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, July 28, 2020


23 March 2020 is a date which I don't suppose I will ever forget. It is locked in the brain. A moment fixed in time. I have been thinking about it quite a lot over the last few days as I have been driving around the wet fields and hills of Dumfries and Galloway.

The day everything changed. The day everything came tumbling down. The day the old world was suddenly done and dusted.

The day when it seemed like the First Base foodbank was well and truly stuffed.

For 17 years we had carefully built up a network which was capable of providing 600 people a month across our region with something to eat when they found themselves unable to go to the shops to buy anything. On a few occasions over the years things had gotten pretty precarious, mainly when our bank account started to have a Venezuelan look about it. One way or another, we always found a way through.

But this time ..... ?

This time it seemed we had arrived at a bridge too far. Everything had collapsed over the course of a couple of days.

To issue 600 food parcels a month you need quite a lot of food. I know. Duh.

Almost all of our food came from two sources. Donations from the public, mainly churches, and purchases from the supermarkets. On 23 March both of these options were as dead as Dodos. The public were locked behind closed doors and the supermarkets were rationing. Three tins of beans is not a lot of use when you are accustomed to having 150 tins a week delivered.

Two thirds of our parcels were collected from a wide variety of locations dotted across the region – libraries, offices, fellow charities. And now? Now they were all closed for the duration.

This was one half of the nightmare. The other half seemed even more impossible and daunting. For it was blindingly obvious demand for our service was about to completely explode. We thought it would probably double. As things turned out, it has quadrupled.

23 March seemed like a perfect storm. One option was to close the doors and accept the impossibility of the situation. Lots of front line charities did exactly that.

This wasn't a decision which detained us for very long. A vast food crisis was days away and one way or another we were going to do our best to meet it.

At this moment of absolute crisis, two very important things happened. Game changing things.

Up in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government committed a huge chunk of cash to the front lines of the coming social crisis.

I digested this and called up Rob Davidson, the deputy leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Was the cash real? Yes, the cash was real. The Government had been crystal clear in its instructions to Scotland's local authorities. Get the money to where it is needed. Do it fast. Screw the bureaucracy. No fifty page forms. No complicated service level agreements. Just get the money where it needs to go and get it there fast.

So how fast will fast be?

No idea Mark, but we're going to bust a gut. So Rob, here's the big question, if we use up all our reserves in chasing this thing will you guys have our back?

Yes. Completely. Do everything you need to do and the money will be with you soon enough. You have our word on that.

Old school. A solid relationship between a front line charity and a local authority built up over many years. A solid relationship between a foodbank manager and an elected Councilor built up over many years. 

As in mutual trust. A promise made and a promise trusted.

So we got cracking and re-invented the First Base wheel. We bought freezers as if they were going out of fashion. We hired a big van. We hunted out local food manufacturers and wholesalers who could guarantee supplies. Pies and eggs and bread rolls and biscuits and milk and bags of spuds. We signed up a team of volunteers at Summerhill Community Centre to knock us up thousands portions of Scotch Broth and Pasta sauce.

Could we have done all this without the nailed on promise of financial support from Edinburgh? Not really. Not sensibly. It would have been crazy to blow through every penny we had to our name in a frantic attempt to keep up with the crisis. First Base will still be needed in 2021. And 2022. And 2023.

So. We had food supplies. Now we had to find a way to get them to the mouths which needed feeding. Nobody was about to collect. Everyone was locked behind closed doors and terrified of the invisible plague stalking the land. Instead we would have to deliver. 

Our existing satellite points were all closed for the duration. We needed new distribution points and we needed them in a hurry.

Within a week we had seven. Each had the use of a public building and a bunch of volunteers willing to do what was needed. Each and every one was a classic example of something happening from the bottom up. Our role soon became crystal clear. It was on us to source reliable supplies of food and to get them to the distribution points. Once there, the food would be parceled up and delivered to anyone who needed it. 

It soon became clear these new operations were going to be about much more than food. They started picking up and dropping off prescriptions. They went street by street to make sure the vulnerable were not forgotten. They called people up on the phone to make sure they were OK. Not deserted. Not left hanging.

The speed with which all of this came together was truly amazing. Heart warming. Inspiring.

And within a week the whole of Dumfries and Galloway was covered. Every square mile of our vast rural region was catered for. A huge volunteer army self mobilised over the course of a few March days in the midst of the country's greatest crisis in seventy years. And they said there was no such thing as society. Well. Not they. She. But let's not go there.

A couple of weeks later the money from Edinbugh did indeed arrive. Each and every one of the new hubs was given money to do what they were doing. Nobody told them what to do. Nobody claimed to know better than them. Nobody tried to impose demands and strings. Instead the money was used to oil the wheels.

Well 23 March is now a long time ago. First Base Base has managed to provide food enough to fill 10,000 emergency food parcels. And nobody has gone hungry in Dumfries and Galloway. Nobody has been left behind. Nobody has become colatoral damage.

The seemingly impossible has been achieved. The volunteer army has come through with flying colours.

I have no doubt the story of Dumfries and Galloway is the story of the whole of Scotland. In just a few months the country has added a whole new layer to the Welfare State. A new line in the sand. A new volunteer army which has proved itself in the midst of a nightmare.

In short, we suddenly have a priceless new asset. A social asset. An asset we will need for many months and years to come as the fallout from the crisis hits home.

When so many people have been involved in this social miracle, it seems almost wrong to put a focus on a single project. However the best way to show how something big is working is more often than not to focus on something small. Bite sized.

Like the town of Moffat and the wonderful Jane.

Moffat is a small, very Scottish town nestled in under round hills and just far enough away from the M74 to avoid the shake of the wagons. The high street is home to crafts and cakes. Tourists buy postcards. Poverty isn't much of a feature.

Our food parcels have been available to the good folk of Moffat for years and most of the time the good folk of Moffat haven't had much need of them. Ten parcels per month was about as busy as it ever got. Keeping up with Moffat demand wasn't overly taxing.

On 23 March, the local library closed down and we needed an alternative. Angela from our Management Committee came up with a freezer and organised us a berth in a church. A couple of volunteers made contact. It was bare bones, but hopefully it would be enough.

Then the phone rang and Jane's voice exploded from the earpiece. Does a mobile phone actually have an earpiece? Whatever. You know what I mean.

Jane is one of those force of nature people. She's all constant energy and enthusiasm. She told me she was from the Moffat Town Hall Development Trust and they were determined to step up and do their bit. We arranged to meet up and by the time I arrived the place was full of volunteers and local food donations had poured in. Her attitude to the crisis was pretty straight forward. We haven't done emergency food before but we will learn how to do it soon enough. 

And so they did. Within a month they were delivering a hundred emergency food parcels a week to a wide area around the town. Most of the people they are helping are families where the main bread winner has been furloughed. In the old normal, these were the working families who by hook or by crook just about made the incomings meet the outgoings. A 20% pay cut quickly forced their heads beneath the waterline. All of a sudden genuine poverty was a problem in and around Moffat. Well, thanks to Jane and her team nobody has had to go to bed hungry.

Lots of people have been involved in making all this possible and not a single one of them is being paid a penny. In all of its long history, the Town Hall can never have been more of a beating heart for its community.

But now Jane is having to look at a bunch of 'what next?' questions. She wants to keep on with the emergency food work, but it is complicated. Normally the Development Trust relies on booking out the main hall for much of its income. Right now the main hall looks like an emergency relief centre. The first tranche of Government funding has enabled them to step up to the plate. Now we are at the moment of 'what next?'. Will the Government up in Edinburgh keep on with the funding or will the well run dry?

You can do a lot with boundless enthusiasm, but there is a limit even Jane's upbeat energy can't overcome.

All of which means we have reached something of a moment. All over Scotland, hundreds and hundreds of Janes have built something amazing. Almost awe inspiring. We have an extraordinary social asset all ready and raring to help with the dark days to come. Thousands and thousands of huge hearted people who have done something quite remarkable in the midst of the biggest crisis Scotland has faced in years.

It is a social asset which is almost priceless. However it is a social asset which lacks a lobbying voice in the corridors of power. Which of course explains my motives for writing this. I don't suppose too many people will read these words. But I will do my damndest to get our local MSP's to give it a once over and to press for the high heid yins to carry on providing enough support to keep things going. And come on guys, think about it. When it comes to bang for the public buck, you'll never get better value. The new volunteer army goes without pay and not many armies are willing to do that.

And I suppose I have to face up to the fact Jane will also probably read these words and she's going to have my guts for garters the next time I show up in my van! 

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I was in Tesco yesterday to collect our weekly order of their own brand Corn Flakes. Yeah, I know. I lead a truly glamourous life. To kill some time, I skip read the front pages of the newspaper stand. Shock and outrage jumped out at me from the front page of the Telegraph. I cannot recall the exact words, but the gist was clear enough.

Russians tried to interfere in the Scottish Referendum!!!


Here was yet more damning evidence of the near bottomless wickedness of Scot Nats like me. Let's face it. We're borderline evil people who are more than happy to collude with Vladimir Putin and his shadowy forces. To a man and woman, we are people who crossed over to the dark side six years ago. We are the new 'Enemy Within' who are more than happy to collude with a hostile foreign power to disrupt and destroy.

It's a hell of an accusation. So how do I plead..... ?

Well, here's the thing. I actually made my confession several years ago. 

Guilty as charged, your honour. 

I have been in bed with the dark forces of Putin's Russia for six years now. I didn't actually ask them to share my bed. They just yanked the duvet back and clambered on in. I had no choice in the matter.

So why don't I throw them out? Really? Are you being serious here? Have you ever tried to chuck a Russian bear from your bed?

So how did this traitorous behaviour come about? How did an upstanding food bank manager in a small sleepy Scottish town hook up with shadowy forces from the East?

I don't suppose going to Cambridge University can have helped much! The lads from Moscow have always had a high degree of success in drawing Cambridge types like me into their evil plots.

So did I get a knock on the door from a guy in a really bad suit as I nursed a hangover way back in 81? Not that I can remember. Was I granted an all expenses paid trip to a world youth event in Leipzig? Nope. My memory isn't so clever these days, but I am pretty sure the KGB never recruited me. But there again, I suppose they could have dosed me with some fiendish drug and wiped my memory bank clean of signing on the dotted line to become a Cold War warrior for the Komitat Gosudarstrenoi Bezopasnosti. See. I know what the letters KGB stand for without recourse to Google. A bad, bad sign. Not that I will have spelt it right.

So when did it happen? How did it happen?

I think I know the answer. How a food bank manager from a small, sleepy Scottish town can become embroiled in Vladimir Putin's worldwide web of wickedness.

I started writing a blog. This blog. And for a couple of years, nobody much read it. A hundred hits was a big deal. Then in early 2014 I penned a piece explaining why I would be voting 'Yes' in September 2014.

All of a sudden I seemed to have new friends. Lots and lots of new friends and almost all of them were from Russia. These were canny friends. If one of my blogs was receiving thousands of reads from within the UK, my new Russian friends were nowhere to be seen. But if a couple of weeks passed with no new blogs posted, my pals from the East would suddenly appear in their droves providing hundreds and hundreds of visits to make sure my page wasn't forgotten by the search engines.

These new friends of mine were not of the fair weather variety. Anything but. Fickle friends might have deserted me the very day our Independence dream crashed and burned in the early hours of September 15.

Well not these friends. These friends are in it for the long haul. They are still very much with me after all these years. Last week I posted nothing onto this page. And yet I still attracted over a thousand visits. So who came a calling? Well 662 of my guests made a long trip trip though cyber space all the way from Turkmenistan to Scotland.

It is hard to find too many reasons for my blogs being so popular among the good folk of Turkmenistan. I have never been to Turkmenistan. I have never met anyone from Turkmenistan. I couldn't name the capital of Turkmenistan.

My new Turkmanistani pals showed up in the statistics at the very time my old pals from Russia suddenly disappeared. Maybe they are the same pals? Maybe relocating to the steppes of Turkmenistan is all part of a fiendishly cunning FSB plan to cover their tracks?

No wonder the patriots at the Daily Telegraph are so morally outraged. This is true Tower of London stuff. Scottish traitors like me deserve to be hung, drawn and quartered. Putin puppets to a man and woman.

Maybe it is time to get to point.

You see, nobody seems to be asking why on earth someone in an FSB funded troll farm in a warehouse on the outskirts of St Petersburg would want to support an independence supporting blog written by a two bit nobody like me.

I mean seriously, why?

Where is their angle? What is the point?

It isn't so very hard to work out when you take a step back and give it a moment's thought. Let's do this step by step.

What is one of the big differences which will soon become apparent in the weeks and months following Scottish Independence?

Come on, you know the answer if you think hard enough.

Yeah. That's right. No more submarine base at Faslane. No more nukes in an independent Scotland. And in 2014 it became abundantly clear there wasn't a town in England willing to accept a Faslane 2.0. No chance. Glasgow being wiped from the surface of the earth is one thing. But Portsmouth...... Well. That's another thing altogther. Lots of good chaps have second homes in that neck of the woods.

Right now Faslane is home to 72 Trident missiles. I guess about half of them are locked and loaded at any given time.

Let's say 36. And where are they pointed? Cities in Russia. How many Russian civilians could each warhead kill? Let's say half a million. So the maths are a tad daunting when looked at through Russian eyes. Our pesky little island is capable of wiping out 18 million Russian within half an hour of our Prime Minister choosing 'the press the button' option.

Not great if you live in Moscow. So it's no wonder they like the idea of a nuke free Independent Scotland. Do you blame them? I don't.

But this isn't really the thing. I mean, is this really cricket? Or is it all a bit wicked and underhand? Typical Johnny Foreigner stuff. Not playing up and playing the game as it should be played. With decency and honour. Good chaps would never stoop so low.

Surely not? I mean we are British when all is said and done. Aren't we?


Well, maybe it isn't quite so black and white. Back in the days when I nursed my hangovers and waited on a knock on the door from a guy in a bad suit and a gangster hat, the Warsaw Pact had tens of thousands of tanks lined up along the Iron Curtain. Locked and loaded and ready to roll west at a moment's notice. The Red Peril. We were told they could be in Calais in three days and there wasn't a thing the British Army on the Rhine could do about it. Had the Red Army ever started to roll our way,  we would have had two options – go nuclear or lose.

Not great. And we didn't like it any more than the Russians like having those thirty six Tridents pointing at them right now.

So what did we do? Well the most effective thing we did was to quietly fund and support dissident groups in the countries living under the firm smack of Moscow rule. In Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Romania. We did it quietly and patiently. We played the long game. We tugged at loose threads. We pricked and nudged and harried. And slowly but surely, it started to work. Solidarity happened in Gdansk. And as we moved through the 80's, the cracks in the concrete walls of Lenin's Empire started to get ever wider.

And then 1989 happened and the whole house of cards came down.

It is a memory which apparently haunts Vladimir Putin to this day. He was there in person as the people of East Germany took to the streets to throw off the Soviet yoke. His Soviet yoke.

Within a few short months all those tens of thousands of tanks were pulled back. Returned to their bases in Russia.

Supporting all of those dissident groups in Poland and East Germany and Hungary and Czechoslovakia turned out to be a mighty fine investment. A job well done.

No arguments from me on that front. And I guess the people of Russia will feel much the same on the day when the last of Faslane's Trident missiles is loaded up onto a wagon and driven away down the M74 to England and redundancy.

So do I feel bad about my blog being supported by Russian troll farms? Nope. In the 80's we did all we could to support the likes of Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel in their efforts to free their people from the suffocation of Moscow Rule. It was the right thing to do. We did it to take away the threat of all those thousands of tanks.

If the endgame my Russian pals have in mind is a Scotland free of nukes, then it is fine by me. More than fine. Are they doing anything we didn't do? Of course not.

Not that those wonderful patriots at the Daily Telegraph are about to see it that way any time soon.

Monday, July 6, 2020


Borders never lie. Instead they reveal inescapable truths.

On one side of a border you have one reality. Then you travel a couple of hundred yards and lo and behold, you find a completely different reality.

Am I being a bit obscure? Probably. Here are a few examples from my own scrapbook.

Early 80's. Snow everywhere. A sub zero Christmas card worthy world. The last town in what was then very much West Germany. Me and a couple of pals in my venerable VW Beetle gliding down a well gritted road of perfect tarmac. Shiny new houses built with no expense spared: German style.

A new Mercedes in every driveway: German style.

It was a million miles from the festering decay of Thatcher's Britain. The last town of the Western World. Reagan's world. Thatcher's world. My world.

The road brought us to the top of a shallow valley. How wide? Not so wide. Maybe 300 hundred yards. And in the crystal clear winter light, we could see the first town of the German Democratic Republic on the other side. A line of low rise concrete blocks looking like a set of stumpy teeth.

The invisible Iron Curtain ran along the bottom of the valley. What was very much visible was the razor fencing. The watch towers. The killing zone.

We glided down the smooth tarmac to the last outpost of our world where wryly smiling West German border guards waved us on our way.

Through the fence. Through no man's land. To the barrier where the hard faced East German guards waited. Park here. Get out. Passport. Bags out. Open them. And following advice from a mate, I had left a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label in clear view at the top of my rubbish packing. A glance. A shrug. And the bottle duly disappeared.

An angry thump of print into my passport.

Did anyone say "Welcome to the German Democratic Republic"?

What do you think?

We picked our way up the other side of the shallow valley. Potholes and potholes. We reached the top. The road pointed East. Four storey blocks of crumbling concrete. No pavements. A couple of bent old ladies. Beat up Trabants covered in snow. The place made Toxteth look like Hampstead.

I had never drunk the Kool Aid when it came to the Communist East. If I had, all my pipe dreams would have been shattered by one look at the blighted street.

The border didn't lie and nine years later the rotten to the core DDR collapsed like a pack of cards.

Early 80's again.

Ireland. The outskirts of Derry. Where the UK met the Irish Republic. No need for a passport this time. No actual border post. Instead a whole bunch of British soldiers armed to the teeth. Sandbag emplacements and bored stares.

The last few miles of the UK were a dual carriageway which could have been anywhere. Smooth tarmac and white lines.

The first change was the change of line colour. White to yellow. And suddenly there were potholes everywhere. Bloody deep potholes. Deep enough to make any speed above 40mph borderline idiotic.

And straight away there were six brand spanking new garages all in a cluster. Six garages, but no town. What was that all about? Ah. Check the prices. A gallon of Southern Irish fuel was 20% cheaper than a gallon of Northern Irish fuel. Cheaper enough for people of the North to drive miles to fill their tanks on the other side of the border. All of which made the last garage on the UK side seriously weird. It was selling a gallon of unleaded 5% dearer than other garages in the North.

25% more than the cluster of garages a few hundred yards into the South. 

What the hell was that all about? Then it hit me. This garages was for the Unionist nutters who would drive out of town to make a point of spending 25% more on filling up their tanks. To show their contempt.

So there it all was in a nutshell. In two hundred yards. A bunch of armed to the teeth squaddies proving there was serious shit going down. Smooth road one side, potholes the other. And a 25% swing in the price of fuel. Fair enough it wasn't the Iron Curtain. But it was a pretty big deal in its own way.

One more.

A few years ago I used to go into lots of high schools across Dumfries and Galloway to give drug and alcohol awareness presentations. I had a stump speech of sorts. It seemed to get the attention of the S4's who were on the brink of heading out down all the wrong tracks. And the tracks back then were as wrong as tracks could be. These were the days when 7% of males in Dumfries and Galloway were addicted to heroin or valium or both.

Part of my stump speech involved a bit of knockabout. The Buckfast culture. Crazy 'Buckie' fueled rituals played out in Friday night parks from Gretna to Stanraer.

Anyway. One day I received an invitation to take my stump speech to a high school in Carlisle. As in south of the Border. As in England. As in about five crow flown miles across the Solway from Annan.

When my stump speech arrived at the 'Buckie' section, I noticed a blankness on the faces of my audience.

So I stopped. Took a pause.

"Buckie? As in Buckfast? How many of you know what Buckfast is?"

A hundred in the room. Only two hands raised. The Buckfast culture was a Scottish thing. Only the week, before a client had shown me the truly epic Bebo page of the much vaunted AMP – the 'Annan Mental Posse'. There they all were, clad from head to toe in Burberry. About thirty of them. Average age of 15 or thereabouts. Each and every one of them was brandishing a bottle of Buckfast like a Claymore.

And yet here I was a mere five miles away across the border and out of a hundred kids only two knew what Buckie was.

In my book, that's a pretty serious cultural difference.

All of which brings me to now. To July 2020. To the same border. Scotland one side. England the other side.

Are there any armed to the teeth squaddies? Nope.

Are there super smart houses on one side and crumbling houses the other side? Nope.

Are there potholes one side and no potholes the other side? Nope.

So where is the unavoidable truth? Where is the chasm of difference?

Well it's a difference you can't actually see. Not in the flesh as you head south down the M74 through Gretna.

Instead we see the difference on maps in the newspapers.

It's a pretty major difference. As serious as a difference can get. We're talking the difference between life and death.

On one side of the invisble line is a country where a calm and sensible Government has taken a slow, measured grip on the Covid 19 crisis. On the other side of the invisible line is a country where an inept and corrupt Government has dished out multi million pound contracts to cronies like Deloitte and Serco and lost any semblance of control of the virus.

On one side of the line, trust in the Edinburgh Government is sky high. On the other side of the line, trust in the London government has withered and died.

Both regimes have the same amount of cash to splash on halting the spread. One Government has been pretty successful. One Government has failed more or less completely.

In 2014, a big part of my Indy stump speech was all about how governments of small countries tend to be a whole lot better than the governments of large countries. And it went down OK. But it was never close to being a game changer.

And we lost 55 to 45.

Well. The game has just changed. The border at Gretna has become a matter of life and death.

Death figures don't lie. Just like borders don't lie. And the people of Scotland are anything but stupid. They can read a simple set of numbers. They can see a screaming truth Covid 19 has crystal clear.

No wonder the most recent poll has Yes up to 54%

Once the dust settles on the London government's utter incompetence and corruption, the figure will be nearer 60%

Because borders never lie.

And our Independence is roaring towards us like a German train in the night.