Friday, 16 March 2018

Salisbury and Salmond

From my Daily Record column today
We awake, blinking into a the new world of war where guns and missiles have been replaced by fake news on Facebook, poisoned spies and useful idiots.

The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter using a Russian military grade nerve agent was a very loud wake-up call. You would have to be politically deaf, deluded or Jeremy Corbyn to ignore it.

Like it or not we are, and have been for some time, engaged in a humming, constant conflict with Vladimir Putin’s criminal regime.

Over the last few years we have seen the symptoms, in the Crimea, in the interference of in US elections and now on the streets of Salibury.

What happened last week was not a targeted assassination of a traitor, it was a massive political assault against the west.

For those still scrambling around for an alternative explanation it is maybe best to spell it out - we are meant to know it was Russia behind the attack, we are meant to feel powerless to respond.

My essential catch-up viewing this week has not been the Alexei Salmond show, more on that later, but a timely BBC documentary on the Russia’s new Tsar, Vladimir Putin.

Feeling isolated and paranoid about the West, Putin embarked on a campaign of chaos to undermine his enemies.

This first use of chemical warfare in Europe was designed to destabilise the UK (it has succeeded) and to further isolate the country just as it breaks its bonds with the EU.

Fail to respond and Theresa May would have looked weak, but ramp up the rhetoric and the world discovers the limits of Britain’s international reach.

The collective European response will be meagre and Britain is left with a Frank Spenser lookalike of a Defence Secretary telling Russia “go away” and “shut up”.

Moscow snorts and continues to deny all facts, because these can be countered with alternative facts in the “post-truth” world.

Which takes us neatly to Alex Salmond.

It was never in doubt that the former First Minister would go ahead with his defiant broadcast on RT this week, though even his friends must have watched thinking this was quite a long way for one of the best politicians of his generation to fall. 

Salmond’s claim to be free from political interference gives RT the same veneer of impartiality as ballot boxes give to this Sunday’s Russian elections. 

The former SNP leader is not gullible nor naive. He knows RT is one part of the Putin’s full spectrum arsenal to undermine western democracies.

But he and Moscow share a common objective, to diminish confidence in established UK broadcasters and to weaken the unity of the United Kingdom. 

Salmond properly recognises the BBC as a keystone of shared British identity. By jacking himself up on RT pedestal he can pretend, well he can try to pretend, the Russian propaganda arm is on a parr with the BBC or ITV. 

There is enough of a receptive audience out there to make the cringing performance worthwhile.

The current First Minister is cleared to be a centre-ground stateswoman, turning the gas down on constitutional rows, leaving Corbyn in the shade with words of solidarity on the steps of Downing Street.

Salmond talks to those willing to lulled by an alternative story, highlighting the Labour leader’s isolation by lending him a crutch.  

That looks like a smart win-win for someone. With Salmond and Corbyn it is Putin who wins twice. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

A robin visits, thoughts on the Scottish budget

From my Daily Record column 2/02/18

A little robin was trapped in the Commons chamber on Wednesday just before Prime Minister’s Questions started.

Darting from the eaves and perching on the microphone cables, the wee bird proved as distracting to MPs below as women must have been just over a century past as they were forced to watch proceedings separately from men behind the grilles of the Ladies’ Gallery.

This next week will mark 100 years since women secured the right to vote and the event will be rightly commemorated across parliament and the country.

Westminster loves its traditions and bathes in its own history. Here stood Churchill, this statue is where suffragettes chained themselves, yonder is where Dennis Skinner sits. 

All the more surprising then that later on Wednesday MPs actually voted, by a narrow majority, to move out of the palace for six years to allow urgent restoration to the crumbling building.

It really is falling down around their ears, as a daily visitor I can testify to that. But it is all the more ironic that the decision to leave was taken on the day of the robin’s visit. 

The presence of a robin in a household is symbolically regarded as heralding death. Was the wee robin, with its bloodred breast, a harbinger of Britain’s political destiny? 

The Commons, and the Lords, will only move up the road to temporary Whitehall sites in 2025, by which time the UK could be a different place entirely. The SNP MPs, who look so comfortably nested here, wouldn’t want to return at all.

Like the Queen, who appears ornamental but is actually part of that invisible glue that binds this unconstituted Union in one, the foundations of the Westminster parliament go much deeper than the limestone blocks.  
Moving out of the Palace of Westminster, in an era of instability, is quite a risky business.
Votes for women was a long and arduous campaign over years, but since the anti-politics revolution born out of the great Crash of 2008 events from the Arab Spring to Trump and Brexit have moved with remarkable pace.

Though few voters actually visit the place, loosening the ties of the physical building that holds Britain together, the sheer symbolism of a scaffolded “cradle of democracy” while the UK cuts itself loose from the European home, will be a dark foreshadowing.

There’s no question that there will be a building to come back to six years (or a decade) after the work is done, that is to be guaranteed.  Perhaps a shake-down might do British democracy some good.

Who, for example, would see any reason to refurbish the second chamber as a House of Lords?

Surely a New Westminster would be home to a British senate, part of a federalised United Kingdom with the Commons itself a less powerful and more devolved institution? What kind of Britain will MPs come back to if they leave the building, is what the robin asked.

The wee redbreast, its message delivered, was ushered out of the Palace of Westminster on Thursday morning, the doormen assure me.

The politicians will follow seven years hence.

Read Two

Like the old Supertramp single, Derek Mackay wanted the wealthy to “give a little bit” in taxes; for the public sector to “give a little bit” by swallowing waterline wage increases.

It remains to be seen whether his finely tuned budget finds the voters’ sweetspot by appeasing the conscience of middle Scotland with a shimmy to stage left.

Given the polling cushion between the SNP and its rivals, the Finance Secretary could afford to strum out a little bit more of his love.

Scotland is entering the longest period of low growth since 1958, when the BBC  first broadcast the White Heather Club. 

Growth of just 0.6 per cent is positive, but positively anaemic and half the UK rate.

In the Holyrood chamber yesterday Nicola Sturgeon argued the missing ingredient was more power to influence population growth. Well, she would say that.

The last time I looked Holyrood had its hands on tax raising powers, training and education, development agencies and planning and infrastructure and a whole lot of other economic levers. Just getting on with it, as Ministers will argue they do, could be an option.

The options for raising money are limited but there might be better ways to spend it than the busted flush of Carillion-style outsourcing.

Elsewhere people are looking at alternative growth models to make public money go further.

The council in Preston, Lancashire, has gone for ultra-localism, persuading the many public agencies in the town to change their procurement policy and spend government money in the area.

It’s common sense, although it rips up the corporate accountancy conventions that dictates, for example, how we run the police in Scotland.

The SNP do nationalism well, if Mackay looked for lessons from place Preston it might just learn to do localism too. 

Sùil Eile air Sgìrean Glèidhte Mara

Sùil Eile bhon an Daily Record

Cha do mhothaich mòran ann an saoghal poileataigs ach ‘s iad iasgairean an iar-thuath a dh’fheumas a’ phrìs a phàigheadh airson taic nan Uaineach airson buidseat bliadhnail an SNP.

Mar phàirt dhen aonta airson bhòtaichean Uaine, tha an riaghaltas air gealltainn dalladh orra le ceithir Sgìrean Glèidhte Mara (Marine Protected Areas mar a th’ aca orra).

Tha dhà aca far cost Leòdhais agus tè mhor a’ gabhail a-steach nan Eileanan Tarsainn agus Cuan Uibhist.

‘S ann airson dìon nan leumadairean agus nam mucan-mara a-mhàin a tha na sgìrean glèidhte.

Bha dùil ri na sgeamaichean seo co-dhiù ach chan eil sin ag ràdh nach bi iad connspaideach.

Chan eil rian nach bi na sgìrean seo a’ toirt buadh air gnìomhachas an iasgaich. Cho luath ‘s a thogas mi a’ cheist, tha na h-iasgairean a’ dol a-mach air a chèile, na cliabhan an aghaidh nan tràlairean.

Tha fìor-fheum air glèidhteachas, ach le co-obrachadh bho na coimhearsnachdan.

Tha faireachdainn am measg nan iasgairean, ‘s iad a’ gearan nach eil ministearan ag èisteachd riutha, gu bheil barrachd buaidh aig na leumadairean air bhòtaichean na th’ acasan.

Not many noticed in the world of politics but it is the fishermen of the north west who must pay the price for the Greens supporting the SNP’s annual budget.
As part of the agreement for Green votes the government has agreed to press on with four Marine Protected Areas.
Two of them are off the coast of Lewis and a big one takes in the Small Isles and the South Minch.
The protected zones are mainly for dolphins and whales.
These schemes were expected anyway but that does not mean that they won’t be controvesial.
There is no way that these zones will not affect the fishing industry. As soon as I raise that as a question, the fishermen fall out with each other, the creels against the trawlers.
There is a reel need for conservation, but with the co-operation of the communities.
The feeling amongst fishermen, as they complain that ministers aren’t listening to them, is that dolphins have more influence on votes than they do.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Julie Fowlis ann an Làr an Righ

Bho colbh Sùil Eile anns an Daily Record

Airson aon diog bha mi cinnteach gun robh Julie Fowlis a' priobadh rium bhon àrd-ùrlar a-raoir.

Ach às dèidh dhi òran a gabhail, dh'aidich an sàr-sheinneadair gur e na rosgan fuadain aice a bh' air a sùil a steigeadh sìos.

Och uill, chan e na sùilean ach an ceòl ioghantach a tha a' tighinn bho bilean.

Tha e duilich cèilidh Gàidhealach a chruthachadh am meadhan Lunnainn ach 's e sin a rinn Fowlis agus an còmhlan aice.

I fhein an lòn-dubh, 's i a' gabhail  òran MacArtaine mu ghràin-chinnidh anns na Staitean.

Is i an Eala Bhàn cuideachd, ann an geal, nuair a ghabh i òran Dhòmhnaill Ruaidh Chorùna aig comharrachadh blàr an Somme. Dh'fhag i rudeigin nam shùil an latha sin.

Mach à sin, thàinig iarratas dhi fhèin is Donnchadh Siosalach pìos ciùil a chruthachadh airson call na h-Iolaire a comharrachadh aig deireadh na bliadhna seo.

Mar a dhearbh Fowlis, anns an Fhraing agus Lunnainn, tha guth aice a tha airidh air le faireachdainn a chuireas gaol agus bròn nad chridhe anns an aon diog.

For a second I was sure Julie Fowlis was winking at me from the stage last night.
But after finishing a song, the incredible singer admitted her false eyelashes had stuck her eye shut.
Oh well, it's not the eyes but the lips and the incredible music that comes from them.
It's hard to create a Gaelic ceilidh in the middle of London but that is what Fowlis and her band achieved.
She is the blackbird, as she sings McCartney's song about racism in the States.
She is White Swan too, all in white, when she sang Domhnall Corruna's song at the commemoration of the battle of the Somme. She left something in my eye that day.
Out of that came a commission for her and Duncan Chisholm to create a piece of music to commemorate the loss of the Iolaire at the end of this year.
As Fowlis proved, in France and in London, she has a voice that is worthy of it, with emotions that put love and sorrow in your heart in same second.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Sùil Eile air an Lanntair

Mo colbh Sùil Eile bhon an Daily Record

Ma tha ealain-lann ann am baile Steòrnabhaigh airson adhbhar sam bith, 's ann airson cultar a bheartachadh.

Gabh ris neo diùlt e, tha creideamh làidir Pròstanach, agus glèidheach na Sàbaid, mar phàirt dhen dìleab sin.

Le bhith a' fosgladh air Latha na Sàbaid, tha An Lanntair air a dhol an sàs ann an iomairt airson na freumhan sin a losgadh.

Nam b' e 's gur e gnìomhachas coimearsealta a bhiodh ann, chanainn lean air adhart.

Ach seo a' phrìomh bhuidheann ealain phoblach. Tha seo na teachdaireachd làidir dhan choimhearsnachd.

A' cleachadh fiolm mar an ionnsramaid, a' sgròbadh lotan eachdraidheil a' bhaile, tha sin na shamhail cuideachd.

Tha sin mar a tha e, ach a' dèanamh lethsgeul gu bheil seallaidhean de Star Wars mar phàirt de ghluasad co-ionnanachd agus iomadachd, mar a bha stiùiriche a' ghailearaidh a' cumail a-mach, uill tha sin suarach.Tha sin a' dèanamh magadh air iomairtean chòraichean mion-sluaigh, agus an obair ealain san robh an gailearaidh an sàs.

Nas miosa, tha e mar fhianais gu bheil tuigse air na tha an lùib curaidh ealain ann am mion-chultar air a chall.

Cò am mion-sluagh an seo, agus carson tha An Lanntair an sàs ann an mùthchadh cultar?


If there is an art gallery in Stornoway for any reason, it is to enrich the surrounding culture.
Love it or loath it, a strong Protestant belief, and Sabbath observance, is part of that inheritance.
By opening on Sunday, An Lanntair art gallery has involved itself in the campaign to burn these roots.
If it were a commercial operation, I’d say go ahead.
But this is the prime public arts organisation. This is a strong message to the community.
Using a film showing as the instrument, picking at historic scars in the town, that is highly symbolic too.
That’s as it is, but to make the excuse that screening Star Wars is part of a movement for equality and diversity, as the gallery director maintained, is risible.
It mocks real campaigns for minority rights, and other artistic work the gallery is involved in.
Worse than that, it demonstrates that an understanding of what is involved in curating art in a minority culture has been lost.
Who is in the minority here, and why is An Lanntair involved in strangling a culture?

Friday, 17 November 2017

The TV rating wars we've all been waiting for - Gaelic Mafia vs Russian Mafia

From my Daily Record column

The new Alex Salmond show presents me with a viewing challenge. I’d love to watch it but I fear he airs at the same time as re-runs of the evergreen “Speaking Our Language” with Rhoda MacDonald on BBC Alba.

It’s the viewing battle I’ve dreamed of for years - the beautiful Gaelic Mafia takes on the ugly face of the Russian Mafia. I know who’ll win that one.

But Salmond is no loser, he knows what he is doing by taking the Putin rouble.

Hiring himself out to the Kremlin-backed propaganda station on the same week RT registered with the US Department of Justice as a “foreign agent” is not a point of irony, it is exactly the point.

Going Slavic instead of going slàinte is a logical extension of the battle Alexi, as we must now address him, has been fighting against the UK media since at least 2012, earlier even.

It was about then, during the London Olympics NHS celebrations, the Queen’s rainy but jubilant Jubilee -  all that damn Britishness being beamed into Scottish living rooms - that the SNP leader crystallised his contempt for the most valued British asset, the BBC.

Auntie Beeb is the glue that holds Britain together, the flickering tribal flame which even in this day of splintered audiences gathers us around the polished Strictly dancefloor.

It’s not perfect, but when it comes to news the BBC is impartial, politically independent and still the most trusted thing about Britain.

So, from the perspective of the new Soviet hero, it must be destroyed.

To be fair Salmond did try to dismantle it first, demanding a Scottish Broadcasting Service airing kaleyard kitsch for the glens in the hope viewers turn their back on the Thames and the bass drumbeat of Eastenders. Some hope.

Instead he must de-legitimise the BBC. He had a fair go at this during the referendum, egging on the lynch mob BBC “bias” mentality as a “joyous” celebration.  

He knows he will be attacked for coming under Kremlin “kontrol” but putting himself on a news chatshow pedestal holds a mirror to other broadcasters, undermining their credibility in his reflected ego.

Of course RT is an arm of the Russian state, but isn’t the BBC the same thing, ask his useful idiots?

Isn’t the Putin rouble the same currency as the Daily Mail shilling? 

Well, the Daily Mail editor is keen on shooting wildlife, I hear, but not as enthusiastic as agents of the Russian state when it comes to shooting journalists.

There is no equivalence, at all, although for a Pavlovian section of nationalist support the comparison will be legitimate.   

I read Salmond wrong after 2014, I thought his hand in glove role with his successor was as father of the nation, a selfie daddy to all Scots.

Instead his task is to keep the 45 at 45 degrees centigrade, ready to boil the moment centre-ground Sturgeon decides the opportunity presents itself again.

It’s demeaning work for a former first-rate politician, but in the long game he thinks this will help crumble the Jericho walls of what keeps us British.  

Episode one of the Alexi show aired relatively unscathed, interviewing the exiled Catalan independence leader, the nearest thing we have to a 21st century Prince Charlie.

There is a limited supply of separatists to have as guests, though as a running theme some will never tire of Salmond’s trumpet.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Who will carve up the fishing Brexit bonus?

From my Daily Record column 10/11/17

To the Fishmonger’s Hall, for a briefing on the bright future of fishing under Brexit. 

The splendid building is home of The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the great Livery Companies of London.

The Livery Companies were a posh name for the trading cartels that historically carved up business within the City of London boundaries.

It's a suitable venue for fishermen’s leaders who are the most enthusiastic supporters of leaving the EU and the shackles of the Commons Fisheries Policy.

They see fishing as the Brexit poster boy, with only a few months of transition out of the CFP after the UK’s March 2019 departure.

That’s to be followed by talks around a “grown-up” table that December to decide who gets access to the British fishing grounds. 

They don’t doubt the UK government will deliver on this. Everyone is aware of the “political dynamics” as Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation puts it diplomatically.

That’s shorthand for eight of your Tory MPs in Scotland were elected on the back of Brexit-voting fishing communities, Mrs May.

Any sniff of betrayal and you can kiss goodbye to a Tory majority and see the SNP racing back in the North East faster than a grey seal can swallow a half ton of haddock.

Fishing is only 0.1 per cent of the UK’s economy but is an important symbol of taking back control, to borrow a phrase.

Fishing leaders anticipate a last-minute Brussels ambush in Brexit negotiations to demand continued access to UK waters for EU fleets as the price for a wider trade deal.

Fishermen are having none of that and the UK government is in delicate position, my shorthand for when fishermen have a hold of politicians by the, er, gills.

The guildmen serving breakfast assure us that by controlling UK waters there will be fish for all. 

What they mean is a bigger share of the fish stocks for the cartel of supermarket-sized trawlers that prowl UK seas.

The bizarre quota system of fishing has succeeded only in concentrating catching power in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful fishing interests and family businesses which deploy ever more efficient ships to hoover up the seas.  

For all their talk of reviving Britain’s coastal communities fishing organisations show no willingness to loosen the grip the big boys have on the quota. 
Any Scottish politician serious about preventing a Brexit “power grab” should stand ready to challenge big fishing interests.

If Brexit means Brexit there should be a UK-wide strategy to revive small and medium scale operations from the Telford harbours and towns long ago left behind by the super-trawlers.

It will mean taking some of the power, and some of the profit, away from the big boys in the guild hall.

Over to you Ian Duncan, Michael Gove, Fergus Ewing and any MP and MSP with a coastal constituency.