Thursday, 13 December 2018

Clusterbùrach - a new ruling

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

Aon uair bha iad a’ gàireachdainn oirnn airson ‘s nach robh faclan againn airson rendezvous neo car a’ mhuiltein.

Ach le poilitigs ann an staing, tha a’ Bheurla air ruith a-mach à faclan.

O choinn ghoirid tha bùrach, facal blasda Gàidhlig, air a bhith air a chur gu feum airson cunntas a thoirt air an ath char ann am Brexit.

 Tha “clusterbùrach” air fàs fasanta.  Tha Alastair Caimbeul ga chleachdadh, Mìcheal Russell, Hannah Bardell cuideachd.

Tha e sgrìobhte ann an Hansard agus tha nam pàipearan-naidheachd air droch litreachadh a dhèaneamh air.

Tha cunnart ann gu bheil am facal air a chaitheamh agus feumach air suaimhneas.

Tha Comhairle a’ Chànain (CaC) air a bhith a’ coimhead air a’ chùis agus air a thighinn suas le freagairt shìmplidh.

O seo a-mach cha bhi e ceadaichte bùrach a chleachdach airson Brexit. Ach tha e ceadaichte brexit a chleachdach airson bùrach.

Mar eisimplear: “Nach e tha air brexit a dheaneamh dhen bhiadh.” agus, “Abair brexit, a ghloic.”

Tha e a’ ciallachadh gum feum sinn an litir x a chleachdadh sa chànan.

Ach cha tuirt duine sam bith gu biodh Brexit gun duilgheadas.


Once upon a time they used to laugh at us because we had no words for rendevouz or summersault.
But with politics in crisis, English has run out of words.

Recently the term bùrach, a tasty Gaelic word, has been deployed to describe the latest twist in Brexit.

“Clusterbùrach " has become fashionable. Alastair Campbell has used it, Michael Russell, Hannah Bardell too. 

The word has been recorded in Hansard and newspapers have mis-spelled it.

There is a danger that the term is becoming worn out and needs resting.

Comhairle a’ Chànain (CaC), the Language Council, has been looking at the issue and come up with a simple solution.

From now on it is not permitted to use bùrach as a term for Brexit. However it is acceptable to use brexit to describe a bùrach.

For example: “Didn’t he make a brexit of the food”, and “What a brexit, you idiot”.

It means we have to introduce the letter x into the Gaelic language.

But no one said Brexit was going to be easy.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Sùil Eile air Ceòl 's Craic air a rèidio

'S E AN App is motha tha mi a' cleachdadh air a' fòn-làimhe 's e fear a' BhBC gus èisteachd ris an rèidio (sin nuair nach eil mi a' cleachdadh a' fòn airson craoladh air an rèidio).
Ach bho chionn ghoiridh tha mi air mo bheò-ghlacadh le làrach-lìn a chuir caraid thugam. Dealbh mòr den phlanaid agus bidh thu a' sguabadh thairis air le do chorrag.
Ge bith càite a bheil thu a' stad tha thu a' lorg stèisean rèidio ionadal an àite.
Tha mi air a bhith eadar Alasga agus Astràilia agus a h-uile àite air an t-slighe Tha "RadioGarden" coltach ri a bhith ag èisteachd ri Shortwave nuair a bha thu òg, an saoghal tighinn thugad fo na plaideachan.
Ach mar as àbhaist tha an combaist ga do stiùireadh dhachaigh.
Bho àm gu àm bidh mi a' lorg "Ceòl 's Craic" rèidio air Facebook, ceòl an t-saoghail tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig.
Le preasantair ùr, Alana NicAonghais, an t-eòlas ciùil aig an Dotair Raibeart agus an riochdaire, Laurie Cuffe, tha am prògram sgoinneal, ùr-nòsach agus farsaing an coimeas ri na tha ri fhaighinn air a BhBC.
Bha fiù's agallamh aice le seinneadair Killing Joke an t-seachdainn sa chaidh.
Tha iad airidh air luchd-èisteachd nas fharsainge.

Translation - The App I use most often on mobile phone is the BBC one for listening to the radio (when I'm not using the phone for broadcasting on the radio).
But recently I've been caught with a website a friend sent me. a big image of the planet that you sweep across with your finger. Wherever you stop you find the local radio station of the area. I've been from alaska to australia and everywhere in between .
"radiogarden" is like listening to shortwave when you were young, the world coming to you under the blankets. But as usual, the compass guides you home. From time to time, I find "Ceòl 's Craic" radio on Facebook, world music through the medium of gaelic.
With a new presenter, Alana MacInnes, the musical knowledge of Dr Robert and the producer, Laurie Cuffe, the programme is fantastic, innovative and wide-raingng compared to what is available on the BBC.
They even had an interview with the singer from Killing Joke last week. They deserve a wider audience .

By the minute, how a Corbyn-Sturgeon deal would work

From my Daily Record column
WANT to know what a Corbyn government would look like? The answer is not to be found by traipsing around the Palace of Westminster in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon, entertaining as the First Minister's day out to London was.
Making tentative arrangements with Labour to oppose Brexit was by far the most significant part of Sturgeon's visit.
But exercising power is a serious and more subtle business. A Labour administration which relies on some arrangement with the SNP is the least fantastic scenario available to a political imagination that puts the words "prime minister Corbyn" into a sentence.
What his government could really look like is to be found in a little clicked corner of the Cabinet Office website.
The department is the clearing house of government, the link between Downing Street and the world of Whitehall and beyond. In its online tomes lie the published minutes of all the private meetings between the Tory Government and the DUP on which, until recently at least, Theresa May relied in a confidence and supply arrangement for her Commons majority.
The records, to quote the Politico website, who first perused them, offer a "tantalising glimpse of the clout wielded by DUP leader Arlene Foster behind the scenes".
They detail the near-monthly meetings of the six-strong "coordination committee" of senior Tory and DUP MPs, set up last year to ensure the voting deal runs smoothly in Parliament.
It is chaired by May's de-facto deputy David Lidington, who sits alongside chief whip Julian Smith and Treasury minister Mel Stride on the Government side.
On the other side of the table are DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, his chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.
All boys together. Well, not quite.
The terms of reference state explicitly that neither Foster nor May should be members. "Neither party leader will sit on the committee but may attend from time to time on Privy Council terms."
That "but" is the unbolted stable door allowing Foster to attend every meeting bar one since the first gathering in July 2017.
Imagine, if you can, the credibility of a Scottish First Minister if Holyrood had not been sitting since January 2017 and MSPs were paid £8million salary in that time.
However, Foster, still under the shadow of the £500million "cash for ash" heating scandal during her stint as Stormont's enterprise minister, and the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland, has a regular audience with some of the most powerful figures in the UK Government.
According to the minutes of the meetings a succession of Brexit, defence and security ministers are dragged in every few weeks to give personal briefings to this DUP star chamber. It seems Foster is spending more time and exercising more power in Whitehall than she is in Belfast.
Given the way Whitehall works on precedent this is an entirely credible template for how a minority Labour government would be guided by the civil service to handle a confidence and supply arrangement with the SNP.
Sturgeon would be in Whitehall a lot more often, and not just appearing as a Westminster minx, sticking her head around the door of Tory Brexiteer meetings to give them a fright.
Sturgeon's visit to London had a twofold purpose - rappelling in to try to organise cross-party opposition to Brexit is important and burnishes her heavyweight image, of course.
But it also helps her twitchy MPs looking over their shoulder at the narrow gap back to Labour candidates in the 2017 snap election.
Why vote Labour in Scotland, they will argue on the doorstep, when we can have Nicola sorting them out?
Given the opposition operation is so disfunctional that Corbyn contrived this week to miss a Commons vote on child poverty, which he tabled himself, letting the Government win by just five votes, perhaps Labour could do with some help at Westminster.

Gove, a cabinet Hamlet snared by his Scottish past

From my Daily Record column today
A FELLOW journalist is researching a biography of Michael Gove, the Hamlet of the House ("to be or not to be") or parliament's Poundshop Macbeth ("stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires"), depending on your point of view.
I met the writer on a Commons staircase as Gove was at the despatch box in the chamber for the Fisheries Bill debate.
Rush to the reporters gallery, I urged him, where his opening chapter was being written in front of our eyes. There was Gove, the arch-Brexiteer, on the stump defending Theresa May's Brexit deal - which he does not believe in - to the hilt.
By doing so he invoked the memory of his family's experience of Britain joining the Common Fisheries Policy in the 70s, vowing there would be no "last-minute sell-out" of fishing interests this time.
Gove, the adopted son of an Aberdeen fish merchant, told MPs: "I was a boy then but the consequences had a profound impact on my family and on my father's business. There is no way I can ever forget what happened then."
There was laid bare the personal forces which left this brazen Brexiteer trapped in May's Cabinet as her political life hung by a thread.
This sensitive awareness of the totemic value of fishing, the consequences for Scottish Tories and May's "our precious union" left Gove hamstrung.
Instinctively, intellectually, he wanted to walk out.
But doing so would put him in the camp of recently resigned former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab in declaring the deal a threat to the Union, and walking into the SNP narrative.
Quitting as Environment Secretary would also condemn the Brexit fishing deal as a sell-out, a death sentence for Scottish Tory MPs.
So there is Michael Gove, a complex character, his destiny, his vision shaped and snared by his Scottish past.
Would you pass me that quill, Mr Shakespeare?

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Silver Darlings - the fishing Rich List pulling the strings on Scottish Tories

From my Daily Record column today:

Feeling the urge to join in the collective nervous breakdown of the Conservatives, Scottish Tories are going tonto about fishing.

The party’s Scottish MPs - a subsidiary of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation - wail how they will vote down Theresa May’s “transition” Brexit deal if it means fishermen have to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy a day beyond December 2020.

The date is important because the Tories would be slaughtered going into the 2021 Holyrood election without delivering on the Brexit pledge that won them Westminster seats in north-east Scotland.

Being a tartan version of the DUP might play in the north-east constituencies, but who are Scottish Tories actually willing to die in a ditch for in order to have the UK crash out in a no-deal Brexit?

The answer is not the port communities they represent but the super-rich fishing barons, who own the rights to all the fish in the sea.

Some great investigative work by Greenpeace confirms what some of us have long believed - a tight millionaires’ club run Scottish fishing.

The records show 45 per cent of all Scottish fishing quotas are controlled by just five wealthy families, all of whom feature on the Sunday Times “Rich List” of Britain’s millionaires.

This Silver Darlings circle includes Alexander Buchan and family, ranked 804 in the 2018 Rich List, with an estimated net worth of £147million. Their Lunar Fishing Company are not just Peterhead’s biggest quota holders, they are the UK’s biggest quota holders, controlling 8.9 per cent of all catches.

Coming in at 980th on the Rich List are Robert Tait and family, whose Klondyke Fishing Company are the UK’s third-largest quota holders, with 6.1 per cent of the UK total.

Incidentally, in England, nearly 80 per cent of fishing quota is held by foreign owners or Rich List families.

The records also show 13 of the top 25 quota holders were convicted for offences in Scotland’s £63million “black fish” scam in the 1990s.

This sophisticated fraud, involving false holds and secret landings, demonstrated it was Scots themselves who fished out our coastal waters.

After years of denial, the industry acknowledged their guilt and are making amends with conservation measures, simply because fishing faced extinction if they carried on as they did.

As stocks depleted and skippers left, the quota ownership became concentrated in fewer hands. But fish stocks are a national asset and not the preserve of a rich elite who would now manipulate the fate of the nation to maintain their wealth.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government fisheries Cabinet Secretary, wants full powers over setting fishing quotas in the Brexit Fisheries Bill. To do what with exactly, Fergus?

The Scottish Government already manage quotas yet the concentration of fishing quota ownership dwarves land ownership statistics.

Fewer than 500 people possess half of all privately owned land in Scotland and there is constant demand for reform.

When it comes to fish stocks, a privatised national asset belonging to us all, there should be talk of revolution.

Any politician with a claim to be radical (that’s you, Michael Gove, and you, Nicola Sturgeon) would seize departure from the Common Fisheries Policy as a year zero on fishing quotas.

There ought to be a redistribution of quotas to encourage new entrants and break up the Silver Darlings circle.

Licence to fish must be tied to specific ports to revive towns, and inshore fishing protected from the big netters.

The barons and their political puppets say it wouldn’t work. Well, they would, the rigged system works well for them as it is.

Pelagic fishing for mackerel and herring is a lot of the Scottish quota and it is argued only the super-trawlers are geared up to fish for those in dangerous waters.

Yet with redistribution, with restructuring, fishing could be the one transformative positive of Brexit.

But don’t bet on any politician showing the Silver Darlings what “taking back control” actually means.

Friday, 5 October 2018

A tale of two visions of Scotland's future

From my Daily Record column

THIS is a tale of two commissions, two rival visions of the future which collide over the SNP conference in Glasgow, though neither are on the agenda.

The first, the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report will be the embarrassing uncle, talked about but kept away from fireplace conversations.

Andrew Wilson’s independence blueprint has not aged well over the six months since it hatched.

The vision of a low tax Scotland where austerity would last at least another 10 years look very unfashionable now.

In contrast, the IPPR Commission on Social Justice, a landmark report with radical solutions for the broken economics that have left so many people behind, set the weather for the political conference season.

The IPPR recommendations translated straight into platform speeches for McDonnell and Corbyn, capturing the mood of voters to the extent that Theresa May was forced to claim she will abandon austerity.

With calls for a decent living wage and workers on company boards, the “prosperity and justice” report really did spark a national conversation.

It spat out ideas like a £10,000 “universal minimum inheritance” for all young people. It proposed to double the number of workers covered by collective bargaining, to auto-enrol gig economy workers into trade unions, to give the self-employed work-related benefits.

The Wilson Commission didn’t even consult the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

Instead, it recommended workers prepare for independence with something called “flexicurity”, a term so loaded with low expectancy, low wages and globalised exploitation that it will be the shameful headstone for the Wilson report when it is buried.

The IPPR Commission recommended reversing cuts to corporation tax, which have failed to increase investment as promised.

The Wilson commission argued indy-Scotland should match the UK’s low corporation tax step for step in a race to the bottom.

Given the preferred Tory model for Brexit Britain is to slash tax and diminish work protections, this is deeply worrying.

Tackling poverty and inter-generational opportunity are at the heart of the IPPR report.

In the Wilson Commission these issues, central to what politics is for, get little more than wishful thinking.

The IFS, the highly regarded economics research institute, concluded Wilson’s plans would leave Scotland facing an extra 10 years of austerity.

Yet, the SNP national assemblies convened to debate the Wilson vision reportedly spent their time obsessing over what currency Scotland should use.

Instead of wishing for money they don’t have, SNP members would do better for social justice by asking their leader questions about the money she does have.

Anyone going to the Glasgow conference will know the city has the highest levels of deprivation and lowest life expectancy in Scotland.

The council, now SNP run, have to tackle this with £233 per head less to spend on services than five years ago.

In the rural Western Isles, where public services are harder to provide, council funding has reduced by £504 per head of population over the same time.

These are not Tory cuts, this is austerity minted in St Andrew’s House.

The Scottish Parliament’s own research unit show that since 2013 council budgets have been cut by £744million, or 7.1 per cent compared to the Scottish Government’s own UK grant, which decreased by 1.3 per cent over the same time period.

Theresa May could end austerity with the stroke of a pen. So could Nicola Sturgeon but she backs the Wilson blueprint for independence and she’d double down on austerity.

Anyone who believes in tackling economic injustice, that's anyone on the left really, ought to look at Sturgeon’s council cuts and should compare the Wilson and IPPR reports.

Only one has the answers for a fairer future.

Friday, 28 September 2018

So what happens to UK politics under Brexit? Read Scotland's menu.

From my Daily Record column after the Labour conference
To find out what's happening in the UK, Westminster politicians really ought to pay much closer attention to events in Scotland.
Everything the political class in London are wrestling with - the backlash of anti-politics, the explosion of nationalism clothed as patriotism, post-truth news, a vile online debate, the triumph of emotion over economics, the unresolved schism of a referendum that warps all policy debate in its wake, the very divided self - we own all that.
Welcome to Scotland, you guys, your lunch was our square sausage political breakfast.
All the signs are there that a Scottish lunch is now being served to British politics.
The Labour Party conference in Liverpool gave us a glimpse of the starter menu.
Delegates would have gone home with the impression that a general election campaign is kicking off next week and that a personal thank-you card from Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn will be in the post before Christmas.
Yes, it might happen. A cold mid-November election to match the gloominess of the "when the lights went out" Britain of 1974 is possible. But the chances of it actually taking place are slim.
The Tory party wouldn't give Corbyn the opportunity. The Tory right will, by all means, rail against the Chequers Brexit plan. But lose a vote of confidence that would trigger a prime ministerial resignation? Not yet.
Labour strategists know this but they also know the transformed party that Corbynism has created demands permanent revolution.
The enthusiasm of the thousands of new and "old left" members has to be maintained by promising Heaven is just one more step away.
The same situation confronts Nicola Sturgeon on an annual basis.
Having been gifted one of the most energetic and motivated political mass movements in Europe, she now has to find new ways of telling them the same story - that independence is just around the corner.
The SNP leader is good at keeping the ball in the air, often with the help of opponents. And Corbyn will be looking, learning and hoping that no one remembers that he promised conference they would next year be gathering under a Labour government.
That said, the Scottish experience offers Labour few lessons in how to move politics beyond the dominant divide created by the referendum (either referendum - Brexit or independence).
Labour had some good, strong policies this week, selling socialism as a retail offer, making Karl Marx sound like Marks & Spencer.
Tories like Robert Halfon MP, who understand constituencies that are key to a Commons majority, are worried. So they should be when you see the slick video about "rebuilding Britain" that Labour released.
Labour's ideas for a rebalanced economy are popular and the Tories have no response to a change agenda that wins elections.
But that doesn't matter to the Tories. As long as they occupy themselves with Europe, nothing else will matter. And that's the Scottish-flavoured main course we'll see at their party conference in Birmingham. In Scotland, nothing matters except the constitution.
Michael Gove doesn't believe in a Chequers deal any more than Alex Salmond believed in a devolved Scottish parliament.
But like the SNP in the late 90s, the astute on the Tory right are willing to get any Brexit deal over the line and then start dismantling it later on.
Like the SNP on devolution, the Tory Brexiteers will take the Chequers deal for now, as a means to an end.
Like the SNP, they can then start a tug of war and keep pulling the constitutional cables until, they hope, connections with Europe, or the UK in the case of the SNP, are severed.
If they chew through the ropes, we'll bring the UK the dessert menu, too.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Corbyn - the speech he won't make

The weeks leading up to party conferences are when speechwriters really earn their corn. A leader’s speech is a moment of high jeopardy, able to transform or confirm voters’ impressions. So I suspect these discarded “notes” won’t make it to Corbyn’s speech to conference this week: 

“Comrades. I think it is safe enough to say that now the shadow cabinet and the NEC have our MPs surrounded. Comrades it is, then.

Let’s not forget, united we stand, divided we fall. If the Tories finish off Theresa May, we face an election in a few weeks. Polls show we would win.

On the brink of a Labour government, we need the best to fight the battle. So read my lips – no re-selections, only victory.

"But today I want to speak beyond Labour, directly to Britain’s Jewish community, and say this: If I gave offence to you, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart. I apologise.

I learned that from John McDonnell. He knew that to be taken seriously, he had to sever his past history with the IRA, just as today I repudiate my connection with anyone seeking to dismantle the state of Israel.

A Labour government will not back enemies of peace. We will ensure the peace (and I will not mention Trident for a few years).

And on national security, let me just say this about Vladimir Putin – any friend of Donald Trump’s is not a friend of mine.

In a divided world, people see enemies everywhere. The right-wing press have me as an enemy. They threw everything at me, only some of it stuck. Now, they will try to engender fear of Labour’s economic plans.

All my life, I’ve been saying capitalism is broken. The last 10 years have proved it.

Of course, Labour will stand for the poor, will re-order national priorities.

But I want to reassure you, if you enjoy a glass of prosecco, if you drive a Nissan Qashqai, I am not your enemy.

My data crunchers tell me this is the key demographic. And I thought being middle-class was having an allotment.

To people who want to improve their lives and their children’s lives, I say we are the party who will give your children a chance, who will close the wealth gap, give them homes of their own and a future.

But if your choice is Champagne, if your car is a Bentley driven to the City bank by a chauffeur, look out.

If you are a tax haven multi-national, we will come for you with a corporation tax to make you pay on your UK profits.

The world is moving left. Remember Ed Miliband’s so called “Marxist” energy price cap – the Tories have brought it in.

But rotten, divided Tories can’t deliver fairness and, to borrow a phrase, if we can’t take this lot apart, we shouldn’t be in politics at all.

Labour can do much more. We are socialists but we are not Venezuela.

My Build It In Britain slogan is not narrow patriotism, it’s a plan to use the power of the government to create jobs and invest in communities. It’s not communism, it’s common sense.

On slogans, I now realise, as you do, there is no Jobs First Brexit. Any Brexit will damage the economy.

People ask if I am for a second referendum? I am not for a second referendum, do you hear me, Nicola Sturgeon?

But I will lead a Labour government who lead in Europe. A Labour government who keep Britain in...”

The notes run out there, so who knows how this draft ends. But it is so out of tune with the country’s mood that none of the passages will make it to the leader’s real speech. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Katag MacLeod, Swordale, 1929 -2018

Katag MacLeod, Suardal

Sometimes my father would lift a packet of sugar and remind us that the two pounds he held in his hand was the weight Katag MacLeod (Katag an Nìonag) had been when she came into the world.

Born in an age before the NHS, Katag’s premature arrival in April 1929 left her with skin so translucent that all her mother Lily, my great-aunt, could do was cover her in olive oil and swaddle her in a shoe box. 

The sugar baby turned out to be a real fighter.

Katag, our neighbour, our cousin, a second mother to the village children of Swordale, was buried this week, aged 89, having borne many trials and illnesses with great dignity.

She was a strong woman, Katag, and life made her stronger still.

At a young age she lost her two half-brothers within weeks of each other, Murdo (3/11/39) and John MacKenzie (23/11/39 on the HMS Rawalpindi. Norman MacLeod, 25 Swordale, was also lost along with six other Lewismen on the ship ). They were among the first naval losses of WWII. Murdo Iain ("Fred", 19 Swordale) is named after them.

Her elder brother, Iain Dan, emigrated soon after the war. Katag was left with her younger sister,  Mairi, to comfort their mother and father, Donald MacKenzie. 

She was married herself in 1966 to the boy next door, Kenneth MacLeod, “Am Bowan”, and presented none of that tragedy to the world.

They were a fun-loving couple who indulged all the village children.  Katag and Bowan introduced us to cassette tapes, to war comics, country and western music and mail-order catalogues.

She was brilliant photographer, casually taking her Kodak to the peat banks, breaking the convention that photos had to be formal. These were the pictures of we 'd pore over for longer. She leaves a great photographic legacy of village life.

Katag loved innovation, and new gadgets. A few years ago, I showed her the camera on my mobile phone and we took her first selfie. Though her eyesight was fading, she immediately wanted an upgrade to her own basic mobile.

Katag and Bowan had no children but as youngsters we couldn’t appreciate that particular pain, we just benefited from how they turned it into love for us all.

Nephews from Seaview,  and from Kyle of Lochalsh, who would spend the summer at 19 Swordale, expanded our horizons and became part of our village. Katag carried that bond with young people across generations to her grand nephews and nieces.   

In 1977, when Bowan was only 54, he collapsed on a Sunday night on their kitchen floor, having suffered a heart attack, leaving Katag a widow for the next four decades.    

Am Bowan, my father’s best friend from childhood, died cradled in his arms. They had volunteered for the Royal Navy together, my father accepted for wartime service, Bowan rejected either because he was colourblind or lied about his age, possibly both.

Even if he was too young, even though the village was reeling from the loss of Katag’s brothers, he still wanted to volunteer. They were a remarkable generation.

The MacLeods were generous in every way.  Bowan gave Aonghas Dhòlan (Angus MacKay, No 16) his first sheep, allowing the young boy to choose the best ewe from his flock - if he could hold it down. I still have Bowan’s trademark black work beret, which Katag gave to me.

One evening Bowan gifted my brother a pocket watch. Dòmhnall was so enthralled that the next morning he sat, half awake, staring at the watch face while blowing his nose with a handkerchief. Still dozy, he threw the watch instead of the hanky into the open stove. I suppose it’s safe to tell that one now.

The village came out for Katag’s funeral on Tuesday.  Aonghas Iain Eachainn (20 Swordale) pointed out in prayer and in tribute how she was a cornerstone of the village family.

Between showers we carried the coffin to the graveyard and laid it beside Bowan’s headstone.

A heavy lift,  the men said, which is a way of saying it was no bother at all. Swordale will miss Katag, the sugar baby, who was so light in life.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Salmond's £80,000 warning to Sturgeon

From my Daily Record column

Of course he has the money to pay for it. Court actions are for the rich and no one bothers the Court of Session without the wherewithal to put money where their over-extended mouth is.

So Alex Salmond is pulling a stunt in crowdfunding his legal action against Nicola Sturgeon’s Government over how her civil servants handled sexual harassment complaints levelled at him.

In crowdfunding campaigns, sums can be quickly raised by a few generous backers funnelling donations through micro-contributions. In turn, the naive and devoted part with their small amounts of cash and an impression of popular support is created.

Raising a populist £50,000 (now £80,000) is a banker for Salmond – and not just a financial one. It is a symbolic show of strength warning the SNP, Sturgeon and Scotland not to trifle with him.

It demonstrates he has a substantial well of loyal support should the ride get any rougher than it already is.

Salmond has, typically, taken a massive risk in ending 45 years’ membership of the SNP, jumping before his protege came under irresistible pressure to push him, with all the internal party rancour that would cause.

Already there are signs these divisions may just be delayed, not avoided. It is why Salmond hitched his money appeal to the lodestar of independence, a cause bigger than any individual, he said (subtext, but not bigger than me).

But if Salmond closed the door on his own membership, then his dream will have died.

The whole situation is a nightmare. For Salmond, who cannot address the complaints against him, for Sturgeon in a stomach-churning fight between political expediency and personal morality, and for the women whose harassment complaints are sidelined in this spectacle of legal distraction.

Having had the courage to come forward, they will go through hell wondering if the process and substance of their complaints will be legally undermined and their credibility shredded.

Salmond’s fight for “fairness”, as he labels it, only serves to telegraph to them, and us, what forces are stirred when women choose to cross a powerful man, as he undoubtedly is.

With his connections to the ruling party and his well-deployed ability to command media attention, the former first minister is wrestling for the conductor’s baton. The police and the law courts must play in this unwilling orchestra, and the strings connecting the village web of political, legal and civic Scotland are tuned up too.

This weekend, we lament the passing of my former paper, the Sunday Herald, launched as the Scottish Parliament first convened, at a time when things could only get better.

In the years since, Scotland has become a toxic and divided polity where allegations of sexual harassment are viewed through a “for us or agin us” prism, where MPs air state conspiracies and connections appear out of thin air.

In the early days of the Sunday Herald, we attempted to map out the real links between politics, law, media and the PR industry in cosy village Scotland.

It is perhaps time to draw that map again. For the least edifying aspect of the last week is how influential commentators, with a stake in currying favour with the ruling party, attempted to shield the First Minister from media scrutiny under the guise of concern for the complainants.

Sturgeon could deal with this situation in no other way except the way she has. The rules apply to everyone regardless of status. But the rules of politics are incontrovertible too and this scandal has the potential to consume her premiership.

Sturgeon, by her own admission, had three meetings with her mentor at which the situation was raised and has questions to answer, personally and publicly.

What Sturgeon knew, and when she knew it, is only the beginning of it.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Runrig - the parting glass

From my Daily Record column

So that was what Liam Clancy meant with “the parting glass”.

When Malcolm Jones raised his guitar for the last time, when the emotional rip current caught him, it really was “soraidh leibh”, goodbye to Runrig.

The unassuming Malcolm, always more attentive to his guitar work than the applause, was most affected by the crowd at the end of Saturday’s final gig.

Don’t worry Malcolm, in the dark, under the ramparts of Stirling Castle, there were many tears.

Younger readers will find out later, but a great trick of ageing, I noticed on Saturday, is that everyone stays the same when the 45 year soundtrack of our lives is played. 

Like the “sìthean”, the little people, Runrig on stage still looked like the boys from the village hall, the ones who took their music to the world.

Lifelonrg friends spooled by with the songs. There was Iain “Smithy” Smith, a born for the stage musician, whose mandolin drove Donnie Munro’s evergreen set. 

Great that Donnie was given his due, that Gaelic threaded every minute, that Gary Innes’s accordion echoed of the late Robert MacDonald, of Blair Douglas, of the ceilidh chords that set Runrig on the way.

When I recorded Seumus Heaney’s paean to Sorley MacLean he said the Raasay bard saved Gaelic poetry in the 20th century and so saved the language forever. Quite a claim but, you know, poets.

That honour now belongs to Calum and Rory MacDonald, the band’s soul brothers, whose music ensured Gaelic’s recovery. Their authentic Highland charm was ever the secret tune of Runrig’s success.

Where these boys led with song, others followed with words and deeds, pens and policies. 

Without that 1970s “Runrig generation” we’d have been drinking a parting glass to Gaelic long ago.

Some of them were there on Saturday, forever young, dancing like the fairies, toasting the joy of a wedding, not a wake.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Holding on to the Trump rollercoaster

From my Daily Record column today

 The Westminster press corps at Chequers, the hat didn't help get me question

AS we sat in the baking sun at Chequers, watching Theresa May’s white-knuckle podium grip while Donald Trump freewheeled through the world order, it struck me we’re only a quarter of the way through.

Not a quarter of the way through the press conference. Believe me, we journalists didn’t want that one to end.

No, depressingly, it struck me we are a quarter through a Trump presidency.

Close up, this guy is a phenomenon, an unstoppable force, who will stand and win again in 2020.

Barring impeachment - maybe the 12 innocent Russian spies aren’t so innocent - or personal calamity, nothing will stop The Donald’s second term.

That will be eight years - and many afterwards to clean up after him.

Victory looks inevitable. Trump won on populism against a toxic, elitist opponent the last time. “Crooked Hillary” stuck with voters. We could be in for the same kind of re-run.

Left-leaning senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to forge alliances (Trump calls her “Pocahontas” as a slur on her claims of mixed heritage). But rich Democrats seem to think Trump can be fought from the centre ground which, as we know, is gone.

When people look at British polling and wonder why Labour aren’t 20 points ahead of the shambolic Tories, I say look at it the other way.

Labour, with their most left-wing leader ever, seemingly determined to taint British socialism with anti-Semitism, are polling within touching distance of power.

In Scotland, a party with a prospectus for Brexit 2.0 chaos rest on the belief that separation will magically insulate us from global storms.

That represents a lot of anger against a broken system, where voters despair and political campaigns blithely cheat their way through the democratic process.

But Trump is better at stirring his base to anger than the liberal left are.

In one week in Europe, he slotted old allies as foes and cuddled up to a kleptodictator, selling the pass on the Middle East and his own intelligence services, until he remembered he had mis-spoke.

In Helsinki, the architecture of the world was re-arranged, nothing less, the post-war consensus dismantled in front of our eyes.

We are only two years in. People say we are rushing back to the 30s but we will sooner be in the 2030s, where “fake news” and instant, emotional politics will make democracies easier to sway.

The antidote must be as radical and counter the political darkness with optimism, of course.

There was quite a bit of that, and tremendous humour, coursing through the thousands who marched against Trump in Edinburgh, where I went on Saturday.

The homemade banners were hilarious. “Yer Maw” was my favourite.

But the mistake the left make is not to take Trump seriously, to see him as a balloon buffoon.

He’s not. He’s astute and cunning. When he plays the media, as he did at Chequers - charming down one side of the aisle, brawling down the other - he has four decades more expertise than any of us.

After a weekend full of Trump, I went to see Paul Simon play in London’s Hyde Park, to be reminded of another, more beautiful America.

I swayed with the baby boomers as they bade farewell to the balladeer of plaintive songs, goodbye to their blessed generation. It’s going to get harder for their grown-up kids.

He’s not much given to political pronouncements, Paul Simon, but he’s profound enough for me.

“Strange times,” quipped the poet and the one-man band during his last encore, and we all knew what he meant.

He added, quite simply: “Don’t give up.”

Friday, 13 July 2018

Dear Mr President - a letter to one island son, from another

Here's my Daily Record letter to Donald John, whose mother hails from the Isle of Lewis, as I do.

Dear Mr President, 

Welcome home, or fàilte dhachaigh, as they would say in Tong, the village that was birthplace of your mother and my own.

There will be great celebrations in the island village today.

The dish towels will be nailed to the fence posts, flying as flags, but not because a prodigal son is back on native soil.

It’s not all about you.

You see, there is a wedding in Tong today, a beloved daughter of the village is getting married.

She happens to be a cousin of mine, but that doesn’t mean we’re all related on the islands. It just shows we value relationships and know who our family are.

It’s a great shame Donald John, that you didn’t keep up your Scottish island connections, or the values of compassion, co-operation and tradition of welcoming exiles and visitors typical of these small places. 

It’s perfectly understandable how you have to give international publicity and promote commercial interests on your private golf course in Ayrshire, now secured in perpetuity at the expense of the British taxpayer.

Who wouldn’t want to play a round of golf with pals, rather than pay tribute by visiting their family home. 

When you took your oath as the 45th President of the United States your hand rested on Lincoln’s Bible and below it, I gather, the Bible your mother gave you in your youth.

So, she must have meant a lot to you, though not enough for you to take time out from the fairway to visit her birthplace.

Your elder sister Maryanne, who visited often with your mother, made a donation of almost £160,000 to a small care home in the Western Isles. She didn’t want the glory, she just wanted to honour the memory of her mother.

When you did set foot on the Isle of Lewis in 2008, your second ever visit to the Western Isles having previously only been there as a child, it was to promote your other golf course in Aberdeenshire.

These were the heady days before you fell out with your big pal, Alex Salmond, and transferred your allegiance to these other populists for a nationalist cause, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

You were asked then to make a contribution to the restoration of the island’s museum. You gave not a cent, and as a consequence I don’t think the museum makes mention of you, the most famous son of Lewis. 

The good book say a prophet is without honour in their own land, and I guess you thought there was nothing in it for you.

More’s the pity because your family story, your mother’s story, reflects the experience and the honour of so many Scottish and American families.

Mary Anne MacLeod, as she was in the 1920s, was one of millions of Scots who went to the New World as economic migrants and made their lives and families there.

The loss of that migration generation had a profound effect all across Scotland, in places like the Isle of Lewis, in fact all across Europe.

We miss them, and try to keep the ties with our cousins across the world from generation to generation. 

Their hard work, their spirit of adventure and enterprise, that was your country’s gain and our loss. People like your Scottish mother, and your German grandfather, they were the people who made America great.

But, because of your political views you cannot acknowledge your own family story.

You Donald, you lock migrants up and separate children from their parents to dissuade others from making the same journey your family undertook.

Your own mother, Donald, arrived at Ellis Island beneath the Statue of Liberty which proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

You have traduced that American legacy and, sad to say, with it the memory of your own roots. You threaten the very values of liberty that makes America one of the great nations, the pillar of our freedoms.  

The door will always be open for you and your family on the Isle of Lewis, of course it will be. People there are courteous and kind and do not forget the ties that bind. 

Your mother’s Bible tells us how the prodigal son was lost and then was found. But you Donald, you have wandered far from home.

For the sake of the millions of women like your mother, who will come to seek a new life in my European home and your American home, I hope you that you can one day accept who you are, a migrant son.

Then we could welcome you home with an open hand and a warm embrace.

Friday, 15 June 2018

SNP look to Parnell for Brexit delay tactics

The bust of Parnell, Irish Home Ruler, in Westminster
There is a bronze bust of the Irish Home Rule campaigner Charles Stewart Parnell in the corridor outside the SNP Commons offices which they took over from the Lib Dems.

These statues litter the Palace of Westminster. Lloyd George, the last Liberal Prime Minister, is at the bottom of the stairs on the way to the underground car park. So the mighty fall.

But it’s fitting that the 19th century Irish nationalist should be guard of honour for the SNP leader's office, particularly now.

Parnell held great sway over the Commons for many years and was expert in sabotaging procedures to force the government to take Irish issues seriously.

As his namesake, SNP MP Stewart McDonald, pointed out yesterday he once kept the Commons sitting for 45 hours considering the 1887 South Africa Bill.

“It might be that those tactics are of interest to the House at this time,” said McDonald, with a twinkle in his eye.

In protest over the Scottish parliament vote on Brexit being ignored the SNP has promised to hobble the Commons at any time.

Parnell and the Irish Home Rule movement provide the template which the SNP hope to emulate with Brexit.

Kenny MacAskill, former SNP Minister and firebrand,  showed the way in his Glasgow Herald column today in which he promotes the plan. 

He wrote: "The model for the SNP isn’t Sinn Fein but its predecessors in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Under the great Charles Stewart Parnell it flourished in the chamber when it suited, but never forgot that its purpose was to leave.

"Hopefully, that will now be the template for the modern SNP, allowing the good work on the rape clause and other issues to be pursued but recognising that it isn’t its parliament and it is not respected there. It doesn’t mean being rude or malicious, simply ending the far too supine posture that has been taken and being more robust in defending Scotland’s interest."

The idea has some merit, look at massive publicity and membership boost the SNP had from this week's walk out.

But there are downsides too. The novelty of protest might capture the headlines once or twice, but  disrupting the Commons on a regular basis begins to get a bit wearing all round.

It also exposes individual SNP MPs to the charge (which you'd think their opponents would make regularly anyway) that they are sitting in the Commons not for their constituents but for their cause.   

The tactic is being roadtested, as far as I can see. At Business Questions on Thursday SNP MPs kept Andrea Leadsom answering questions until nearly 1pm, passing the ball backwards and forwards while the clock ticked down on the day.

The big Brexit clock is ticking down toward a deadline too and Theresa May can ill afford to have the Commons gummed up by delaying tactics.

Of course these kinds of tricks are played by all sides, all the time. 

Everyone blames everyone else for how little time there was to debate the devolution clauses on Tuesday.

Labour blame the government for squeezing Brexit clauses into two days (They had planned for one).

Tories blame Labour for calling votes on every amendment, everyone blames SNP MPs for loitering through the lobbies as if on a Sunday stroll, ensuring even less time and more outrage for the devo clauses.

The SNP’s first guerrilla attack, a walk-out over the disgracefully short time given to debate devolution in the Brexit Bill achieved its purpose.

The issue is on the agenda, a ministerial statement made, an emergency debate on Monday. But what next?

To keep the issue on the boil SNP MPs will have Parnell as a touchstone of disruption every time they walk past him to their leader's office.