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We awake, blinking into a the new world of war where guns and missiles have been replaced by fake news on Facebook, poisoned spies and useful idiots.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