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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


I guess we have all been shocked in different ways by the fallout from the Grenfell Tower fire. Many have been astonished at the seeming inability of the State to react to the disaster. I guess this is understandable. After all we all still fresh out of yet another election campaign where parties of all colours did their usual thing and promised us solutions to everything. Those of us who work quietly away on the front line of Britain's social nightmare, the hopelessness of the State came as little surprise. You see, this is what we see every day.

Over the last few years millions of lives have crashed and burned and it has been left to the voluntary sector to do our best to pick up the pieces. We have had to become the safety net for those who fall off the ladder. The complicated people. The messed up people. The chaotic people. The people who don't fit neatly into the new zero hours, winner takes all culture. Successive Governments have tried to sub-contract out the job of looking after these people to the private sector. Maybe it looked like a good idea on paper to the bright young things in Whitehall. In practice the private sector did what the private sector always does. They took the money and they ran.

All the way to the British Virgin Isles.

And now we are all left with a shell of a system which relies on the ridiculous dedication of over stretched firemen and para medics and a whole bunch of volunteers.

One line in particular jumped out at me. It came in Theresa May's speech where she apologised for the woeful performance of the State in the wake of the fire. This is how the line in question was reported in the Guardian

'The government would look at a new “strategy for resilience“ in major disasters, which could include a civil disaster response taskforce.'

A civil disaster response taskforce? A new outfit to deal will serious catastrophe?

Maybe it is just me, but I thought we were supposed to have this kind of thing already. After all, Parliament has recently voted by a large majority to spend over £100 billion of our shrinking resources on the next generation of Trident missiles. They voted in favour of the nukes on the back of a very particular kind of satanic logic. Basically the message we are determined to send out to any of our potential enemies is very simple: if you nuke us then we will nuke you back.

Tit for tat, right? An eye for an eye. Mutually assured destruction. For sixty years we have gone out of our way to make it clear we would never fire off our nukes as a first strike. Oh no. Our nukes are a defensive weapon. A revenge weapon. 

This madness relies on accepting a cold, hard fact - we might be nuked ourselves. And this was something which was talked about a lot back in the darkest days of the Cold War. Back then it went under the name of Civil Defense. We looked back to bad months of 1940 and tried to learn the lessons of how we managed to withstand the bombers of Hitler's Luftwaffe. 

I remember some pretty bleak public information from those days. We were tutored into creating our own personalised bomb shelters using tables and mattresses. There were instructions of what to do with the corpses of the ones who died first. Not many punches were pulled. The message was clear enough. A nuclear attack would be game over for most of us, but there were plans in place to try and make sure there would still be a semblance of life once the radio active dust had settled.

Back then I had two accidental insights into what the post nuclear world might have looked like had the Cold War ever gone hot. At the time I was involved in the animal feed game - our family business made and distributed cattle and sheep feed all over the north of England and Southern Scotland. 

We did a lot of business with an outfit called Massey Brothers from Cheshire. They were a truly superb company, the absolute epitome of the best kind of family firm. Their products were excellent, their service was second to none and they were seriously profitable. The boss was Richard Massey and he was as fine a man as you could wish to meet. His reputation went before him as being a guy whose handshake you could trust one hundred percent. I liked him a lot. Just about everyone did.

One night we were at some sort of trade dinner. The formalities were over and the clock had ticked by midnight. Ties were off and the table was cluttered with empty bottles and over flowing ashtrays. Richard told me about a call he had once received from the Home Office. Might he be able to pop down to London? For a chat? 

He could. He did.

They asked him if he might be willing to step up. For the country. For the Realm. For civilisation as we knew it. As we still know it. Just about.

They painted a picture of the North West of England in the months following a nuclear attack. Millions would be dead. But millions would still be alive. Just about. And the millions would need to be fed. Somehow food would need to be distributed in an organised way. Well they had been looking about a bit. And they had come to the conclusion that Richard was the best guy to do the job should it ever need doing. To take charge. To pretty well achieve the impossible.

Of course he said yes. And for years he had been attending training sessions. How to survive the apocalypse.

I remember feeling oddly encouraged. The Home Office had chosen well. In fact they couldn't have chosen better. They had looked beyond the career beaurocrats and given the job to a guy who had spent his whole life actually doing the job. Richard knew how to move thousands of tonnes of food from A to B. Fair enough he had cut his cloth feeding cows rather than human beings, but in the wake of a nuclear strike we would all be as helpless as a herd of cattle. There would be no food to be found in the shops. Only the government feeding stations would keep us from starving.

If the nightmare had ever come to pass, then it would have been on Richard to find a way to get food to the surviving millions. The Home Office went up a long way in my estimation. They had chosen the right guy. I was happy enough for my life to be in Richard's hands. 

Next, a sunny afternoon amidst the towering dunes of Royal Birkdale. Lightening quick greens and memories of a teenage prodigy called Seve Ballesteros announcing himself to the world. My host for the day was a wide boy Scouse commodity trader called Billy who was touting for our trade over eighteen holes and a long session in the bar afterwards. He was completely buzzing and not remotely bothered by losing ball after ball in the thick rough. 

It was the early 90's and he had just struck gold. Well, sort of. He had got wind of some semi secret intelligence. The Cold War was over and the Government was busy cashing in the peace Dividend. As The Soviet Union collapsed into gangsterism, the threat of nuclear attack was quickly fading into becoming yesterday's news. The Government was shutting down all of the deep bunkers where the likes of Richard would have tried to keep a semblance of civilisation ticking over in the months after a Soviet strike.

All kinds of stuff was being brought into the sunlight having spent decades in the bowels of the earth. Not surprisingly the Government wasn't very keen on this being done in the public eye so most of the stuff was auctioned off on the quiet. Billy had managed to find out about one of these discreet auctions and he had turned up with his cheque book. They hadn't been very happy to see him but once he was there he wasn't about to leave. A few hours later he got into his car like a dog with two tails. He had managed to buy 24,000 tonnes of tinned biscuits for an absolute song. I seem to remember he paid something like a fiver a tonne: at the time wheat was well over a £100 a tonne, so a fiver was indeed a serious bit of business.

The gloss soon came off the deal when the first wagon turned up at his warehouse. The apocalypse biscuits were sealed into enormous tins which weighed about ten kilos each. The Scousers on the shop floor looked at the tins and realised the next few months were not going to be much fun. He actually had to get an engineering firm to come up with a bespoke tin opener.

I mentally turned Billy's haul into wagon loads. It was a thousand artics. Bloody Hell. A window on the vast, secret underground world the Government had ready and waiting for the day the Kremlin pressed the button.

So what is my point here? Pretty obvious I hope. In the 70's and 80's were were by no means 100% prepared for dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear attack. But we were at least doing something. Grenfell Tower was one building. The fire was massive and it spread with terrifying speed. We all saw it.

And the Government was more or less incapable of dealing with the aftermath.

One relatively small nuclear bomb would set alight a thousand fires as bad as Grenfell Tower. Much worse in fact. And instead of a few hundred survivors, there would be hundreds of thousands, all in dire need of food, shelter and medical attention. Once upon a time our leaders accepted this ultimate nightmare might happen as a result of their nuclear adventurism. 

Now? Well it would appear this is yet another responsibility that has been quietly dumped. If our capital city is incapable of dealing with the fallout from one fire in one high rise block, then God help us all if a nuke should ever fall from the sky. We are told we haven't got the money to pay for the kind of emergency services it takes to deal quickly with this kind of disaster. And yet it seems we do have the money to run four submarines and a hundred and fifty Trident missiles. 

We can find the cash to retain the ability to burn alive hundreds of thousands of people in a land far away. Sadly we can't find the cash to make sure we can look after our own people when the sky falls in.

And Richard and Billy? I haven't spoken to either of them in years. Both will be long retired. The 24,000 tonnes of apocalypse biscuits were all eaten up by cows, pigs and chickens years ago. The bunkers are all long gone. And it would seem all our ability to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack has also long gone. Our leaders have hung onto their weapons of mass destruction like spoilt kids clinging to favourite toys. Had they decided to spend £100 billion on making sure we can be properly looked after in the wake of a crisis, then the residents of Grenfell Tower would have been in a much better place right now.

Trident is supposed to be a deterrent. I wonder. I think Vladimir Putin will have taken a different picture of Britain on board as he watched the Grenfell Tower story unfold.

Just look at them. Just look at how weak they have become.... how hopeless...  how utterly useless.... it would only take one bomb.... one small bomb and they would completely fall to pieces......            
One small bomb......

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


It is September 2014 and the seat I am sitting on has suddenly become uncomfortably hot. It is no ordinary seat. I guess it must have cost a fortune. The seat is in a witness box and the witness box is in a very strange courtroom.

I am in Warrington amidst the gleaming new builds of the Birchwood Business Park. It is a place of corporate HQ's and lots of carefully tended green spaces. 

This unlikely setting is the two year home to the Coronor's Inquest into how and why ninety six of my fellow Liverpool fans were crushed to death twenty five years earlier in the cages of Hillsborough's Leppings Lane End Terrace.

On 15 April 1989.

On the very worst day of my life.

I have had a long wait for this day. A twenty five year wait. And now I am no longer just another voice in the wilderness. No longer are my words being silenced and ignored care of a cover up to end cover ups. Not any more. Things have changed. The public mood has turned and the politicians are following with a new found zeal. The purse strings have not just been loosened, they have been cut and thrown in the bin.

And so here we are. Lots of us. I am on the stand. In the spotlight. In front of me I can see at least thirty wall mounted TV screens and each and every one of them has me on it. To my right sits the coroner, a small, bird like man who gave me a miniscule nod when I swore myself in. In front and to my right are the jury, surrounded by a bevy of suited and booted court clerks. 

The public are slightly in the background.

Except they are not merely the public. Most of the public are families who lost someone on the the worst day of my life. Looking at them makes my throat feel dry. A voice rattles around my head.

Don't let them down, don't let them down, don't let them down.......

To the left are reporters. Lots of them. Some scribbling. Some 'live Tweeting', some just watching.

And front and centre are the lawyers. How many? At least twenty. Maybe thirty? Lawyers for everyone. The South Yorkshire Police, The FA, The Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Sheffield City Council.... 

And the families. 


Most of the eye watering legal bills are being picked up by the tax payer, mainly the rate payers of South Yorkshire. Only the families have had to shake the bucket. Thankfully the people of Liverpool have filled the bucket to overflowing.

Nobody has thought to stump up for a lawyer to look after me or any of the fans who have been summoned to Birchwood Business Park to tell the story of the worst day of our lives.

Not to worry. You see, I have been told in very clear terms about how there is absolutely no need to worry. It has been carved in stone. This Inquest will be 'non adversarial'. No witnesses will be treated as hostile. 

So no need to be anxious Mark. Everyone will be on your side. All we want is the truth.

Fair enough.

And for the first couple of hours everything has been as promised. One of the Coroner's two 'in house' lawyers has taken me meticulously through my journey in and out of the living hell that was the Lepping Lane Terrace. 

But now things have suddenly changed. Big time.

As soon as the Coroner's lawyers finished up a small, aggressive looking character jumped to his feet with the look of someone itching for a fight.

Non adversarial? Maybe not.

"QC Beggs. I represent the Police Commanders."

For half an hour he has laid into me and basically accused me of being a lair and a fantasist. Luckily I haven't found it too hard to stand my ground. I have after all spent the last few months of my life debating all kinds stroppy Unionist MP's in the count down to IndyRef. Being slagged off by nasty little men in suits is something I have become all too familiar with. So this is what you get if you splash out £800 an hour for the services of one of the Establishment's most vicious attack dogs. As soon as his direction of travel becomes clear, I deploy a technique I read about in the memoirs of a guy who had been on the receiving end of Gestapo interrogation. Imagine the bastard is naked. Suddenly he isn't so frightening any more.

So I mentally strip Beggs QC of his expensive suit and suddenly he is nothing more than a nasty little man defending the indefensible for £800 an hour.


For the third time he picks up of a copy of a letter I had written on Tuesday 18 April 1989 - a letter I had sent to politicians of all colours. A letter in which I made clear my willingness to give evidence about what had happened any time, any place, anywhere. 

Beggs adopts his very best sarcastic voice and reads out the final paragraph with a sort of sneering mockery. A younger me had chosen to end the the letter with a line of poetry. Wilfred Owen. 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'

'What passing bells for those who die as cattle."

He more or less throws the copy of my letter. 

'You finish your letter with a reference to Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Do you see?"

"I do." 

"Other than the error -- it wasn't 60 years earlier, it was in fact 72 years earlier -- you thought that was an apposite way of ending it off; yes?"

Unbelievable. He's nit picking me on the dates!

Apposite? Oh yeah, it was bloody apposite alright.

But of course this dreadful little man has no idea. I very much doubt if he was a football fan in the dark days of the 80's when we were corralled into cages by the police and their dogs. Like cattle. We were moved through the streets like cattle and once were inside the stadium we were penned like cattle. Crammed. Squeezed. Threatened. And we knew it only too well. For years we had developed our own response to the cops on the horses, the cops with the Alsatians straining at the leash, the cops fingering their batons.

We would make mooing noises. All of us. We would make like a herd of cows. To make our point. 

For years we warned things would end in tears. In tragedy. In a suffocating, rib snapping nightmare. And for years our voices fell on deaf ears. Who were we when all was said and done? Scum. Troublemakers. The 'enemy within'.

So we mooed like cows. 

And on 15 April 1989 we weren't herded into cages to eat hay and wait for milking time. We were herded into cages to die. The Leppings Lane Terrace wasn't a barn.

It was an abattoir.

Was it any surprise nobody had been interested in listening to our concerns? Our warnings? Of course it wasn't. We didn't really expect anyone to listen.

We were deemed to be bad people on so many different levels. Football supporters in general were painted as being the very scum of the earth by the tabloids. Those were days before football became hip and middle class. It was a game for poor people played out in dilapidated stadiums where the only new investment came in the form of metal cages.

It was cheap weekend entertainment for the very worst elements of the lower orders. Hooligans and troublemakers. Thatcher was still hell bent on passing new laws to demand all football fans carry ID cards as they traveled to and from the match. We were clearly not fit to be worthy of the civil liberties the rest of society enjoyed. Decent society.

And of course the very worst of football fans in the eyes of the red top papers were us. Liverpool and Everton fans. Scousers.

This really put us right up at the top of the league table of those elements of 80's society deemed to be 'enemies within'. The Sun knew exactly what it thought of Scousers. Lazy, thieving, shirking, scamming bastards. The city was the last redoubt of resistance to the Thatcher wrecking ball. We were labelled as Militants, commies, Trots, agitators, criminals.

Derek Hatton and Yosser Hughes.

As our dear friends at the other end of the Manchester Ship Canal were so fond of saying...

'Hey Rock n' Roll.... Scousers on the dole...'

What do do call a Scouser in a suit?.....

Yeah, yeah.

So of course nobody listened to us. Nobody gave a damn about us. We were of no worth. We were to be kept down. We were expected to know our place. 

So complaints of brutal police treatment and inhuman caged terraces were shrugged off as typical whinging. Trouble making. Just more bollocks. yada yada yada....

Only when 96 of us died live on TV in front of a watching world did people finally start to listen. Well. It was more a case of cover up a lot and listen bit. But they finally took notice. The cages were ripped out and the old ramshackle death trap stadiums were replaced with what we have today.

So I guess you can probably see why so much of the unfolding story of Grenfell Tower is sickeningly familiar to those of us who walked away from the Leppings Lane End Terrace with our lives in tact.

For years the residents have been warning about how their block was a death trap waiting to happen. They went on and on and on about it and nobody listened.

Why? because they are like we were back in the 80's.

The bad people. The ones the tabloids never tire of attacking. Poor people cheating their way to benefits. Disabled people scamming their PIP. Immigrants taking our flats and jobs. Muslims planning to blow us up. Young people itching to riot. 

Little people. Poor people. Bad people. Inconvenient people. Troublemaking people. 

People to be ignored. 

And they were ignored. Completely ignored. When we tried to complain to mounted police officers whilst we were being herded through the streets like cattle, they would threaten us with the back of the van and a police cell. When the residents howled out their rage and fear in blogs, they received letters threatening them with court. They were not simply ignored: they were actively threatened.

And in the end the death trap they warned about became an actual death trap. Just like the Leppings Lane End Terrace became an actual death trap.

Thankfully there are some very big differences between June 2017 and April 1989. Thankfully we live the era of camera phones and social media. A Hillsborough style cover up is all but inconceivable, though it is still prudent never to say never.

But will social media force those in charge to listen in the future to those deemed to be too poor or too troublemaking or too foreign to deserve a voice?

We'll see I guess.       

Sunday, June 18, 2017


As a newly minted Scot I have been checking out the instruction manual over the last week. What is the protocol for a Scottish leader who has just received a major kick in the teeth from the forces of London rule? Well after a modest amount of research the way ahead for Nicola seems clear enough.

1. Head down here to the wild country of the South West.

2. Find a cave and hide away for decent period of time.

3. Spend quality time with a spider and take proper heed of its relentless determination on the web spinning front.

4. Emerge reinvigorated and re-inspired.

5. Rally the troops and then sally forth and give the forces of London rule an absolute doing.

So there you go Nicola. You've already told us you're up for a period of reflection. Fair enough. reflection time is indeed part of the manual. But Bute House just ain't going to cut it. I bet your cleaning staff are pretty damn brutal on any wannabe spiders. Go on, be honest. Those spiders never get the chance to show you the way ahead, do they? Not in the finery of Bute House. So come on. Time to shape up. Pack a bag with your festival gear and get yourself down to Dumfries and Galloway for some quality cave time.

And what might the cave spider teach you given the chance? Well I don't think there is a great deal of mystery about that one.

You have been punished for being far, far too timid and to be frank it serves you right. Let's face it, the writing on the wall wasn't exactly hard to read. Have we had any recent examples of career female politicians getting the elbow from the electorate for being too cautious and managerial? Now let's see.... Hilary Clinton? Yvette Cooper? Ring any bells?

For some reason you and Mother Theresa both reckoned you could succeed where they failed so miserably. If you take your hands from you ears for a moment, you might find the spider has some interesting stuff to tell you, even if you don't much want to hear it. The desperate fact is the SNP fought a more or less identikit campaign to the Tory campaign in England. This one, right?

We are the party of government. We are the safe pair of hands. We have a nice little strap-line which cost us a fortune - 'Strong and stable', 'Stronger for Scotland'. But when all is said and done, we don't much rate most of the team so we will focus the whole show on our wonderfully popular female leader who will travel the country smiling for the cameras and saying more or less nothing. And we will listen to the honeyed words of the spin doctors. People are stupid. People have no interest in politics. They only have time to hear one idea. So just give them one idea and a million photo opportunities. Vote for me because I am strong and stable and Jeremy Corbyn is a wicked evil communist who hangs out with the IRA and Hamas. Or vote for me because I am stronger for Scotland the the Tories are the wicked evil fascist offspring of Thatcher and rape clause, rape clause, rape clause........

There was only one difference between the two pathetic campaigns. Mother Theresa managed to score the own goal to end all own goals with her Dementia Tax. Our campaign was merely pathetic where Mother Therasa's was pathetic plus a monumental own goal.

Oddly enough I quite enjoyed election night. In my own mind I had already given up on my mate Richard's chances of hanging on in Dumfries and Galloway. A betting site had told me he was ten to one against. I can never quite understand how the bookies always tend to get things so right, but they do. Similarly I was reconciled to the idea of Mundell being with us for at least another five years. Agghhhhhhhh!!!!!

Of course the exit poll news about the SNP collapse took a bit of swallowing but I must admit there was a large part of me which straight away felt it was the best thing that could have happened for the Independence movement. Regular readers of this blog will know I have been moaning for months about the endless caution of the SNP. A wake up call was sorely needed and a wake up call was well and truly delivered. 

So, now it is over to you spider.

Election night had plenty of highlights. The sight of an ashen faced Mother Theresa sharing a platform with Lord Buckethead has to be one of the greatest things I have ever seen. However, the best part of the night for me was watching the results come in from the north of England. This is where I hail from and it has been hard to watch over recent years as the UKIP racist poison has spread like a kind of 21st century plague. Thankfully June 8 was the day my fellow Northerners finally woke up and rediscovered their old decency. At long last the racist tide was stopped. Now I can only hope it will be turned and forced back. Maybe. I really, really hope so.

Oddly enough 36 SNP MPs are about to have a whole lot more influence than the 56 had for the last two years. Every vote will be on a knife edge and they will be able to play a major part in making sure Mother Theresa's life is a constant misery.

But here's the thing, Nicola. If you allow yourself to wallow in these endless Tory nightmares, you will once again be trampling on the Independence dream. On this I think the words of the spider will be painfully clear. You have allowed yourself to become a part of the establishment. You have fallen for the seductive charms of the Westminster and Holyrood bubbles. You like the fat salary and all the lovely trappings the establishment likes to lay on for those it seduces. And you can't bear the chance of leaving such a comfort zone, can you?

I wonder if this is the reason why you can barely stand to talk about Independence any more? Because talking about Independence means putting it all at risk doesn't it? It feels like climbing out to the end of a branch where the treasure is hanging. But what if some nasty person saws through the branch.... what if you fall.... it's such a long way down...... and it was such a long climb to get so high........

So you hug the trunk of the tree close and try and pretend the treasure at the end of the branch isn't really there. And you forget the only reason your people sent up the tree in the first place was to get a hold of the treasure and then use it to make their lives better.

Now the spider has your full attention, maybe you need to answer a few tough questions. Did Nelson Mandela stop talking about freedom in exchange for a comfortable life? Or Ghandi? Or Martin Luther King? Or George Washington? Oh I don't think so. They had to walk the hard miles before they reached their promised lands.

So next time a niggling BBC reporter starts to pick at you with questions about Indyref 2 here is what you need to start to start saying.

Of course we want Indyref 2. Why wouldn't we? We have one goal and one goal only, Independence, and we will do everything our power to reach that goal. 

But polls say people don't want Indyref 2!!!

So do you seriously expect us to just give up? You don't do Independence according to polls. Even if the polls fall to under 1%, we will demand Independence. Just because it gets hard doesn't mean we will even think of giving up. Over fifty countries have gone before us and freed themselves from London rule. It never came easy. They had to fight tooth and nail. Their leaders were locked up and beaten black and blue but they were never gagged. Just like we will never be gagged no matter what the Westminster establishment and its fawning media have to say. So do I want Indyref 2? You bet I do. And Indyref 3. And Indyref 4 and 5 and 6 and 7. We are never going to give this dream up no matter how often the media tell us to give it up.

And of course the spin doctors would shrink in utter horror at this kind of talk. For Christ's sake you can't say that!!!! You need to tread carefully. You need to triangulate. Just play safe....

Just like Hilary Clinton and Yvette Cooper played safe. Just like you and Theresa May played safe. Well that worked well, didn't it?

I absolutely despise giving Donald Trump any credit for anything. But against all predictions he actually managed to win by saying things the media promised were un-sayable. Trump and Corbyn have tipped over the apple cart by selling fairy tales. So think about it. What a massive advantage we have compared to them. Scottish Independence isn't any kind of fairy tale. It is actually pure common sense. The London ship is sinking faster than the Titanic and Independence is our lifeboat. It is a realistic option, all you need to do is to sell it. It should be a million times easier to sell a dream rather than a pipedream. We're not talking about a two thousand mile long border wall here. We're not talking about the world financial community lending a basket case like the UK another £500 billion. All we are talking about is following the same path of all those other countries who cut the London cord and went onto better things. Let's be honest here, there isn't actually a queue of them wanting to get back into the fold.

So what did your predecessor Robert the Bruce do after spending quality time with his cave spider? Well allegedly he came up with the phrase 'if at first you don't succeed then try and try again.' Maybe. It would be nice to think it was true. What he most certainly did do was to become one of history's most successful guerrilla fighters. He found a way to give London bloody nose after bloody nose and in the end he won.

Sounds pretty good to me. What do you think, Nicola? What you need to do first of all is to rally your troops. Bugger the niceties and put some fire back into our bellies. Stuff what Ruth Davidson and Sarah Smith and the bloody papers have to say. Get in their faces. Start to snarl a bit. And find places where you can pick a fight. Stop playing by their rules. This is a time for guerrilla war. Worry away at their weak points. Blow up their supply trains. Lay ambushes. 

Maybe you could start by promising to visit each and every one of the countries who found a way to free themselves from London rule. Make a massive thing of it. Visit the battlefields. Tour the old prisons. Pose by the statues. 

They would hate that. And they would scream and mock. So what? They don't matter. They are immaterial. The people who matter are the Yes Movement. We are all still there and it won't take much to get us fired up and roaring again.

Right now London is as weak as it has ever been at any time in the history of the United Kingdom. They are the perfect target for a good guerrilla commander. If you stop playing by their rules you can start winning again. And yes, there are risks. And yes it might go wrong. Well that is part of the job I'm afraid. A real Independence leader cannot be risk averse. A real Independence leader needs to be constantly bold. If you don't think you have the stomach for the fight, then you really should step aside and pass the baton to someone who has. This is no time for a smooth talking manager in a nice suit. We need a street fighter now.

So listen to the spider Nicola. Take the bloody gloves off and get out there and fight the bastards.            

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


A couple of weeks ago the BBC staged their much trailed election debate in Leeds. Except it wasn't an actual debate of course. Not in the traditional sense of two contenders taking each other on. No. Not that. It was more a case of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May being in the same building. At the same time. In West Yorkshire.

The BBC took the opportunity to give the floor to a procession of angry old white men with brick red faces. Each and every one was outraged by Jeremy Corbyn's visible reluctance to press the nuclear button. There was much talk of North Korea or 'some idiot in Iran.' It was made clear to the viewer the defence debate was all about our treasured nukes and who would be the best person to let them fly.

This is odd really. In the last two elections there has barely been a mention of the prospect of nuclear war and all it entails. Maybe this was because all parties shared an equal enthusiasm for ending life as we know it in the name of looking tough for the tabloid media. Thankfully a note of sanity was introduced to proceedings when a young lady wondered aloud why so many people in the room seemed so very keen to murder hundreds of thousands of people.

Why indeed?

What was completely missing from the 90 minutes of so called debate was any talk about our recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. You would have thought these wars would have been rather more relevant than the hypothetical question of whether it might one day be a good idea to burn alive an unknown number of innocent civilians in an as yet unknown location.

But no. Iraq and Afghanistan are already yesterday's news, as are the 150,000 men and women who fought in the name of political show boating. Time to move on, right? That was then, this is now. The red faced white men seemed to have little to say about our recent humiliating defeats in far away lands.

This is nothing new of course. Wars come an go and they are soon forgotten. The ones we lose are very, very soon forgotten. And those who did the fighting and the dying?


They certainly warranted no kind of mention in the big debate. Instead it is left to the likes of First Base to try to pick up the pieces of thousands of utterly fractured lives. We are the king's horses and king's men.

They are Humpty Dumpty.

Iraq and Afghanistan were the wall where the great fall happened.

The cameras were rolling when they sat on the wall. Every night we watched them in dusty streets and shallow drainage ditches. We watched the air strikes called in. We watched the coffins coming home. We heard all about the desperate lack of helicopters and body armour.

Not any more. Old news is old news and humiliating defeat is best forgotten. How much better it is to focus on 'some idiot in Iran' and a Prime Minister who stood tall in the House of Commons and told us all she would be more than willing to murder a hundred thousand people if that was what it would take to demonstrate strength and stability.

And the mess of Iraq and Afghanistan? The fallout? Oh bugger that. Too much like hard work. Too much of a bad look.

So in the end the job of being all the king's horses and all the king's men is left to the likes of First Base. It is for us to take the day trips into the dark corners where the fading memories of Helmand and Basra now reside.

This was how I spent yesterday afternoon: an excursion into one of the dark corners. One of the forgotten places where the mess of Blair's wars have been swept to one side. And hidden. And forgotten.

It isn't a long drive. Only a third of a mile. Over the river and the speed bumps. A familiar small sign into an unremarkable road.

'HMP Dumfries'.

Then 'No visitors' beyond this point'. The car park is quieter than usual. Sometimes I have to turn around and park where I can. But not today. Today there are places enough.

It is still lunch hour for the primary school next to the jail. High pitched kids' screams go along with manic football and hop scotch: maybe even games of war, but probably not. Not any more. Not like it was in my primary school days when we used the lunch hour to play out John Wayne and Rob Mitchum doing their thing at Iwo Jima or Omaha Beach.

I ring and the big lock clicks. The first time I visited the jail I didn't know to listen out for the click. I got an annoyed voice through the speaker. But now the click is more than enough. I guess it means I'm an old hand.

Which I am. What will this be? My tenth time? Fifteenth? Journeys through the wire to see the young men who once manned the front lines of the great War on Terror.

A familiar face loudly greets me from the desk. Big Tam. Once upon a time a 'Tanky', all primed and ready to meet the advancing Red Army on the North German plain. Back in the days when Germany was split asunder by the kind of wall Trump can only dream of.

We pass the time of day as he copies down the key details from my driving licence. And today there is something new. Just stand here can you, whilst we take your picture. I stand. Soon my mugshot is on a computer screen. And now it is on a freshly minted plastic ID card announcing me as a fully accredited visitor to the Scottish Prison Service.

Airport style metal detection. Do I have a phone? Just go through here. That's it. I am not on my own. With me on their way through the security checks are three hard faced women. Stick thin arms wrapped in tattoos. Saturday night clothes on a Tuesday afternoon. Clattering heels on the polished floor. Eyes as unyielding as pebbles on a beach.

A female warder takes one look at them and puts on her disposable gloves. Ah, the endless mini humiliations of the fifty year war on drugs. The hard faced ladies are guided to the waiting area. But I am already on my way, for I now have my freshly minted SPS ID card dangling from my neck.

Tam locks and unlocks a series of heavy doors as we make our way to the Link Centre. Prisoners in sweatshirts and joggers nod to him and grin. Usually I know a few of them, but not today. As ever the atmosphere is easy. Relaxed. Dumfries is everything a jail should be. And we the tax payer still own every brick. The vultures of the private sector are locked out every bit as securely as the 170 cons are locked in.

My man is already waiting. Shall I call him Mike? Why not. I have already met him twice on the outside. Then it was all about trying to calm him down enough to keep him from ending up where he has ended up.


For 80 days. 40 if he behaves himself. He looks like a teenager in his sweat shirt and joggers. His hair is shorter and his complexion is healthier. He is far from what most people picture when they envisage one of the warriors who fought our War on Terror.

I guess he might just about tip the scales at ten stones. Maybe not. He is the kind of Scottish lad who has manned the British front lines for hundreds of years. All attitude and red hair. Stuck out ears and at least three 'fuck's' in every barked out sentence. He exudes the constant lariness of the Glasgow scheme where he once cut his cloth.

And I know only too well what is coming next. And it comes. The tirade. The long list of people who are nothing but pure cunts so they are. The police, the psychiatrists, the social, the Sheriff, his ex. Molten, spat out words. Three 'fucks' to every sentence.

I sit back and let him run. It won't last forever. And it doesn't. He dances his angry dance and then his tensed up limbs start to relax. He tells me about going pure fucking mental in his cell. Trying to punch ten shades of fuck out of the metal door. Anger rising up and through him in waves. Milk over boiling out of the pan and all over the hob.

Medication cut back. But then a grudging admission. Maybe it is actually working a bit better when taken three times a day like it says on the bottle. Instead of gubbing the whole fucking lot as soon as he steps out of the chemist. Why? Maybe a half hearted suicide attempt? Maybe yet another fuck you. Fuck everyone. Fuck it all. Fuck knows.

I ask him if the paranoia is starting to beat a retreat yet? After 21 days off the dope? And he rears up and defends his beloved cannabis as stoutly as he once defended his Forward Operating Base in Helmand. He is outraged about me questioning his best friend. It keeps him calm. It keeps the rage in check. It loves him like he loves it and that's all there is fucking to it. So fuck off, right?

I shrug. Maybe best if we agree to disagree. Work in progress. I park the cannabis thing and we talk about how it is going to be when he gets out. Not much attitude now. Points have been proved. No more bravado required. Instead he allows himself to be a frightened young man who can't understand where the person he used to be has gone. And who is he now? And will it always be this way, one minute angry enough to kill, the next minute crying like a bairn, and the minute after that laughing like absolute fuck.

And suddenly he is honest about his terror that he might actually kill someone when the red mist takes a hold. I do my shut up and listen thing. Then we make arrangements for when he gets out in a couple of weeks. He says he will come straight into First Base. No fucking way is he going to make a beeline for the lads to blow all his liberation grant on vodka and dope. No fucking way.

Maybe not. We'll see. I wouldn't put the mortgage on it. Mike's brain is still a bowl of spaghetti. The memories of Helmand are still upon him like gnawing rats. It isn't going away. Not nearly. And he is still at the stage where he is hanging on the belief that all the medication and booze and dope will one day bring him some quiet. Some peace. Some relief.

They won't of course. Instead these false gods will see him in and out of the jail until he knocks them on the head and stops looking for chemical short cuts.

I hope he'll get there. And I hope he'll get there before he destroys his health and earns himself a criminal record to make any kind of employment all but impossible.

I hope so. He's lucky to have landed up in HMP Dumfries where there are plenty of good people to look out for him. And I am confident we will be able to cobble together enough resources to help Mike to get himself onto the right track. So long as he wants to do that. Time will tell. But resources are getting thinner all the time as the memories of the War on Terror start to fade away leaving tens of thousands of guys like Mike in pieces.

We finish up and I am guided back through all the heavy doors to the reception area. The hard faced women are nowhere to be seen. I leave my shiny new badge on the counter, ready for the next time. Ready for the next Mike.

Outside play time is over the sun is out. I light up and take the smoke as far down as it will go. And I think of the great debate where the BBC allowed defence talk to revolve around mass murder in the name of 'some idiot in Iran'

And no time to consider what we all might do for the likes of Mike.

Same old, same old.      

Thursday, June 8, 2017


It is just by one in the afternoon and I am finding it hard to shake a nagging end of the world feeling. The ceiling in the First Base kitchen is leaking faster than the Trump White House and we are up to four buckets on the floor and counting. Well, not counting actually. We only have four buckets.

Outside the rain is relentless. And the grey is relentless. And the feeling of general doom is relentless.

It seems our beloved United Kingdom is once again about to look out for the tax dodging 1% because the media has told them to look out for the tax dodging 1%. The word from EU types in Brussels is bleak. They now feel it is 90% certain Theresa May will flounce out of the up coming negotiations before the leaves turn to autumn gold.

Wonderful. Cue accelerated decline and the remorseless rise of the hate everyone and everything right. And pensioners from John O Groats to Lands End will fit an extra lock on their doors and post out their votes to stop all hope in its tracks. Those who have little future to live out seem ever more hell bent of ripping away any kind of future from the coming generations. No wonder they so love the idea of a leader who would let the Trident missiles fly without a second thought.

There is not a thing any of us can do to change the world today. If every person in Scotland cast their vote for the SNP it would change nothing. Not today.

Not yet.

We would still be required to provide a home for the UK's weapons of mass destruction.

We would still have our taxes skimmed to cover the costs of Hinkley Point and HS2 and a make over for the Palace of Westminster.

We will still be completely and utterly ignored about everything.

And even with all 59 seats and 100% of the vote, almost every paper on the news stands would hail a vast Tory win for their new Boudicea, Queen Ruth.

So what to do today? Vote or build a bloody Ark? How tempting it is to say stuff it.

Well this blog is parochial. If you are reading this from a screen in Dumfries and Galloway, the view from your window will be every bit as dreich as it is from mine.

If you are reading this blog of mine it is pretty well a racing certainty you won't be thinking about whether or not to don your wet weather gear to go out to vote for good old Ruthie. Tories tend to avoid my musings, can't think why.

Which means if you are about to get soaked to the skin, it will be in the name of SNP, Labour or the Greens.

Maybe you might consider this. I think the bookies have Labour at 100 to 1 and the Greens at 500 -1 here in Dumfries and Gallowa . It's there or thereabouts. There is really is no point getting wet for either.

So. Is it worth making the effort for the SNP? Well you'll have to make your own mind up about that one.

For what it's worth, I will thrown in my own penny's worth.

Maybe it isn't about a vote for the SNP. Maybe it is actually about a vote for Richard Arkless. And here is where I DO have an opinion.

Rich became a mate of mine during our efforts for YES in 2014. Unlike me, he went the extra mile and stood for election and won. He's only had 2 years to prove himself but in my view he has more than done so.

Over the last two years we at First Base have had plenty of calls from his people. The calls have been made on behalf of doomed, desperate people who have either walked in off the street or phoned in their crises. Rich doesn't ignore them. Instead he goes out to bat for them. All of them. Each and every one.

Does he always win on their behalf? Of course he doesn't. Nobody could. But he gives it his best shot and none of us can ask for any more than that.

And none of us can ever be confident things are always going to be tip top in our own lives. Every day at First Base we see lives which have been ruined in the blink of an eye: a redundancy letter, an inexplicable withdrawal benefits, a collapse in health. If you're life suddenly crashes and burns through no fault of your own, you might well need someone who is willing to try and look out for you.

Well if you live in Dumfries and Galloway that guy is Richard and you have until ten o'clock to keep it that way. I know nothing of Rich's Tory opponent. Maybe he's a top bloke. I have no idea. I reckon it's a case of a bird in the hand always being worth more than one in the bush.

Rich is exactly the kind of MP we are always saying we want. He isn't a career politician. He is very much from the real world and he absolutely gives a shit.

He's worth getting wet for. So come on, grab the bloody brolly and get it done.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


At 2.30 this morning I got to thinking about Andrew. And yes, this is a pretty vague sentence which needs a whole bunch of tightening up. Key details? Why Andrew? Who is Andrew? Why 2.30 am? What was the trigger? Who the hell cares anyway?

OK. Fair enough.

2.30am. We finished a box set and moved over to the news. And there she was. Our wretched Prime Minister playing her Daily Mail cards one by one like a desperate gambler drinking in the last chance saloon. The woman who had started out as a vicar's daughter promising to look out for the 'just about managing' had finally completed her journey. No more Mrs Nice Lady. Oh no. Tightening polls meant it was time for her to play the tough on terror card. It was time to promise to scrap human rights and come down hard on brown people. 

Christ don't you get tired of this wretched tale being played out over and over again. Some outcast maniac manages a blood drenched public suicide. He duly takes number of innocent civilians of all creeds and colours with him on his journey to the next world. Cue the Prime Minister of the day. Step out in front of the cameras, in front of Downing St so long as it isn't pissing it down. Fix the camera with a beady stare and tell the evil cowardly terrorist swine they will never succeed. They will never make us change our way of life.

And then what does the PM do?

Oh yeah. They change our way of life. We are told our democracy is sacred and the forces of evil will never challenge our freedoms. You know how the script goes. Hitler didn't manage it, nor did the IRA, nor will the long beards....

And then there comes the 'but.....'

Our democracy is sacred but..... well here's the thing... you see when I called this election all the boffins said I would win it by a country mile and everyone would love me and they would hate Jeremy Corbyn and I wouldn't have to talk to any actual people and......


They lied you see. And the plebs seem to actually want to listen to what that bearded communist has to say. Traitorous bastards. And all my own MPs are queuing up to stab me in the back. And.....

Well I have to do something. Can't you see? So bugger the sacred democracy. I'm calling a pause in the name of respect for the dead. Oh, you might say I am doing exactly what ISIS want me to do by suspending campaigning and thereby allowing them to interfere in our beloved democratic process. Well to be frank, I couldn't give a shit. I need a moment, right? I need to give the Daily Mail something for the front page.

Anyway. Next up. They will never, ever make us retreat from the beloved freedoms we have enjoyed for hundreds of years. We are the Sceptered Isle where the Magna Carta was dotted line signed! This is the very green and pleasant land where every citizen is allowed to speak freely and be safe from being locked up without trial! Hitler wanted to change all that but we had Spitfires!

So here is my message to all of you long bearded murderous bastards. If my people vote for me and my team, I will make sure there is less free speech and more people will be locked up without trial. For longer. So there. Pow!!! Boooosh!!!!

Here is my very clear message. If you attack us we will suspend our democratic process and chip away at the freedom of our citizens. How do you like that? Think that will get you anywhere? Oh and by the way, I will also make sure the people we lock up without trial will be brown people who prefer to worship their God on a Friday.  

Oh you think all of this will only make you stronger and more popular do you? Well I dare say it will. Am I bothered? As if! The Daily Mail will like it. They'll love it. Capische? 

So that's the 'why' part. Why it was at 2.30am I got to thinking about Andrew.

The trigger.

So I guess I best get to the 'who' part. Who was he? This Andrew. AKA 'Gizmo'.

I guess he is best described as one of my ghosts. And there are far too many names on my ghost list. Over the fourteen years of First Base my ghost list has grown to sixty of so. The ones who didn't make it. All the clients dead years and years before their time. Overdoses, suicides, ruined health. If there was a memorial in the town centre it might well carry the words 'In loving memory of the victims of the Trainspotting Generation'.

Over the course of my 55 years I have met all manner of remarkable people. They have come in all shapes and sizes. An old drinking pal recently turned up as the Government's head lawyer in Gina Miller's Brexit case. Another mate who I shared a stage with in my last university drama went on to win an Oscar. I once gave the late, great Bob Paisley a thirty mile lift to and from an after dinner speech. As a charity manager I have spent time with party leaders and crime bosses and the survivors of fifty years worth of British Wars. As a writer I have spent time with old IRA war horses and refugees and locked down lifers in HMP Shotts.

Some famous, some infamous. Some good and some not so good. Remarkable in many different ways.

Andrew would always make it into my top ten. I guess he is the most chaotic individual I have ever come across. I think of him as a 21st Century version of the Artful Dodger. 

He must have been twenty or so when I first came across him at the reception counter. And boy, could he talk. Talk for bloody Scotland, so he could. A million miles an hour in the twang of Glasgow. Tales of a life revolving around ten bags of smack a day. Ducking and diving. At least two petty crimes an hour. Seven days a week. Every week.

He blagged me out of a copy of my book 'The Cull' on that first day. Time passed and he was back demanding a signature and asking if he was my inspiration for the character Ricky Macintosh. I told him he wasn't but he was having none of it.

He over estimated the things a small town author can achieve. He was forever bringing us waifs and strays. Lost souls from the streets. Come see Mark and Carol. They will show you how to make it right...

He became a fixture. An ever present handful. He would turn up more or less every day fully expecting a bollocking for his latest idiocy and most of the time getting one. For someone who had spent so little of his life in school he was one of the smartest people I have ever met. In another life he might have been the greatest City trader of them all. He might have been almost anything. Instead he lived his messed up life from minute to minute in a breakneck haze of smack and blue valium.

And he had a heart the size of the Galloway Forest. If someone hit rock bottom on the pavement, Andrew would sit with them all night. In the rain. In the biting cold of winter. Because he would never leave anyone behind.

He was forever in and out of jail. Two months here and eight months there. I went to visit him in Polmont and Dumfries. And every time he would tell me how it was all going to be different this time. And every time his good intentions would crash and burn within half an hour of his liberation and he would duly arrive at First Base monged out of his head.

And he would get yet another bollocking as his head lolled to his chest.

The day we got the news was as bad as a day can get. A light had been extinguished. He was found dead in a front garden and he left a gaping hole. I don't recall exactly how old he was. Twenty five or thereabouts. Laid to rest on a grey winter's day as the crows looked down from the bare trees. His family played the Verve for him. 'The drugs don't work.' They didn't. Not for Andrew.

So why did our Prime Minister's promise to strip away our civil liberties get me to thinking about Andrew at 2.30am?

Here's how.

One day he crashed through the door fresh from another short stretch in HMP Dumfries. For once he wasn't off his face. Instead he was blazing with indignation. He was a torch bearer. He was demanding justice. Because if there was one thing Andrew hated over all other things, it was injustice.

I had to calm him down. Sit him down. More or less push a fag into his mouth. Slow him down.

And so it was he told me the story of his new African pals. There were three of them and he had got to know them well in the jail.

They had arrived in the Republic of Ireland a few few months earlier en route to claim asylum in the United Kingdom. They thought they had done their homework. They had checked out the atlas. There was the island of Ireland. And there was the bigger island of Great Britain. So they got themselves to Larne and took the ferry and duly presented themselves to the authorities in Stranraer.



It was time for a geography lesson for the fleeing Africans. They were told they had actually crossed the border three days earlier when they had taken the bus from Dublin to Belfast. Not that there had been a border crossing or anything like that. If they had looked closely they might have noticed how the lines in the middle of the road stopped being yellow and started being white.


They had already missed their window of opportunity to make an asylum claim. Three days had already passed. Too long. So it was a case of sorry, but no.

But what do you do with three Africans who have missed their window without knowing it? Why, you lock them up of course. Do you? What crime have they committed to warrant being thrown in jail? I mean you can't just lock people up because you feel like it. Can you?

Well you can actually.


We'll use the anti-terror legislation. Shouldn't be too much of a problem. When all is said and done they are foreign, black and they have no money for a decent lawyer. So, yeah. bang 'em up. Who gives a shit.

Well Andrew gave a shit. He was absolutely raging. He was ready to storm the castle. He told me I had to do something about it and for the umpteenth time I told him there was nothing I could do. I suggested he make an appointment to see his MP. 

He never did.

And the Dumfries Three? I have no idea what happened to them. I very much doubt if they ever had any kind of trial. They must have been shoved onto a plane and sent back to whatever fate awaited them I guess.

Three more statistics nobody much cared about. Except Andrew. And Andrew never did get the chance to make the world a better place. He blew it. He rolled the dice one time to many.

And he is still sorely missed.

And his outrage is still relevant. It always will be. Our Prime Minister is asking us to be turkeys by once again voting for Christmas. She says we don't need to worry about our civil liberties because the State can be trusted to only use new powers to go after the bad guys. And of course the British State can be trusted to always get it right. Because there was never a Guildford Four or a Birmingham Six.

Or a Dumfries Three.

Andrew was a smart kid. He knew in his bones what was right and what was wrong. He had been locked up enough times to fully appreciate the true value of liberty. Of civil liberty.

Andrew found it very easy to see the wood from the trees. Will the rest of us share his 20/20 vision? I doubt it. I guess we will make like sheep and do what the tabloid press tells us to do. We'll toss away our freedom because we have never known what it is to lose it.

Unlike Andrew. 

If only we were all as smart as Andrew the Prime Minister wouldn't be given the time of day.    

Monday, June 5, 2017


We seem to have been subjected to an awful lot of talk about being strong of late. Most of this has come from our gallant Prime Minister of course. As far as Mother Theresa is concerned, being strong is a matter of practising her very best Cruella Deville face in front of the mirror and then going out in front of a few hand picked party types and duly telling us all how strong she is.

It seems this rather pathetic performance is more than enough for the fawning press to tell us she has to be the strongest thing mankind has seen since Thor worked out how to do thunder. You can almost feel the ISIS leadership out in Raqaa quaking in their Jihadi boots.

It seems there are different kinds of strong. There is saying your strong and actually BEING strong. Then there is saying your strong but when push comes to shove you get a proper kicking because it turns out you aren't so very strong after all. And then there is saying you're strong when you are not strong at all but somehow getting away with it by being bloody convincing.

I guess the best place to measure these various kinds of strong is in the context of war. The place where the metal meets the meat is the ultimate proving ground: it is the place where there is suddenly nowhere to hide.

The American military make no bones about telling us all about how strong they are. Is this a bunch of hot air? Actually, no. They rule the roost on land, in the air, on the sea, under the sea and in space. They are the undisputed top dog. Any country on planet earth daft enough to have a go at the Land of the Free will get absolutely marmalised. Fair enough over the recent years they have had their problems keeping a lid on things once they have done the conquest thing, but they are still overwhelmingly powerful.

They can back up their words with deeds whenever they choose.

Saddam Hussein found out the hard way what a lousy idea it is to pick any kind of a fight with the American war machine. He is a fine example of someone who spent many years banging on about how strong he was but when push came to serious shove, his regime collapsed like a house of soggy cards. Mussolini was much the same. He strutted about like a peacock for years with all manner of talk about iron this and steel that. But when he sent his supposedly mighty Fascist army into Abyssinia, a bloody nose was the least of his problems.

Then we come to the most interesting category - those who make out they are strong when they are actually seriously weak and yet they still manage to get away with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this regard I give you none other than Herr Adolf Hitler. In the 1930's Hitler's Germany was the ultimate paper tiger. The Treaty of Versailles made sure Germany's wings were clipped on a permanent basis. This made it hard to the glorious Fuhrer to pull off his tough guy superman act. It was all very well throwing a big rally in Nuremburg, but how do you convince the world you have a mighty war machine when in reality all you have is bunch of skin heads who get their rocks off by kicking Jewish pensioners.

So Hitler started out on his great con trick. It went something like this. You take a VW Beetle and fit a cardboard shell around it and lo and behold once you paint it up it looks like a Panzer Three. Repeat the process a thousand times and you can present a mightily impressive Panzer Army to an utterly gullible watching world. Neville Chamberlain certainly bought the big con in 1938 when he served up Czechoslovakia on a plate.

But in 1940 push came to shove and the glorious Fuhrer faced the prospect of shitting or getting off the pot. Fair enough Poland was in the bag, but France and Britain were starting to flex their muscles. On paper Hitler was completely screwed. We had him well and truly outnumbered in every area. We had three times as many planes and four times as many tanks.

Unfortunately he had the drop on us in one very key area. Our generals were over promoted aristocrats whereas the Wehrmacht was led by the genius of Guderian and Rommel.

Our solution was to hide behind the Maginot Line and wait for the Germans to come to their senses. Had we invaded Germany in the spring of 1940 the Wehrmacht would have fared little better than Saddam Hussein fared in 2003. But we didn't invade. Instead we waited in the certain knowledge we had more tanks and more planes and the Maginot line was impregnable.

And it probably was impregnable. We never got to find out because Rommel and Guderian went round it and did what was supposed to be impossible as they blitzkrieged their way through the Ardennes forest.

Panic set in and the British and French armies basically legged it. So much for all that numerical and mechanical superiority.

However it was in Holland that Hitler's big con really played out. The German battle plan relied on three big gambles all coming good at the same time. First they had to do what was supposed to be impossible by successfully driving their Panzer armies through the Ardennes forest. Second they had to secure their southern flank with a pretend army made up of old fellas and Hitler Youth pretending to be a genuine fighting force. Thirdly, they needed to invade Holland with virtually no equipment.

This was the biggest gamble of all. They crossed their fingers and sent their army of cardboard tanks forward. They filled the skies with screaming Stukas and hoped the Dutch army would fall for the big con and leg it.

They did and the rest was history. The German invasion of Holland and the Low Countries was the final act of the greatest 'Long Con' in history. 

By the time summer arrived Hitler's equipment problem was a thing of the past. We left most of what he needed on the beach at Dunkirk.

So what has all this got to do with our long march to an Independent Scotland? Quite a lot actually. Right now the forces of the Union are a lot like Hitler's army in the spring of 1940. From a distance it looks like they have a hell of a lot of tanks. But a closer look very quickly reveals the fact that most of them are made out of cardboard. The problem is that we keep making like the Dutch army and falling for the big con.

Check out this picture. It's familiar, right? The great Unionist demo at the launch of the SNP's election manifesto last week. We all got to see plenty of this picture. It was plastered through every Unionist paper and presented as clear evidence of an unstoppable Tory surge. The SNP have passed their peak! Nobody wants another Referendum!

The Unionist media were the dive bombing, howling Stukas and the motley crew with the banners were the cardboard tanks.

We needed to make the most simple observation in the world. There are only about ten of them! This isn't a protest. It is a lousy ten people with a few banners they haven't even made themselves. Without the wall to wall media coverage, they would have been nothing more than they actually were. Ten people. Nothing.

If the Dutch army stood and fired their guns in 1940 it wouldn't have taken ten minutes for them to realise the advancing Panzers were in fact nothing more than VW Beetles wrapped in cardboard.

Exhibit two. 25,000 people march through Glasgow waving banners they actually have made themselves. It is the biggest rally Scotland has seen in years and years and years. It is absolute proof positive there is an ever strengthening mood for Independence. It is 2500 times bigger than the pathetic crew the Unionists put onto the streets of Perth a few days earlier. All the Unionists could do was to make sure their media pretended the rally had never happened. Instead they filled their pages with fawning gough about how strong and stable Mother Theresa is.

Just imagine if 25,000 Unionists had marched through Glasgow demanding to stay in the United Kingdom. Bloody hell! There would have been  twenty page pull outs and special editions. They would have produced commemorative mugs by the thousand. The BBC would have dispatched Sophie Rowarth to do a piece to camera in Sauchiehall street whilst shaking from head to toe with a quivering orgasm.

So let's take a moment here and check out the relative strengths of the opposing sides. As the last picture shows, YES is young and energetic. We can put thousands out onto the street.

The Unionists? Well last week they proved they can just about manage to fill a minibus and pay some printing bills. Things have changed since Indyref One. Back then it was YES versus the Tory Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. Now the battle lines are rather different. 

Now it is YES versus the Tories.

So what are their strengths? Well it sure ain't numbers. Just how many people in the UK are actual Tory party members is a well kept secret. What we do know is that it isn't many and the average age is seventy plus. They aren't really a party at all in the traditional sense. They are a pretend party - a funnel through which the money of big business can work it's magic and make sure the interests of the super rich are well looked after. Mother Theresa's state visit to Scotland was a classic case in point. The best they could manage was a shed in a wood somewhere in the back of the Aberdonian beyond. The biggest crowd they could lay on was about thirty. Is this really a party? Of course it isn't. It is a VW Beetle cleverly wrapped in cardboard and painted up to resemble a Panzer Three.

Basically they have three big strengths. Number one, old people tend to like them. Number two, they own 90% of the media and Josef Goebbels would no doubt purr with pleasure at the way they get the editors to dance to their tune. Number three, they have all the money in the world. The only non Tory politician in living memory to have persuaded the big corporations to cough up their cash was Tony Blair. Enough said.

The YES side not surprisingly spends plenty of time railing against the endless bias of the Unionist media. Fair enough. It sucks. But maybe we should look a little deeper. Every time some hack from the Scotsman or the Mail or the Telegraph is wheeled out to say Scotland is succumbing to a vast Tory surge, we kind of assume lots of people are paying attention. These are famous papers, right? Sure they are. But just how much of an audience to they really command? 

Last week I was fascinated to see where Stuart's brilliant 'Wings over Scotland' now sits in the league table of online places where Scots go to read stuff. Here you go.

Not bloody bad, don't you think? On the one hand you have a bunch of mega newspapers owned by some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand you have Reverend Stuart in his flat in Bath. It looks to me like Goliath is getting another kicking!

So I did a bit more Googling and worked my way to that esteemed Unionist rag, The Scotsman. They have been a venerable fixture since the early nineteenth century. Today they still have a hundred plus on the payroll. Surely they must have a mighty voice which can be heard the length and breadth of the land....

Or have they?

Daily circulation? 


As compared to Stuart's 480,000. And then I got to thinking about my own efforts and how they might compare to this age old fixture of the Scottish media scene. 

Well, here's a screen shot of my stats page.

Bloody hell. 

136,000 readers in the last month. As in six times more than the Scotsman. And when all is said and done, who am I? Just a two bit blog artist from sleepy Dumfries. There must be plenty more out there like me.

To fair I don't get 136,000 readers every month, but I seem to get more and more all the time. Maybe in reality our voice is already louder than theirs. We just don't know it yet. Just like we can't seem to admit to ourselves just how weak they really are. We assume they are strong because they keep on telling us how strong they are. Our problem is we are daft enough to listen. And unless we learn to accept just how completely weak they are, we will always be in danger of making like the Dutch army seventy seven years ago and running away from a bunch of cardboard tanks.

History will show we are now living through the last rasping breaths of the British Empire. We are London's last significant colony and they are hanging on with an ever weakening liver spotted hand. 

They're old, they're weak, they're all but done. They are yesterday's news. They are an empty shell. We just need to learn how to look at ten people holding ten banners and see them for what they really are - ten people holding ten banners.

And then they will collapse into a sorry heap.