Saturday, 24 September 2016

Momentum's Moses could leave Scots tribe in the desert

Liverpool, 24th Sept 2016 

They’re in the process of weighing the votes for Jeremy Corbyn at Liverpool. 

A fair number of Labour’s left-wing are licking their lips at the prospect of the leader outdoing his incredible performance last year and gaining more than 60 per cent of the vote.
(Update it is 61.8 per cent of the vote).

That said, none appeared willing to take my bet on the outcome of the next general election.
Instead they took my tip of the day - Crimson Rosette in the 1.50pm at Newmarket. It’s a surefire favourite to win.

Corbyn’s win is a remarkable double - twice-elected leader of the Labour Party in a year while trailing the Tories in the polls by double-digit figures.

Not a lot to celebrate there, you would think, but the left of the party seems overjoyed at trouncing the “hated 172", as Labour’s rebel MPs are branded.

The biggest result of the day will not be the leadership vote be the outcome of the National Executive Committee meeting later this afternoon.

That is meant to thrash out Tom Watson’s proposal for shadow cabinet elections against Corbyn’s intransigence to the idea.

The leader, with a bigger mandate than the last time, could sweep away the demand to allow MPs to return to the shadow cabinet with honour and simply demand they pay tribute.

Four former members of the shadow cabinet are said to be prepared to make the walk back which will give Corbyn the patina of unity to get through the day at least.

But for anything other than a superficial smile of unity from the Labour conference look elsewhere. 

The biggest smile in Scotland today?

That will be on Ruth Davidson’s face as these middle class, middle of the road people who put their vote Labour’s way for many a year give the party a despairing parting wave.

Davidson has stolen a lead in Scotland as the face of anti-nationalism and in a population divided along the constitutional faultline this could be another gain for her.

Generational Labour voters will find it hard to leave the family, but some will walk into the desert than follow Momentum’s Moses to a promised land.

Ruth has already been roadtesting her next campaign slogan for these bewildered middle-ground voters.


Welcome to the tribe,” she will say.  

Monday, 19 September 2016

Sturgeon on the transcendental tightrope


For the Daily Record

So, the case independence “transcends” everything else, according to Nicola Sturgeon.
That must be a bit like transcendental meditation. 

If we all hum “freedomm, freedomm” long enough we will achieve an altered state in which the deficit, the oil revenues, and the money flowing uphill from the UK will not matter.

It would be the political equivalent of yogic flying.

Easy as it is to mock the First Minister’s abandonment of the 2014 model of independence her sharp tack to fundamentalist a signals the pressures the SNP leader is coming under.

Sturgeon has to quickly put a great distance between herself and the economic flaws of the last independence case.

She has to destroy the old independence agrument and construct a new one in a hurry because Brexit presents her with a closing window of opportunity to go for another referendum.

Brexit is seen by many SNP supporters as the short-cut to independence. Alex Salmond reckons a vote will be held by 2018, others are urging caution.  You pays your money and takes your choices on what Strugeon will finally do, it depends on how hard a Brexit the UK makes.

But yesterday's tack to fundamentalism is in danger of turning her from the calm centre of the Brexit storm to the Grand old Duke of York of politics   

Sturgeon initially threatened a second indy referendum if Scotland did not keep its place in the  EU Single Market.

When polling evidence showed no surge for independence despite Scots voting overwhelmingly to stay in the EU she stepped back.

Now she has see-sawed to an indy or bust stance pleasing to the activist base.
Part of the reason is that Sturgeon is, as Willie Rennie said, “trapped” between SNP activists who want freedom at any price and her own caution. 

The political reality is that if she goes early she loses, and if she loses it is curtains for her and for independence.

The tension could make for an interesting SNP conference in Glasgow as the party has become the natural home for leftivists who otherwise might have joined Corbyn's Labour revolution.

Tommy Sheppard, the amiable Edinburgh MP, is standing against the more established Angus Robertson for the party deputy leadership.

Sheppard offers left-wingers who have swelled SNP ranks a chance to express their impatience for change.

For Sturgeon it is important that Robertson fend off the challenge. The leader does not want a thorn in her side that could disrupt party discipline and her dominance of the referendum timing. 

So the shift to transcendental independence has to be seen through the prism of what Sturgeon is attempting to do - walking a tightrope between a call for a second vote and not really wanting to do until the result is guaranteed.

She’s attempting to take the country out on that tightrope with her, and that’s harder than yogic flying.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Shouldn't this be the dawn of IndyRef2?

My Daily Record column for today

Two years on from the first independence referendum shouldn’t we be waking up this Friday morning to the result of the second one? In other words, hasn’t Nicola Sturgeon missed her chance? 

If the First Minister had been bold on that dawn of June 24th, when it became clear the UK had voted to leave the European Union while Scotland had overwhelmingly chosen to stay, she would have called an independence vote for this very week.

An immediate declaration of intent from the steps of Bute House, an unprecedented emergency sitting of Holyrood on Saturday, an overwhelming parliamentary mandate to go for a referendum. All of it delivering a knock-out blow to a British state reeling from the biggest crisis since Suez.

Remember, power had been sucked out Westminster that weekend. You could feel that walking around the tented media village on College Green outside parliament. It wasn’t a broadcasting centre, it was a first-aid station for a political class hit by a hurricane.

The story since is that Sturgeon was the calm centre of the storm, that she projected purpose and a plan by demanding Scotland remain in the Single Market or that she may, just may, trigger a second independence referendum.

That’s reading it wrong.

There were only two possible reactions for the SNP leader to have had that day - to strike fast and summon Scottish patriotism to the European flag or to meekly pick at the details, rather important details, of how to replace EU funding and rules for Scotland’s fishing, agriculture and environment.

Instead Sturgeon went for the middle path, demanding status in the UK negotiations - the Tories never fail to be amazed at how obsessed the nationalists are with status - or threatening to pull the plug on the Union. History might judge this as kind of seven and half out of ten endorsement of independence.

If she had gone for broke the question on the ballot paper would be “should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom?”.

But the terms of the debate would be do you want an independent Scotland to be in the European Union? In in the heat of a turnaround summer of politics who knows what the outcome a short, sharp campaign might have been?

A gambler would have bet the farm on lifting independence over the 50 per cent plus one vote barrier. Alex Salmond appeared to suggest so in his intervention on Wednesday, demanding that Sturgeon “block Brexit”.    

Now, it looks like she overplayed the slim hand she had.

Now, she sends Mike Russell to vacuous meetings to David Davis while she and Theresa May adopt a holding pattern until the heat goes out and the Brexit landing lights come on.

There still has to be hope for Sturgeon, that a hard Brexit will make Scots rush into her arms.

But then she has the difficulty of outlining the alternative to being outside Scotland’s biggest trading union and adopting the currency of the union we want to be part of. Did someone mention currency? Let’s not go there, most Scots will think.  

Meantime backing for independence has not surged since Brexit and Sturgeon’s own ratings show signs of deflation. 

Support for independence is still high but depressingly two polls this week show that all nationalism has achieved as we mark this two year anniversary is to continue to divide Scots, not from England, but from each other.

The task of any post-referendum leader was to move the nation on from that sorry state. Instead Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to play the game again, but to roll only one dice. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Irish tax breakfast could be UK's serfs dinner

My Daily Record Column for today
IMAGINE you woke up one morning to find out someone offered your country enough money to fund the health service for an entire year. 
Then you read every political party, bar one hardline grouping, have put up their collective hands and said: “No, we’re fine, our indebted country and creaking health system doesn’t want the money. You keep it.”
This is what has happened in Ireland, a country where GPs can charge you 50 euros for turning up at the surgery and people long ago stopped believing in pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The European Commission have ruled that Apple, the makers of mobile phones and laptops, paid less than one per cent tax on European profits for years through their Irish base.
By 2014, Apple were paying 0.005 per cent tax on European profits.
Sweet, if you are Apple. Sour when you consider that is 50 euros tax on every million euros in profit generated.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the arrangement with the Irish government is illegal under state aid rules and Apple must pay Dublin 13billion euros and the interest on top.
Apple’s billions in back taxes could build 100,000 homes for the poor or pay off a chunk of the nation’s debt.
The trouble for Ireland is that Ireland doesn’t want the money. 
For 40 years and more, the cornerstone of Irish economic policy has been a low corporate tax rate that attracts inward investment. 
The iPhone-makers are one of more than 700 US companies who have a European foothold in Ireland. They employ a combined 140,000 people across the island.
So, do you want the 13billion euros or not? 
Go look up the answer at Google or ask a friend on Facebook, or any other multinational using an Irish stepping stone.
The sound of hand-wringing in the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, can be heard this side of the Irish Sea.
Most commentators, as far as can be fathomed, back the Irish government’s stance to appeal the decision.
Irish finance minister Michael Noonan, vowing to fight Europe on behalf of the world’s richest company, went straight for Ireland’s famine heart.
“To do anything else, it would be like eating the seed potatoes,” he said. 
These Irish jobs are at stake and Apple, backed by the US government, won’t brook the European Commission meddling. 
For Apple, this is a drop in the ocean. The company generated about $4.45billion a month last year and the back tax – equivalent to about $3000 for every man, woman and child in Ireland – works out at three months of profit.
But no way are the Irish getting a share of Apple’s pie.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook said: “Ireland always does the right thing. You can always count on that.”
If there’s an iPhone app for generating smugness, that guy was the first to download it.
Why should we worry about Ireland’s tax dilemma? Well, I get the feeling whichever direction we turn, Ireland’s breakfast is our dinner.
Just as Alex Salmond sought to emulate the Celtic Tiger across the northern “arc of prosperity” (what a cracker that was) his plan for an independent Scotland depended on facilitating any passing multinational with a lower than UK corporate tax rate.
Events have changed all that and now the entire UK finds itself cast as the continent’s international tax haven.
Eurosceptic Tories have been eager to press Theresa May to offer Apple an even better deal than Ireland does, if that is possible.
I fear that’s what Brexit means on Tory terms, rendering craven homage to global companies and turning your workforce into the cyber-serfs of the 21st century.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Sùil Eile air sgeulachd an dà Dhòmhnall


Airson an Daily Record

Cha robh ach aon àireamh seirbheis eadar an dà Dhòmhnall MacLeòid, dithis shaighdearan às na h-Eileanan a chaidh dhan Chogadh Mhòr le na Canèideanaich.

Aon Dòmhnall, à Lèodhas, bha e air a leòn agus fhuair e bàs. Le mearachd bha a chorp air a chur a Bheinn na Faoghla, dham buineadh an Dòmhnall eile.

Dh’aithnich athair Dhòmhnaill Bheinn na Faoghla gur e mearachd a bh’ ann, ach thioghlaig e an srainnsear mar gur e a mhac fhèin a bh’ ann.

Thàinig am balach eile slàn tron chogadh. Cha robh fios, a dh’aindeoin oidhirp, cò leis a bha an Dòmhnall eile anns an uaigh, agus a theaglach air chall.

Sin gus an do thòisich Murchadh “Mindy” MacLeòid ris a’ chùis a rannsachadh ceud bliadhna às dèidh làimh mar phàirt de phrògraman cuimhneachaidh Radio nan Gàidheal.

Tha an sgeulachd a nochd e cho brònach ri càil sam bith a chluinneas sibh mu sgrios a’ Chogaidh Mhòir.

Feuch gun èist sibh ris An Dà Dhòmhnall air i-player a’ BhBC.

Tha an seòrsa eòlais seo a’ ruith anns an t-sruth anns na h-Eileanan, ‘s gun phrìs air idir, agus na milleanan air an cosg air taighean tasgaidh eu-dhomhainn. 


Monday, 8 August 2016

From sea to shining sea. How Donald Trump's migrant mother came to the USA

Mary MacLeod's journey from Old World to the New - America's story in seven pictures
This is a slightly extended version of my Daily Record exclusive on newly-discovered photos of Donald Trump's mother. The story, and the individual pictures can be seen here on the Record website

THEY are the pictures of his mother that Donald Trump will never have seen, bearing witness to a family saga he cannot bear to tell.

Seven newly-uncovered, black and white photos show Mary Anne MacLeod, the Scottish island girl who became
the wife of New York property magnate Fred Trump and mother to the Republican presidential candidate.

Elegantly, they click the shutter frame on the immigrant background of the US politician who wants to build a wall against the world.

Mary MacLeod’s journey from the Isle of Lewis to New York is already well known, but these newly discovered photos and the memoir of her teenage penpal cast a new light on the Donald Trump story.

In one girl’s portraits are story of how modern-day America came to be. The three phases of European emigration - the Old World home, the ocean voyage and the opening door to wealth and happiness in the New  - are captured in seven prints from the 1920s and 30s now frozen in time. 

The first picture, taken about 1926, shows a girl in the bloom of youth, collecting wild flowers by the shore of her childhood home on the Isle of Lewis. The flower-carpeted machair, the fertile sandy grass, is unmistakably Hebridean as is the tall girl on the left of the picture.

Garbed in a dark velveteen dress, Mary MacLeod is accompanied by another young woman, possibly one of her sisters who emigrated to America, Canada and Australia before her.

Born in 1912, Mary was part of a large family in the crofting village of Tong, the most-populated of the Outer Hebrides.

A second picture shows the teenage Mary sitting on the windowsill of a modern block-built “white” house of the type that began replacing the thatched island blackhouses at the time.

Mary’s father was postmaster in the village as well as a fisherman and so one of the first to elevate himself out of endemic rural poverty. Often it was money sent home from abroad that helped islanders through lean years and lack of work on Lewis had scattered Mary’s siblings across the globe.

When she started her penpal correspondence with Agnes Stiven, an east coast girl of her own age whose prize-winning painting and address had appeared in the Dundee Courier, MacLeod described “her lonely life on the island”.
Her sisters and brothers had already left home. The village story was that Mary went on “holiday” to see her older sister Catherine who had left for New York.

But the memoir of their friendship that Agnes Stiven left behind finally puts that Trump family myth to rest.

Agnes wrote: “Mary’s older sister in New York invited her to visit her there...and soon afterwards her sister found her a job as a nanny with a wealthy family in a big house in the suburbs of New York”.

Ellis Island Records have Mary MacLeod arriving in New York in 1930, yet she may have criss-crossed the Atlantic more than once.

According to Agnes the two girls met in Glasgow in the late summer of 1928 when Mary was on the way to America for the first time. The girls hit it off immediately.

“Mary had long fair hair and blue eyes, my hair was short and dark and I had hazel eyes. Each thought the other was pretty!” Agnes recollected in her journal. 

“Mary’s news in 1929 was not so optimistic. Her employers had been involved in the Wall Street Crash which shook not only America but the whole world,” wrote Agnes. “Mary lost her job and went to New York City to find employment.” 

The letters were not so frequent then but the two girls exchanged Christmas gifts. “I well remember the chic pink cami-knickers she sent me. They buttoned round the waist and fitted perfectly,” recalled Agnes.

By then Mary had met her future husband. the real estate developer Fred C. Trump. Again, the village story in Tong is that they met at a dance in New York and kept in touch even though Mary returned to Lewis at least once afterwards.

Meanwhile Agnes, a gifted linguist from a humble Scottish background, had became a post-graduate scholar at Marburg University in Germany.

She was on her way home from Marburg via Hamburg in August 1934 when President Hindenberg died, leaving
the country in mourning. “His death, alas, left a gap that was quickly seized upon by Adolf Hitler, with dire consequences.” wrote Agnes, foreshadowing the calamity to come. 

She fled across the North Sea to Dundee to stay with her parents, paralleling a journey Mary MacLeod made back across the Atlantic to visit her parents on Lewis.

Agnes wrote the friends next met in 1934 in Glasgow when Mary left again for New York “where she now seemed to have settled”. 

“We spent a hectic day together in Glasgow. In the morning  we went on a shopping spree and I particularly remember in a big store on Sauchiehall Street she bought a pair of fur-backed gauntlet gloves for her boyfriend, Fred. “I said I hoped he’d like them and she said ‘he’d better’” 

They went to view the Queen Mary on the Clyde, the world’s largest passenger ship, being fitted out and still without her distinctive four funnels.

Agnes snapped Mary on the quayside, a flared coat and jaunty hat adding to her glamour. “I thought Mary was very pretty, with her hair still quite long and permed,” wrote Agnes.

“I saw Mary off on board the ship at Clydebank that evening and that was the last time we saw each other until 61 years later in London”.

The two pictures of Mary MacLeod en-route to America are iconic images of European emigration. 

Between 1880 and 1920, more than 25 million foreigners arrived on American shores, transforming the country. Scottish emigration reached a peak in the 1920s, with 363,000 Scots leaving for the US and Canada in that decade.

Aboard ship Mary stands by the deck rail, a hairband ties her blond locks and she wears smart white deck shoes. In the next image she looks relaxed and has captivated a male passenger.

The pictures are marked on the back by her friend Agnes as being “en-route” on the SS Transylvania, the Anchor Line passenger vessel that ran between Glasgow to New York in the inter-war years.

There is no way of knowing on which of Mary MacLeod’s voyages they were taken but the confident, optimistic stance lends the impression that this was a young woman who knew where she was going.

Shipping records show that Mary MacLeod arrived again in the United States in 1934, by then 22 years of age.
The next picture shows Mary in a swimming costume on the steps of a Long Island swimming pool where the elite of New York decamped for the Summer.

The transformation is complete, the coy look of the girl on the Hebridean beach is replaced by a glossy poolside pose reflecting the golden years of Holywood. From domestic service to domestic goddess, Mary MacLeod had made it. 

Two years later she was married to Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, and would have five children: Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Robert and, of course, Donald, or Donald John as he is known in Tong.

Agnes noted: “She didn’t tell me that the man she married in January 1936 was “the most eligible bachelor in New York” as she called him in a recent letter, and also of German parentage like the man I was then engaged to marry.”.

In the final photo of the sequence Mary is pictured on her driveway holding her firstborn child, Maryanne, who as an adult accompanied her mother on many visits to Lewis. The marks one of the last contacts the two women had for years.

War separated the two friends and altered the course of Agnes Stiven’s life completely. The German man she married in 1938, in the lull of the Munich Agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler, went on to become a Panzer tank commander.

He survived the war a damaged man, and the couple divorced forcing Agnes and her children to return to Britain. 
The correspondence, apart from a few letters and photos at her parents’ home in Scotland was lost as was the link with Mary MacLeod.

That was until Donald Trump’s growing fame intervened and his Scottish connection surfaced years later.
Agnes wrote: “In June 1995 I finished watching News at Ten in bed, as I usually do, without paying too much attention to the following programme called “Selina Scott meets Donald Trump - an exclusive interview with the  Manhattan tycoon’”.

She added: “I pricked up my ears when with a jolt when Selina said that the interview was being held in the sumptuous apartment occupied by Donald’s mother, who was a Scot originally Mary MacLeod form Lewis.”

“I jumped up at the tv set to get a close look at the elegant lady with the groomed golden hair seated with lovely legs crossed just as Mary MacLeod used to do.”

A hopeful letter to “the apartment on the 64th floor of Trump Towers” received an equally swift reply and the friendship of over half a century was picked up again with enthusiasm.

The two ladies were re-united in London in August 1995 to their great delight.

Mary MacLeod regularly returned home to Lewis before her death in New York in 2000, at age 88. 

Alice Stiven died in March 2002, leaving an trove of photos and memoirs which her family are piecing together.

Donald Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior US judge, visited Lewis often with her mother and made a £150,000 donation to the island’s Bethesda hospice in her memory.

But Donald Trump appears to have little interest in his Scottish roots. He has only visited Lewis twice in a blaze of publicity to promote his golf interests but his public references to his mother’s background are conspicuous by their absence.

Maybe that is because these pictures of Mary MacLeod tell a different history from the anti-immigrant bombast of his campaign trail speeches.

From the foreshore of Lewis to the exclusive swimming pools of Long Island, from sea to shining sea, Mary MacLeod’s seven pictures are the story of a country made great by immigrants, people just like Donald Trump’s mother.




Friday, 29 July 2016

Sùil Eile air Murchadh MacPhàrlain

Am bàrd Murchadh MacPhàrlain ann a dealbh le Gus Wylie
Airson an Daily Record

Tha sreath de litirichean eadar am bàrd ainmeil Murchadh MacPhàrlain agus an seinneadair Mairead NicLeòid a’ soilleireachadh mar a thàinig cuid dhe na h-òrain as cliùitiche a th’ againn sa chànan gu bith.

Bha ceangal cruthachail, bàidheil eadar Bàrd Mhealaboist agus an còmhlan Na h-Òganaich. Tha an dàimh sin a’ toirt tiotal dhan leabhar ùr a tha a’ cruinneachadh nan litirichean, “Le Mùirn”.

Tha cunntas sgiobalta air beatha Mhurchaidh agus na bliadhnaichean rionnagach aig na h-Òganaich air a sgrìobhadh le Catrìona Mhoireach, agus abair obair luachmhor.

Ach tha “Le Mùirn” mu dheidhinn tòrr a bharrachd na eachdraidh beatha.

Tha a’ chùis a’ ceangal òrain, litreachas, obair-ealain ùr, agus sealladh air sgilean dealbhaidh Mhurchaidh fhèin.

Air cùlaibh a’ phròiseict tha Iseabail Mhoireach, a th’ air a bhith an sàs an cuid dhe na h-iomairtean as tuigsiche anns na h-ealain fad bhliadhnaichean.

Anns h-uile càil a tha Iseabail a’ cruthachadh tha ceangal ri cruth-tìre agus cuimhne -  na snàithlein as treasa ann an cultar sam bith. Sin freumhan na bàrdachd, agus sinn fhathast ga seinn.


English translation

A series of letters between the famous poet Murdo MacFarlane and the singer Margaret MacLeod illuminates how some of the most popular songs we have in the language came to be.

There was an affectionate, creative relationship between the Melbost bard and the group, Na h-Òganaich. That affinity gives the title to a new book that collects the letters, “With Affection”.

It is a nimble account of Murdo’s life and the starry years of Na h-Òganaich written by Catriona Murray, and what a precious piece of work it is.

But “Le Mùirn” is about a lot more than biography.

The idea links song, literature, new works of art, with a glimpse of Murdo’s own drawing skills.

Behind the project is Ishbel Murray, who has been involved in some of the most thoughtful and intelligent initiatives in the arts over the years.

Everything Ishbel creates connects to landscape and memory - the strongest threads of any culture. These are the roots of the poems, and still we sing them.