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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Public reaction in the days following Jo Cox's assassination has been all about shock horror. Of course it has. How could it have been anything else. The true horror is only just beginning to emerge. For this was no clean asassination care of a sniper and a Barrat 50. This was a frenzied slaughter. A truly horrific event.
We have been shocked by the inescapable truth that something like this can happen on the high street in a sleepy town in Yorkshire. In daylight, whilst all around normal people go about their normal business. This is the sort of thing that happens in America, not here. We should be watching a news conference fronted up by a granite faced guy in an FBI baseball cap with a bunch of similarly grim faced guys standing behind him.
Then there is the shocking realisation that when you fill the air with racist poison, it can have a lethally profound impact on people with serious mental health problems. It would appear that the killer not only suffered mental illness for decades, but he had also been drawn to far right hatred for many decades. So why now? And why a mere few days away from the big EU vote? And had his local MP been a person who demanded we take control of our borders, would he have shot her three times, stabbed her more times than that, and then kicked her as she lay dying on the ground? This is the kind of thing that always happens when racism is deemed to be acceptable.
Then there has been widespread shock about Jo Cox the person. People have been finding it hard to get their heads around the fact that here was a down to earth young woman from Yorkshire who had set out her stall to try and make the world a better place. And in her 41 years, she had done a whole lot more than merely talk about it. Instead she had walked the walk in Syria, Darfur and Afghanistan. She had taken herself into the very darkest of the world's dark corners and she had done her best. And then, having done years of the fronline stuff, she asked the people of her home town to give her the nod to take her passion and compassion to the House of Commons. It seems that lots of people are struggling with the idea that an MP can so categorically be one of the good guys. Clips show us a woman who spoke regular English in the tones of the West Riding. No sound bites. No politician speak. No parroting the party line. And people are starting to wonder if Jo was unique or maybe, just maybe, there might just be other politicians in London and Edinburgh who are doing the job because they really would like to make the world we live in a better place.
Public cynacism in this regard is not remotely hard to understand. In the age of the spin doctor, it is hard to find either affection or respect for the faces we see talking at us from our TV screen. I thought last night's showpiece debate from Wembley was actually pretty good. And it seemed like the audience agreed. It struck me that the only time we heard booing was when either side went into parrot mode and spouted the mindless straplines of their respective campaigns. 'Take back control and vote Leave on Thursday....' or 'Vote 'Remain' to be stronger, safer and better off...'
No wonder people booed because there are few things most of us hate more than being spoken to like children. If you take a few moments to YouTube your way back to footage of politicians of yesteryear, you will find men and women who spoke like men and women as opposed to over rehearsed shop dummies. Tony Benn and Enoch Powell had virtually nothing in common other than the ability to speak in the same language as the rest of us. Can you imagine Tony Benn finishing his every statement by looking into the camera with his very best earnest face and parroting out the words 'Take back control and vote 'Leave' on Thursday.' Can you imagine any spin doctor trying to tell him to say it? Ouch.
Sadly the only reason we are now seeing archive clips of Jo Cox standing up in the House of Commons and speaking up for the desperate of the world in the words of a normal woman from West Yorkshire is because she was brutally murdered. The news wasn't interested in her at the time. The news only ever seems to be interested in giving politicians about thirty seconds to make their point. This is why we are now deemed to need bright eyed spin doctors fresh out of Oxford to come up with bland drivel to fill the allocate thirty seconds. Over and over and over again. 'Vote to 'Remain' on Thursday and be stronger, safer and better off..."
I can tell my last few blogs had annoyed quite a lot of people. I can tell by the looks I have been getting in the supermarket. People seem to hate it when anyone takes time out to shine a light on racism. Well so be it. I made a promise many years ago never to take the soft option and duck the issue of racism and I'm damned if I am about to start now.
Now I guess I'm about to write some more unpopular stuff. So here's the thing. In my experience almost all of the politicians I have met whilst working at First Base have been thoroughly decent people who do what they do for all the right reasons. They are not the droning, talking heads we see on the evening news. They are not all bent and venal. They are not serial liars. Instead they are people who genuinely give a damn who have chosen to walk the walk. Not all of course, but most. A clear majority.
You see, the people who come to First Base for some help are hardly the most popular. The community has a wide range of names for the people who become our clients. 'Junkies' and 'smackheads' and 'tenner bag slags'. 'Schemies' and 'Jakies' and 'Neds'. 'Shirkers' and 'Scroungers'. Hell I guess you could even add 'Niggers', 'Pakies and 'Gypos' to the list. The outsiders. The 'Others' who get 'Othered' by the likes of Farage. The ones who are deemed to be reponsible for every problem in all of our lives. I mention this because it is pretty damned obvious that helping this group of unloved people is never going to be any kind of vote winner. Most people prefer to pass our clients on the other side of the street or to gossip about them at the counter of the Spar shop. So I guess when First Base calls up a local MP or MSP and asks for some help with a client, it must be pretty tempting not to return the call. And there have been a few who haven't returned the call. After all, who wants to labelled as a 'Junkie lover'? 
Well, over the years most of our local politicians HAVE returned the call. And they have made time to meet our client. And they have treated our clients with respect and compassion. And they have gone out to bat for our clients. Not to curry favour and win votes. They have done it because they believe it is right. Because it IS right. They have done it because that was the whole point of standing for election in the first place. Do they get any credit for this? Well, they do from First Base, but not generally.
Want to see what this looks like in the flesh. OK. Fair enough. Here are three small examples from the last couple of weeks. And remember, First Base is a very small charity in a very small town. We are not cool and trendy. We are a scruffy little place helping the people that most people like to hate.
A couple of weeks ago my phone rang. It was Emma Harper, a new Member of the Scottish Parliament who is a mere few weeks into her new job. She told there was a health debate the next day and she wanted to mug up on a few facts. Popular wisdom suggests that MP's and MSP's are out of touch and they know nothing of real life stuff like the NHS. Well that is hardly the case with Emma. Emma knows the NHS inside out having been a nurse for over 20 years. She told me she wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the havoc and misery of drug addiction. Not exactly the most popular cause. She wanted to make sure she was up to speed. Could she call in for a chat? Sure she could. There was no awkward small talk when she landed. We know Emma well enough. She cross examined us and took notes. She listened hard to what Lesley had to say because Lesley has the kind of expertise that you can only get when your life is lost to addiction for many years. Emma stayed an hour or so, make her notes, had her questions answered and when she made her speech the next day it dripped with common sense. Out of touch in an ivory tower? I don't think so.
Last Friday I delivered a week's worth of food to a family of six who are trying to live on fresh air because that is what the Home Office wants them to live on. They were originally from Africa and they were awarded EU citizenship in Italy several years ago. Each and every one of the five kids was born in the EU. On Friday there were tears in the eyes of the mother. I asked her why there were tears in her eyes and she told me she had been watching the news and the news had frightened her. She was frightened of 23rd June. She said she was finding it hard to sleep. What would happen to her family if there was a vote for Brexit? Would a van arrive in the street outside to round them up and send them away? I did my very best to explain that such a thing was in no way, shape or form on the cards. And I think she believed me. But only 95%. Because she is a very smart lady and in her heart of hearts she knows only too well that I am only the manager of a two bit charity in a two bit town.
I wanted to take away the last 5% of her fear. So I called up Rich. As in Richard Arkless MP, a fellow travellor of the 'Yes' campaign who is now a member of the mother of all Parliaments. Could you do me a favour, Rich? When you have a spare few minutes, could you give her a call and tell her it ain't going to happen. She'll believe an MP.

No problem. Leave it with me.

Rich made the call and did his best to take away the three o clock in the morning terrors the poisonous words of Farage had put into her head. I guess it is called common decency. He told her they would have to deport him before he would let it happen. She liked that.
Last week I delivered our first consignment of food parcels to the library in the small town of Langholm. Langholm is a postcard of a place which is thirty something miles from First Base. There are not too many hungry people in Langholm, but there are a few. And if a hungry person in Langholm needs a food parcel it is no use to them if the nearest food parcel can only be reached on a bus that will cost £15 return. For a year or so one of our volunteers, Emma, has kept a few food parcels in a shed in her garden. Now emergency food can also be collected from the Library which means the service will be easier to tap into. Belt and braces and all that.
But of of course if the good folk of Langholm do not know there is emergency food available from their local library then they will not pick it up if and when they ever need it. So the information needs to be put out there, right? No problem. That is what local papers do. So. I need a Press Release. But when all is said and done, I am nothing more than the manager of a two bit charity in a two bit town. I could use something to boost up my credibility. So I call up Joan McAlpine, the local MSP. I tell her all about it and she says no problem, give me a day or so and I will write out a quote for your Press Release. Just a small thing. But small things add up. And there was no need for me to go into all kinds of detail about what we do because Joan knows exactly what we do. She has stood behind our counter and served food parcels. Why? Because she wanted to hear how things were straight from the horse's mouth. She wanted to understand. Because it was the right thing to do.
So there you are. Three small things. But when you add up all the small things, they can become big things. I tend to get quite wound up when people start slagging off all politicians and calling them every name under the sun. It is as lazy as it is ridiculous. But it is hardly surprising because the media is never much interested when politicians do the decent day to day stuff. So I am glad to report that Jo Cox wasn't on her own. Not by any means. We should try at getting better when it comes to giving credit where credit is due. Sadly, rather too many people get far too much pleasure out of slagging people off. Where's the fun in making nice, hey Nigel?


  1. I second this. I met and became friends with several Aberdeen and Aberdonian politicians during the referendum campaign and they are all decent, hard-working people who very much have their hearts in the right place. I now count three MSPs, a former MSP and several councilors as friends. Not close friends perhaps, but definitely friends, and the lack of closeness is only because of lack of opportunity and time not their decency as human beings. I've met several MPs as well and had real conversations with them and would say they are decent people too. Cynicism only serves to boost the powers that be as nobody gets involved to try and improve the situation if they are too cynical about their politicians.

    1. What am I talking about? I forgot the two MPs I also count as friends. Sheesh...