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 4, 2019


We're living in an age of flags. More often than not, they provide a fluttering backdrop to the news. The stars of the EU compete with Union Jacks outside the Westminster Parliament. The cross of St George hangs from peeling window frames from Hartlepool to Huntingdon. The Stars and Stripes has become a must have fashion accessory to go with a 'Make American Great Again' cap.

Sometimes a sea of flags is all about anger and the threat of violence. There wasn't a great deal of peace and love about the oceans of Swastikas at Nuremberg.

Other times, a sea of flags can be all about hope and a vision of something better. Like the flags you can see at the top of the page.

Fair enough, I'm biased. Completely, hopelessly biased and if this pisses you off, you might as well stop reading.


I wasn't born and raised in Liverpool, but I consider myself to be proud Scouser.

I wasn't born and raised in Scotland, but I consider myself to be a proud Scot.

I'm not a flag kind of a guy, but I would happily wrap myself in either the Liver Bird or the Saltire.

Is it frivolous to put a football club and a country on the same page? In the same sentence? Probably. And yet there are similarities. Both entities command allegiance. Both release emotions which otherwise stay buried. Emotions which are really hard to explain.

But I'll have a go anyway.

I first saw Anfield when I was twelve years old. And it was absolutely love at first sight. The vast, roaring sprawl of the Kop. The chip shops and the terraced streets and the foul mouthed dockers. Toshack and Keegan. Tommy Smith. And the whole thunderous symphony was directed by a small animated man from the Ayrshire coalfield. Bill Shankly. Our Messiah.

Over the years, things changed and deepened. In the dark days of the 80's, the men in red ruled Europe whilst the city was systematically smashed by Thatcher's wrecking ball. Smashed, but never beaten. Not even close. And Liverpool became an island of defiance. A sanctuary in an England of growing racism and greed.

The 80's made it about more than football. When we went to Wembley for Cup Finals, we all booed the National Anthem. It wasn't our anthem. We had our own anthem, a Gerry Marsden makeover of a showstopper from a Broadway musical. And as the city was picked to pieces by the relentless cruelly of the Westminster Tories, nobody ever had to walk alone. Not once.

And then on a sunny day in April 1989, the sky fell in. I stood and watched as 96 of my fellow fans were crushed to death in cages unfit for cattle waiting their turn in an abbatoir. I watched South Yorkshire's finest as they stood and watched. I watched as the Westminster cover up machine cracked into gear and buried the truth for the next twenty five years. And as I watched it all unfold, any last lingering allegiance I may have held for the Union Jack disappeared.


After Hillsborough, it was about more than football. Winning trophies was secondary to securing justice. Truth. Breaking the wall of silence. Smashing down the doors to the vaults where all the secrets were hidden. Silencing the smug, smirking fans from London and Manchester who chanted 'Murderers' at us.

I like to think I did my bit during that long fight which for 25 years felt like a classic case of smashing our heads into a towering brick wall. I wrote two books - 'The Drums of Anfield' and 'The Long and winding road to Istanbul' – where I tried to get that indefinable Anfield thing down onto paper. I wrote blog after blog about those desperate minutes on a sunny Sheffield afternoon. And at long last, I was able to finally step up to the plate to give my evidence to the Hillsborough Enquiry. It was a pretty rough hour and a half. The South Yorkshire Police had shelled out hundreds of pounds an hour on the best attack dog their money could buy - John Beggs QC. He took the gloves off and called me a liar and a fantasist. I took a deep breath and thought about the bodies on the pitch. I thought about the families who were watching on from the back of the court in silent rage.

I did the best I could and when the verdict finally came out a few months later, I pretty much fell apart as years and years of buried grief bubbled up to the surface.

And all the while, the proud defiance of city and club didn't go unnoticed. All over the world tens of millions bought into the story. The miracle in Istanbul added steroids to the brew. The baying mayhem of Anfield in full cry on one of its fabled 'European Nights' became a thing from Shanghai to Sydney to Stockholm. Now tens of thousands make a pilgrimage to the city to see the place in the flesh. Liverpool has become the world's most popular weekend destination.

Last weekend, this strange allegiance hit new levels of ridiculous. Sixty thousand Scousers from all corners of the world made there way to Madrid like pilgims drawn to Mecca. Just to be there. To be a part of it. To wave red flags. 'Scousers' from Asia and Scandinavia and America. Tens of thousands more flew into Liverpool to be a part of the half million who lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the lads on the bus.

The numbers were ludicrous. The numbers were surely conclusive proof this was all about more than football.

Would this have been the case had we won the European Cup five years ago? No. Not even close. The evolution of the Anfield legend has been turbo charged by our latest Messiah who hails from the Black Forest and goes by the name of Jurgen.

Jurgen Klopp watched the defiance of the 80's and saw something unbreakable. A sleeping giant in the heart of a on old school socialist city was a cause he couldn't resist. When he took the reins in the autumn of 2015, Anfield was not in the best of places. Depressed. Ageing. Wearily hanging on to old glories.

What has happened over the last three and a half years has been a masterpiece of leadership. Jurgen dusted down the old Bill Shankly playbook and used it as a template to create his own twenty first century version. Shankly brought tens of thousands of Liverpudlians to his dream. Jurgen's version has reached tens of millions.

Check this out. It is a two minute video the club came up with a year ago. And of course it is all part of a branding exercise. And yet it manages to touch on something which is hard to explain. Well, I think it does.

All of which brings me to my second flag. The Saltire. Scotland. My second flag. And I like to think I played my small part in pursuing the dream of independence. Two books - 'Toxic' and 'The Last Colonial War' - and a whole bunch of blogs and 2014 Indyref debates.  

On the day Jurgen walked into a depressed Anfield, those of us who dreamed the dream of 'Yes' were also at a low ebb. Down but not out, but down all the same. Waiting for a leader. A Messiah. Someone to take us to the promised land.

The country of Scotland and the city of Liverpool have much in common. Between us, we both provided London with the cash and resources to go out and rule half the world. We both played our part. We both did good things and we did bad things. And when we stopped being a useful cash cow to our London masters, our London masters kicked us both in the teeth.


The 80's saw us both knocked to the canvas, but we both managed to beat the count and get back onto our feet.

On Saturday night, Liverpool's resurrection was all but completed. Up here in Scotland we still have a way to go. From a flag point of view, 'Yes' is winning hands down. A few weeks ago in Glasgow, our colonial masters only managed to muster a hundred or so Union Jacks to counter a hundred thousand Saltires.

And yet......

And yet polls tell us that half of our fellow Scots are still minded to vote to stay with London. And yeah, I know. It's mind boggling. Inexplicable. Infuriating. Against any kind of logic.

But it is what it is.

'Yes' should be running at 80% in the polls, but we're not. Which doesn't mean we won't win Indyref 2 when the time comes. I'm quite certain we will. But it will be closer than it should be. In the light of the post Brexit humiliation, incompetence and chaos, it really should be an absolute landslide.

Just imagine how things would be right now if 'Yes' had a Jurgen. We have so many things we should be shouting from the rooftops. Our schools are better. Our hospitals are better. Our prisons are better. Our air is cleaner. We have a tonne of space and resources. Tourists are drawn to us in their millions. We don't do racism. We prefer bridges to walls. And most crucially, people all over the world actually like us. They instinctively want to be a part of us. Just like sixty plus million people all over the world have signed onto the Anfield dream.

Just imagine if we had a Messiah willing to make a video like Jurgen's video. This is Scotland. This is who we are. This is who you can be too. Why not come and join us? Why not be a part of it?

A famous Scouser called John once upon came up with a song called 'Imagine' . I'm pretty sure you'll know it. He flogged quite a few copies. Well, imagine if Scotland started to sell the dream of Scotland like Jurgen has sold the dream of Liverpool. Fair enough, our London masters don't allow us any say on immigration, but there's not a thing they can do about internal migration. Imagine online viral videos selling the dream of Scotland to the millions who are suffering the petty hate and nastiness of a bitter England. Imagine tens of thousands of billboards on tens of thousands of English street corners.

Are you sick to the stomach with all the racism and the polluted air and the crumbling hospitals? Are you sick of waiting for six weeks to see a doctor?
Are you sick of Brexiteers and corruption and privatisation and nasty cretins in Farage T shirts and 'Make America Great Again' caps? Are you sick of of being in a country determined to live in the past?

Well, why not head north to a country determined to live in a better future. A place where it does'nae matter if your black, white, pink or blue. Free prescriptions and universities and old age care. Prisons without rats and hospitals with Richard Branson. A thousand bridges to be built and no walls required. No nukes required.

The dream of Scotland is every bit as powerful as the dream of Liverpool. And in the world of Farage and Trump and Putin and Mohdi, there are hundreds of millions out there desperate for a better dream to hook up to.

If only we could find ourselves a Jurgen to sell it!

In case you're interested, here are the Kindle Store links to the books I mentioned.