth care of six women and three men. Care of a jury of our peers.

The truth at last.

Those who emerged from the courtroom were asked how they felt? Was their faith in British justice restored? I asked myself the same question. The answer? I don't think so. I doubt if it ever will be. These last 27 years have changed me. I have never been any kind of patriot. Maybe that was why I was drawn to Liverpool FC in the first place. When we get to Wembley, we boo the national anthem. We always have. Hilllsborough was the main reason I fought tooth and nail for Scottish Independence. I want no part of a country where such a monumental lie can remain safely in place for twenty seven years. Does yesterday's belated truth make me feel an different? Does it hell. Yesterday's truth merely rubber stamps the fact that the British Establishment is rotten to the core.

I spent a quiet hour re-visting that sunny afternoon in Sheffield. I remember getting back to the car a couple of hours after the killing. I remember the look of ashen relief on my dad's face. The relief of a man finding he still has a living, breathing son. I remember us sitting in the car with the radio on. Tuned into the rising death toll. It was still BBC Radio Two back then.

Peter Jones achieving the almost impossible and managed to find the right words. I have returned to his words many times over the years. They are close to poetry. You can hear them if you like. Just follow the link below.

YouTube pointed me in the direction of Match of the Day's coverage. I didn't watch it on the night. I didn't watch anything. I just sat and stared at a world of nothing.

It is worth taking half an hour to watch the coverage. They told it exactly how it was. They came to more or less exactly the same conclusion the jury of our peers came to yesterday. It was literally that obvious. The fans were clearly not to blame. They saw it all with crystal clarity mere hours after the killing.

It is here if you are interested.

Then the cover up was snapped into place.

For twenty seven years.

At least I was alive to see it finally unravel. Unlike the ninety six men, women, boys and girls who never came home from that sunny afternoon in Sheffield. Unlike so many of their family members. Unlike my dad.

There was more death yesterday, but it was the very best kind of death. The death of a lie. The death of one of the biggest lies ever told.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


I was driving around town the other day doing nothing of any great importance. The radio was on but I wasn't really listening. Some kind of news. A guy was working his way through the well worn '5th largest economy in the world' routine. Just background. Same old, same old.

Why had he bought it up? The fifth largest economy in the word thing?

I think it was the EU referendum. Was the fact we are purportedly the fifth largest economy in the world a reason to stay or leave? No idea. It is just one of those facts which are wheeled out over and over again until they mean nothing at all.

Lights on red. A queue of six or seven. Few enough to mean I would be through and on my way at the next change. A grey sort of a day trying hard to shake off the morning frost. Pedestrians in clothes advertising the fact that Spring was with us in name only.

And my eyes were drawn to a bizarre figure standing on the pavement by the lights. He was clad in a strange sort of jumpsuit. What the hell was it? Hard to say. It had the look of a Superman outfit that an over enthusiastic dad might hire in for his son's fourth birthday party. Maybe. The reds and the blues were faded from years of wear. This was certainly not a Superman jumpsuit of 2016 vintage. Instead it was a Superman jumpsuit which had been tucked away in the back of some cupboard for many a year.

From the neck down the guy was Superman weird. From the neck up, he was full on terrorist sporting a balaclava which left only his eyes exposed to the cold air. Well that isn't really right. Not any more. In the days when the Bogside and the Ardoyne hit the news every night, it only tended to the the terrorists who went in for the knitted head gear look. All that changed on the day when the SAS did their stuff at the Iranian Embassy live on prime time TV. Now it seems to be a requirement for any cop or soldier doing anti terror stuff to go for the eyes only balaclava look.

It was however abundantly clear that the man by the traffic lights was neither cop, soldier nor terrorist. Well I am pretty sure he wasn't, because his outfit was capped off with a large sandwich board announcing to the world that any Domino pizza could be had for the sum of £6.99.

Is £6.99 supposed to be good? I have no idea. I have to admit that I have never eaten a Domino pizza in my life. Maybe £6.99 represents the kind of unmissable bargain that is guaranteed to get any Domino fan changing their dinner plans. £6.99 actually seems quite a lot to me. For a pizza. I guess it's just me showing my age or something.

Well £6.99 may or may not be a hell of a price for a Domino pizza, but it still didn't explain why the message needed to be delivered by a guy in a faded Superman outfit and headgear to take us back to Belfast street scenes in 1973.

The lights changed. I drove through and the sandwich board guy slowly raised a gloved hand and gave us a wave as we passed him.

A few streets later there was another of these strange figures though this time his balaclava was rolled to the forehead to reveal a face that hailed from somewhere in North Africa. His jump suit didn't ring any superhero bells in my head. It was kind of mustard yellow and had probably come from the same dusty cupboard.

Over the next couple of days I clocked two more of these lads. Neither had recognisable jumpsuits and by this time I was secretly hoping for either Spiderman or Batman. You know. Superheroes I grew up with. But no such luck, Both had opted for the eyes only terrorist/ anti-terrorist chic head gear.

The locations they chose to announce £6.99 Domino pizza to the gold folk of Dumfries had been carefully chosen. Main junctions and roundabouts. Traffic hubs. The places where most cars would pass and pass slowly enough for the drivers to have time to take in the great news from Domino. It occurred to me that most of these junctions had once upon be home to factories where men and women worked in their hundreds. Back in the day when we did that kind of thing in Britain. You know. The whole factory thing.

Once we stopped doing that kind of thing, we bulldosed the factories and leveled the land and cleaned up the soil and came up with the dream of out of town shopping where we could all pretend that we were Americans living the suburban dream just like the Americans on the tele. And oh how truly marvelous it would be if we really could be like those American TV families with kids with blue eyes and corn stalk hair with their dad telling them how much he loves them every three minutes and their mum pulling an impossibly perfect turkey out of the oven. Or maybe they might give mom a break for the night and settle down together on an impossibly large and comfortable settee to laugh and hug each other as the kids slaughter the bad guys on the Playstation powered impossibly large TV.

And what does the impossibly perfect American family do on the nights they give their impossibly perfect mum a night off from cooking impossibly perfect turkeys? Why, they get on the phone and order in Domino pizza of course.

For £6.99. Any size. Super size.

And who needs factories when you can have your very own version of the out of town American dream. Tesco and Homebase and Currys and Matalan and …..

And, And, And.

And the sandwich board guys in their faded suits and balaclavas.

Fifth largest economy in the world? Really? All of a sudden it didn't make any kind of sense. How on earth can we be the fifth largest economy in the world now that we have bulldosed all the factories in favour of making like Dayton, Ohio?

We have replaced places where hundreds of men and women would actually make stuff the rest of the world actually bought off us with oddly dressed guys wrapped in sandwich boards.

Once I was in front of a screen I repaired to Google. Largest economies in the world? Ah. It looked a lot like the guy on the radio had been telling a few porkies. The consensus of the first few sites was that we were actually the sixth largest economy in the world. Not the fifth. So why lie? Oh that one is easy. Guess who is the real fifth largest economy in the world? You got it in one. France. And it wouldn't do to own up to the fact that we are behind our much loved neighbours in terms of our place in the global pecking order.

But what the hell. Fifth? Sixth? We are still bigger than the likes of India and Brazil and Russia and South Korea. So that's all right then. Who needs factories anyway? Factories are just so 20th Century. Best to leave all that kind of retro nonsense to the Germans and the Chinese. We are way too hip to do factories any more. We do service industry. Lots and lots and lots of it. We do out of town shopping and nail salons and costume drama and sandwich board guys.

So we're fine and we're dandy and any Domino pizza can be had for a mere £6.99 and one sunny day we will finally arrive in the promised land where paper boys on bikes sling the Daily Mail onto our doorsteps.

I remember hearing an interview with a customs guy. He was bringing the listeners up to speed on the art of money laundering. He said that every high street in every town is home to a restaurant where nobody ever seems to go. Night after night the view though the front window is one of lots of empty tables watched over by terminally bored waiters glued to their mobile phones. How can these places stay open we wonder? Of course we do because human beings are naturally inquisitive animals. Well the customs guy had all the answers. You buy a big restaurant. And you employ staff and you switch on the lights. And maybe if you are lucky you put a hundred quid or so in the till every night. But that doesn't matter because once you have closed, a quiet sort of a guy will turn up with a bag of dirty cash and a hundred quid becomes two thousand. And the next day you take it all to the bank and the dirty money is rendered clean. And the only way for HM Customs to catch this kind of operation in the act is for an undercover guy to sit in the empty restaurant for night after night taking notes of how many living breathing customers actually eat and pay. But of course the undercover guy will stick out like a sore thumb and on those nights the books will remain uncooked. So everyone knows exactly what is going down but nobody can prove it and in terms of turnover the ever empty restaurant can boast that it is the fifth biggest restaurant in town. Though in reality the French restaurant has the larger turnover, but nobody is about to own up to that embarrassing fact. Well of course they aren't.

The Panama Papers have maybe given us an insight as to how the land of the sandwich guys can claim to be the fifth largest economy in the world whilst not actually making anything. We follow the same playbook as the ever quiet restaurant. Only in a rather bigger way. In a truly massive way. For in the world of Mossack Fonseca, we are much more than the fifth largest economy in the world. In the world of Mossack Fonseca we are the largest and the finest launderette in the world. We are the go to place for anyone with a suitcase of dirty cash in urgent need of a good clean. It doesn't matter that we don't actually make anything any more. Once upon a time 70% of the British Government's income flowed in through via the Customs House in Liverpool. Those were the days when the goods of the world flowed in and out of Britain. Now we don't bother with the goods. Instead we just do the money. Land or hope and glory, money launderers to the world by appointment of the Queen.

Land of hope and glory where we like to pretend that sandwich board guys and out of town shopping mean we do more than South Korea and Brazil.

A faded superman outfit. A balaclava. A scripted wave. Any Domino pizza for £6.99. It is what we are.

It is what we have become.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


For avid Le Carre fans like yours truly, the the Panama Papers feel like the most wonderful vindication for the great man. Of course he hinted at the greyness of this particular Latin grey area many moons ago when he penned 'The Tailor of Panama'. But back then John's main area of forensic focus was still spooks. And then he moved on to a new set of bad guys: corporate crooks.

In book after book, John put flesh on the bones on the men behind the offshore ghost companies we are suddenly hearing so much about. And let's face it, it is pretty hard not to secretly believe that the name Mossack Fonseca hasn't actually jumped out from the pages of a Le Carre novel and into the blinding noon light of the real world.

Mossack Fonseca. What a name. What a completely perfect name. A boxy office complete with palm trees outside and blank faced security guys whose dads probably cut their teeth torturing people for Noriega.

A quiet office on a quiet tropical street providing a home to eleven million secrets. In 'The Night Manager', John's arms dealing bad guy Dickie Roper was called 'the worst man in the world.' And now we can see the place where all the worst men in the world hide their secrets and their treasure. The tyrants and the gun runners and people traffickers and the drug cartels. The place to stash your cash when you've closed out a deal for a quarter of a tonne of heroin or a thousand M16 semi automatic rifles.

All that is bad in our worsening world hidden away in a quiet office building in a quiet tropical street. In a place bearing the name plate Mossack Fonseca.

It is the biggest story in the world. It is a story about the worst people in the world. An up close and personal view of just how the wheels of evil are oiled. At one end of the story there is the destruction wreaked by the arms dealers and the drug dealers and the slavers. And at the other end of the story is Mossack Fonseca.

Have we discovered anything new? Not really. Not at all. Instead we have been given the thrill of seeing actual names on actual pieces of paper. We have been treated to the sight of what lies behind a bland letterhead for Pan Global Holdings BVI Ltd.

A reality TV guy. A Chelsea midfielder. A one legged model. A Russian dictator. A Etonian Prime Minister. And the media has done what the media does. When in doubt, obsess about celebrity. I guess there must have been much whooping and hollering when one of those 11 million documents yielded up the name Simon Cowell. And who needs the big picture when you have Simon Cowell?

And then of course the magic name Cameron also jumped out. Cameron + Mossack Fonseca = Feeding Frenzy. Well of course it does, especially when the Cameron in question suddenly looks as guilty as a double glazing salesman trying to pass off pine as teak.

So all of a sudden the pieces of paper telling the tale of how a container load of claymore mines can make its way to the Democratic Republic of Congo holds no interest whatsoever. Because David Cameron might or might not have benefited from flogging £30 grand's worth of off shore shares.

Is this immediate obsession with finding a few celebrities named and shamed in the leaked papers a deliberate smokescreen? Or is it merely proof that the unwashed masses are incapable of taking in anything that resembles a big picture? It's impossible to say.

Once we look beyond David Cameron and Simon Cowell, the big picture is as terrifyingly ugly as anything Heironymous Bosch ever committed to canvas.

If only our media would step away from the names and take a moment to focus on the numbers. The utterly terrible numbers. Numbers that are so big as to be almost meaningless. Numbers that simply have to be somehow broken down into something small enough for us to wrap our heads around.

So here goes. The big one. The huge one. The worst number in the world.

Right now there are 31 trillion dollars stashed away in the likes of the British Virgin Islands.

$31 trillion.

As in thirty one thousand billion dollars.

As in three hundred and ten thousand million dollars.

It's too big, isn't it? Way too big to make much sense. Context? The annual turnover of Great Britain Plc is about $3 trillion. As in every single penny 60 million of us spend or earn for a whole year. So it would take a whole ten years for every single penny and pound the whole lot of us spend to catch up with all cash in the off shore treasure chests.

Maybe there is a better way to look at it. Our beleaguered planet is home to 7 billion human beings. 3 billion of the aforesaid human beings get by on the princely salary of $2 a day. As in $700 dollars a year.

What if....

What if the off shore $31 trillion was seized under some kind of global version of the Proceeds of Crime Act and re-distributed to all those getting by on two bucks a day. Each and every one of the poorest people in the world – all three billion of them – as in three thousand million – as in the population of Britain fifty times over – every man Jack (or Jill) of them would receive a windfall of $10,000


The equivalent of fifteen years worth of salary paid out as a one off bonus. As John Lennon said, 


If the booty was split between every one of us on the planet, we would all get about $4500 each. £3000. Were such a thing to happen I reckon the global recession would end in the blink of an eye. Don't you?

Or maybe the confiscated cash might be channeled into solving a few of mankind's more intractable problems. We humans are pretty good at overcoming big hurdles. The only thing that tends to hold us back is a lack of cash. With a completely open cheque book, it is hard to believe that we wouldn't find ways to nail all the big problems one by one. A cure for cancer and malaria. A way to keep the world's lights on care of energy pulled from the tides of the Oceans. A way to coax the food we need from what agricultural land we have left.

$31 trillion would be enough for mankind to completely re-invent ourselves - to find a way of buying ourselves another few hundred years of history to write up.

Like John said. Imagine. But those two words Mossack and Fonseca say something very different. They confirm that we live in the world of John Le Carre and not the world of John Lennon. And in the world of Le Carre, the propaganda and the corruption will roll on relentlessly and all the worst men in the world will be allowed to do what the worst men in the world do. When it comes to the biggest and the baddest things in life, it is always a good idea to sub contract out the job of describing them. So cue Mr Shakespeare.

'But man, proud man
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured—
His glassy essence—like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.'

How the angels must be weeping at the sight of the squirreled away $31 trillion. Enough to make a life worth living for all of those desperate souls whose lives are barely worth living. And for what? The money will never be spent. How can you spend such a sum? There are only so many Lear jets and villas in Antigua. Instead this money which could be life blood for our failing world will never be anything more than numbers on a screen. A 21st Century version of the kind of treasure chest that once upon a time got Long John Silver hopping about.

If you ever visit the museum at Auschwitz you will find rooms filled with paperwork. Reams and reams of paperwork. And it is beautifully compiled by guys who were meticulously educated in schools where perfect hand writing was deemed to be a big deal. Copperplate. Precise. How many documents? I have no idea. At the time there must have been millions of pieces of paper. How many sheets per person? What kind of paper trail tracked a person from ghetto to crematorium? Maybe 11 sheets per person? Maybe 11 million pieces of paper for the million who went up the Birkenau chimneys?

Train time tables and coal requirements and staff rostas and Zyclon B orders and the take from every arriving train accounted for down to the last dollar note and diamond ring.

The paperwork that allowed evil to be super efficient. To be all conquering. To prevail. Mossack Fonseca and the biggest numbers in the world and the worst men in the world. And the angels are weeping like they have just sat through Bambi for the very first time.

Here are another couple of numbers. Not as big as $31 trillion. Not even close. But big in a different way.

The population of the British Virgin Islands is 32,000. OK. Fair enough. How many companies have chosen those sun kissed shores as their corporate home?


Aye right.

Angels weep on. And on....

Friday, April 8, 2016


Yet another election is a month or so away and once again there will be boxes for us all stick our crosses in. It rather seems like the elections for the Scottish Parliament will be something of a dull affair where the only question is just big the SNP majority is going to be. Certainly it all seems rather low key when compared to all the Trump fueled tumult going down in America. I guess what makes us different to most places in the world at the moment is the strange fact that most of us are by and large happy enough with the establishment. Of course the SNP are far from perfect, but when compared to many other ruling parties they have plenty to commend them.

All over the world the natives are getting very uppity indeed. The natives are heartily sick of the elites who have overseen the neo-liberal rampage which has reduced billions to being little more than slaves whilst a thousand or so gilded individuals have managed to squirrel away 13% of all the cash in the world into their offshore accounts. In the mid 1920's, the Italians were so pissed off with their ruling elite they decided Mussolini seemed like a good bet. Fast forward a few years and the Germans made a similarly catastrophic choice with Hitler. Now the very same impotent rage is driving millions into the savage embrace of the likes of Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump.

Thankfully we seemed to have dodged this poisonous bullet up here in Scotland. IndyRef gave us the chance to have our own version of a Velvet Revolution. Fair enough we failed to storm the palace and tear down the Union flag. But once the dust settled, the '45' marshaled our strength and most of those who marched under the banner of Better Together have been cast into the wilderness. The Red Tories and the Blue Tories now vie with each other to see who can reach the gates of oblivion first. They strut and fret around the stage, and they do a pretty good job of shrieking like unruly kids whilst refusing point blank to look the truth in the face. Their race is completely run and Scotland is well on course to make like Northern Ireland. Have you noticed a Tory Party or a Labour Party over the water from Stranraer? Nope. They were there once, but not any more. They became history.

The future isn't all that hard to read. In the short term some kind of Scottish Tory party will emerge under a new brand name along the lines of the DUP whilst Labour and the LibDems will become echoes from the past.

And then when the first independent government is sworn in, the re-branded Tories and the SNP will be the two main parties.

All of which makes this coming election somewhat underwhelming. As Celtic have found over recent years, it is tough to fill the stadium when the title is in the bag before the season has even started.

However elections are about lots more than parties. They are about individuals. Candidates. Contenders. Over the years I have had much more to do with many of these individuals then I would ever have anticipated. Firstly as the manager of the First Base Agency and then of course as a campaigner for Independence.

It has always surprised me what a magnet First Base has been for our elected politicians. I guess they feel we are a box they need to tick. Look how compassionate and caring I am. Here are some pictures of me visiting the place where the heroin addicts and the hungry go. The front line holds no fear for me! Oh no! I am the very essence of a true man/woman/person of the people.

Yeah. Well. Let's just say that in this case a picture sometimes paints rather less than a thousand words. More like about three. Because the proof of the pudding is forever in the eating. Things have always followed a familiar path for us. Politician comes to call. Photos are taken, hands are shaken, Press Releases are released and promises are made. Then one of our clients finds their way into a nightmarish situation with the State and we ask the politician if they are willing to intervene on our client's behalf. And let's face it, many of our clients are hardly pillars of the community. Anything but. They are mainly the forgotten people at the bottom of the pile.

And at this point most of the politicians who made such stirring promises during their visit will head for the hills. All of a sudden phone calls are not returned and e mails disappear into the ether.

Most, but by no means all.

Over the years we have met many exceptions to the rule that is now fueling the campaign of 'The Donald'. We have had three party leaders round our table. Jack McConnell was brand new, as was Annabelle Goldie. Both talked straight and both listened. Both were scheduled in for a half hour flying visit and both stayed for over two hours. Fair play.

Tommy Sheridan came to call in the days before his SSP colleagues made like Brutus and stabbed him in the back. Tommy is old school, cut from the cloth of John McLean and the Red Clydesiders. Say what you like about him, but even his fiercest enemy would never claim he doesn't go out to fight for the little people. Tommy is one of the good guys.

Alex Ferguson who has stood down this time offered living breathing proof that not all old Etonians are like most old Etonians. He was always absolutely brilliant with our clients and I cannot speak highly enough of him. He will be sorely missed. If anyone had ever told me that I would vote Tory one day, I would have told them such a thing was about as likely as me buying a season ticket for Old Trafford. And going. And actually cheering. Aye right....

But I did vote Tory. Last time around. Except I didn't vote Tory. I voted Alex because he was everything a politician should be. If all politicians were like Alex there would be no room for any Trumps.

Similarly our local Labour MSP Elaine Murray has always gone out to bat for our clients when we have asked her to. Once again. Fair play.

I am particularly delighted to report that my mate from the Indy ref campaign Richard Arkless has proved to be an outstanding constituency MP. Every hour of every day, his office is fighting the corner of those who have been booted in the teeth by the Welfare Reforms. Good on you Rich. Keep the faith.

Which brings me on to Joan. As in Joan McAlpine MSP.

We shared a bunch of platforms in the IndyRef campaign and it didn't take me long to be impressed. All kinds of Better Together merchants attempted to give it to Joan with both barrels and each and every one of them regretted it. I know it is politically incorrect to go in for racial stereotyping, but let's just say that Joan is very much a red headed Scotswoman. Enough said? Probably. Probably best to shut up in fact!

We hear all the time that politicians are out of touch and they don't get it. Many don't, especially those who have taken the well trodden route of public school to Oxbridge to internship to safe seat. Well that absolutely ain't Joan. I guess in a way Joan and I followed a similar route to doing what we do today. Words. For me it was writing novels. For Joan it was journalism. Researching our words took us both into the world where the forgotten people get screwed over every single day. In the end I wound up managing a food bank whilst Joan wound up in the Scottish Parliament.

It only takes a nano second to tell if a politician is genuinely comfortable with what the media likes to call 'real people'. We have a standing open invitation to all of our elected politicians to come and spend an afternoon at First Base serving food parcels. Only two have accepted: Joan and Richard. She was completely at home that afternoon and it is fair to say she served one or two pretty colourful characters. She has gone out to bat for us in several different areas. She spoke up in the Parliament about our battle to secure permanent mental health treatment for our local Vets suffering from PTSD. She sorted out a Portacabin for the Clark's Little Ark animal sanctuary in Sanquhar who hand out food parcels for us. She has sorted us appointments with Government Ministers on three occasions.

Are there many votes to he had from going out to bat for a small place like First Base and the forgotten people who come to us for help? Not really. I am pretty sure Joan helps us out because it seems like the right thing to do rather than it being the chance of a cosy photo opportunity and an easy life.

But here is the clincher: the best reason I can give you for heading out and voting for Joan next month. At the back end of last year I went into our local jail to see one of my veteran clients. I am giving out no precise details whatsoever on this one because I don't have any great aspiration to wind up in the back of an unmarked van with a bag over my head. This was one of those darker than dark cases. It is supposed to impossible to wind up locked up for years on end without a trial here in the UK. It is supposed to be. But it turns out it isn't. The story my man had to tell was not dissimilar to the stories we hear from those who have taken a boat across the Med to Lesbos to escape the clutches of Bashar Al Assad and his merry men. Put it this way. If my man had managed to escape from jail and duly made his way to Lesbos to claim asylum, I am pretty sure asylum would have been granted.

We get this at First Base from time to time. Dark, dark stuff from the very darkest corner of the State. We don't touch these cases with a barge pole. They are dangerous. Toxic. You don't need a great deal of common sense to know that it is a really, really bad idea to mess with the State. This doesn't mean we don't talk to the people Of course we do. We just don't stick our heads up above the parapet.

What we can do is to take the case along to one of our Parliamentarians. But not with a great deal of hope. Because most Parliamentarians will run a country mile from this kind of dark area and too be honest, I don't blame them.

Some, but not all. Tommy never ran away from anything. When I took this thing along to Joan and asked how she would feel about me dumping it in her lap, I would have fully understood if she had said thanks but no thanks. And I wouldn't have blamed her.

But she didn't say thanks but no thanks. She didn't bat an eyelid. Red headed Scotswoman, right? As it turned out the lad in question decided even worse things might happen to him were he to enlist Joan's support and he decided not to proceed.

But Joan was up for the fight. In my experience, she always is. And in my book it is good to know that there is someone like Joan out there to have our backs should anything bad happen.

So in my book she fully deserves our votes. Fingers crossed you get enough Joan.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


I attended a meeting the other day where a bunch of people gathered in a community centre to discuss the impact of the Welfare Reforms. I was pleasantly surprised to find that for once the audience wasn't made up of the usual suspects. Instead of Council employees filling page after page with meaningless notes, the room was home to mainly disabled people. Broken bodies and broken minds with some pretty serious axes to grind.

The coffee was strictly Government issue. Think prison. Think hospital. Think school. Starbucks might be teaching us all we need to know about dodging tax, but they have a long way to go before the great organs of the State discover that a few pence extra spent on decent coffee is actually a pretty damn fine way of infesting public funds.


The event was run by a couple of enthusiastic young women. Once they overcame the mandatory mini crisis with the power point projector, they kicked things off with statistics.

The numbers on the screen soon started to ring bells and make connections. Numbers introduced themselves in my mind and started to network.

Amount chopped from the Welfare Bill? £27 billion a year, mainly from those guilty of the crime of being disabled. Ouch.

Other recent numbers stepped forward and said “Hang on a minute, you're a bit like me!”

Cost of four nuclear subs to carry Trident 2? £32 billion.

London pocket money for the Scottish Government to provide roads, cops, hospitals and schools for 5 million people? £30 billion.

Bankers bonuses last year? £40 billion.

Don't you just love the logic of the capitalism of the new Millennium. Bankers screw up. Bankers crash the world. So what do you do? Well, duh! Give the self same bankers £40 billion and take it out on the real bad guys to the tune of £27 billion. Because we all know in our heart of hearts that all the problems of the last few years are entirely down to those scheming swine in wheelchairs. Did they seriously think they would be allowed to sabotage the American mortgage market and actually get away with it?

Once the numbers were done with, the presentation moved along to an unexpected destination. Human Rights. One by one the screen showed the terms and conditions of the various carved in stone rights we can all now demand and enjoy. The fruit of seventy years worth of careful work to try and make sure that there can never again be the kind of crash in the value of human life the world witnessed in 1940's.

We were told there is no means testing when it comes to having access to these Human Rights. All you need to qualify is to be a bona fide human being. Once you tick the Homo Sapiens box, you are eligible for the right to be safe, free, sheltered, warm and fed. Those in charge of nations have a legal duty to make sure these rights are in place for every man, woman and child in the Realm.

Each one of the these commendable terms and conditions asked pretty serious questions of the Welfare Reforms. Is the Department of Work and Pensions actually breaking the law by plunging so many into near destitution in the name of austerity and helping the cause of George Osborne for Prime Minister?

It seems like they probably are. Not that anyone is about to take them to court any time soon. So a moot point then. It's the hard edged world of Uncle Joe Stalin. When a person is killed it is a tragedy. When a million people people are killed it is a statistic. When mentally ill poor person on a benefit sanction nicks a Mars bar in a Spar shop, they will be hauled up in front of the judge to have the book thrown at them. When the DWP ignores all those cast in stone human rights and picks the pockets of millions of disabled people, well there isn't an ambulance chasing lawyer in sight.

Break time. I collared one of the enthusiastic young ladies to ask a couple of questions about the small print.

You were saying that to be eligible for Human Rights all you need to do is prove that you are a human being.


What about if you are a migrant?


Not really a human being then?

No. 'Fraid not. You are only an actual human being if you have the right kind of paperwork for the country where you happen to be at the time. You need a state to be deemed to be an actual human.

So if you are in a country that has signed up to guarantee Human Rights, you are not actually eligible for any Human Rights unless you have the right paperwork. And if all the paperwork you DO have comes from a country where they don't do Human Rights whether you are deemed to be a human being or not, well then of course you can't have any Human Rights because there are none to be had.

I can't say I was surprised. It was the same bottom line we are seeing quite a bit of at First Base right now. We are feeding two of these non human being families at the moment. Four adults and eight kids under the age of ten and not a human being among them.

To say they have no Human Rights at all would not be true. If they get stabbed, they have the right to call the cops and the cops will come. And the kids are human enough to have the right to go to school although they are not human enough to warrant free meals and help with the cost of uniforms.

Warmth, shelter and full bellies? Forget it. Not a chance.

One of the families is rapidly approaching complete crisis. D Day arrives on 17 May which is the day when they will be thrown out onto the streets. A mum and a dad and four young kids, one of whom isn't very well at all. They have asked nicely for the right to shelter and warmth? But asking nicely hasn't got them very far. The answer is always the same. Just go home. You lack the right paperwork for us to classify you as the kind of human being who is entitled to all that warmth and shelter stuff.

So go home. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

Home? Sunny Tunisia. Enjoy the beach and the museum and as a free extra, you can yourself get cut in half by a Paradise seeker with an AK47. Sunny Tunisia where a young market trader doused himself in petrol and flicked his lighter. Remember? A flick of a Bick and the Arab Spring was born. Jihadis and secret policemen and 50% unemployment and the shadow of hunger stretching out further with every passing day.

But never mind all that. Just go home. We really aren't remotely interested in any of the niceties. The small print. Not our problem. We have a book to follow. To the letter. And the word is as clear as clear can be. If the person doesn't have the paperwork to categorically prove they are a genuine human being, then they get nothing. Nada. Zip.

End of.

Is it worth mentioning that the kids are settled in their school and English is now their first language? That they are used to different letters entirely from Arabic letters? That they are used to writing from left to right and not from right to left? Does that not make even a jot of difference?

Oh pleeeeeaaase. Spare me the whining. What do you take us for? Some kind of assholes? Come on. Just piss off home.

Actually, at this point I really need to be fair. I know for a fact the the good folk in Dumfries and Galloway Council have no wish whatsoever to see our Tunisian family out on the streets. Their instincts are to follow each and every one of the Human Rights requirements available to human beings with the right paperwork. But there is a problem. Her Majesty's Home Office is darkly suspicious of Scottish Councils. They don't trust Scottish Councils to crack the whip in the required manner. So Her Majesty's Home Office is keeping a very close eye indeed on these pesky Scottish Councils. And a very clear message has been sent. If we catch you giving Human Rights to anyone who lacks the right kind of paperwork to be deemed to be a human being worthy of such rights, then we will most certainly throw the book at you.

As in the High Court and the best QC money can buy. And we will take you to the cleaners and we really, really don't give a shit how broke you are. Not our problem. Got yourselves a fine of £500,000? Oh diddums. So lay off a few bin men. Serves you right. It's all about being better together, right?

So there we are. The clock is ticking down to May 17. The dad came in to see me yesterday. Excellent English quietly spoken. Just a long shot. A straw clutched at. If I could think of anything. Anything at all....

And what can you say? Can I imagine being in his shoes? No. No even nearly. Four young kids and nothing you can do to stop the nightmare from happening. Not eligible for a penny of State support. Not allowed to do so much as an hour's worth of work.

And of course I felt useless and angry and ashamed and all the usual stuff but not a single one of those emotions was worth a jot to the dad with despair in his eyes.

So here's the thing. The community is the only show in town now. Maybe there is a deal to be struck. Just maybe. Maybe there is somebody out there with a big house and a big garden. And maybe they are entering the autumn of their years and keeping on top of the big house and the big garden is starting to be too much. And maybe they lack the funds to employ the services of a housekeeper of a gardener to help out? Maybe? Well, I have had a chat with the dad and he says he would do the garden and his wife would do the ironing and the cleaning in return for a roof over their heads.

Or maybe someone out there has a caravan site and might be interested in offering a caravan in return for work undertaken?

Maybe. Of maybe someone out there might have some other ideas. If you have, please share them. Absolutely anything. Because you know what? These good people absolutely ARE human beings no matter what the Home Office has to say about it. Are we going to see this lovely family tossed out onto the street? Or is there something we can do about it?

Here's hoping. If you know anyone or have any good ideas give me a bell on 07770 443483.

Here's hoping.