The Hamster Wheel

No matter how hard you try and no matter how fast you run, you can never escape. All you want to do is get out and be on your own and be free to make your own decisions but with every step the wheel keeps turning and you get nowhere.

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My other nightmare is the hall of mirrors in which every image is a distortion of reality, every inviting corridor closes and diverts you into another and when you look over your shoulder there is a gigantic face of Jackie Baillie with a beatific smile saying No way out….

What is it about the Union that drives them to work so remorselessly hard to defend it at all costs when it is something so creaky and antiquated that even they have to devise ever complex models to reform it?

If it is worth so much to them that it supersedes every other issue why is it in need of such fundamental reform that it appears, even in their own terms, to be broken? What are they clinging to? We may reach a stage soon – and I think many in England think we’ve already surpassed it – where we have effective independence and about the only thing we don’t have is the flag…the very thing they accuse Nationalists of idolising.

Is it sentiment – some deep-rooted emotional attachment – because if it is then that’s what I feel for Scotland so that would make them Britnats which, I argue, by definition, means they care about Britain before Scotland. If you really did believe fighting poverty is a priority, as Gordon Brown was suggesting yesterday, wouldn’t you seek the best solution rather than contort yourself into painful political yoga positions to accommodate the very system which has created the poverty?

Naively, I thought poverty could be laid mostly at the door of those who have run Britain for 300 years, devised and retained its welfare policies, its monetary policy and taxation system and controlled every lever of power until the last 15 years when even for most of that time it was Unionists who ran Holyrood as well. That was until I saw Jackie Baillie on television and learned poverty was the fault of the SNP. Yes, deprivation only started seven years ago – stop complaining, Easterhouse…you had a job until Salmond came in, Whitfield…there were no low wages until 2007, Torry…You didn’t start dying before age 60 until the Nationalists arrived, men of Calton…remember how Labour created a world of plenty, now left in ruins, you people of Pilton…

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It may be the unerringly smug delivery that frightens me most about Ms Baillie for her demeanor is of one who has been right all along, if only you had been clever enough to realise it. She emits a kind of insane logic in which something manifestly untrue changes shape before your eyes and just might be right after all. If, as The Axe Murderer, your life depended on it, you’d want her as your defence lawyer.

Brown and Ming succeeded in confusing me with detail until I wondered if it they had planned it that way – so that you couldn’t focus on the detail too much but got a generalised view about more powers.

I don’t want more powers. I want out. These guys decided they didn’t want their plans to go before the people because they weren’t interested in the governance of Scotland but in the interests of their parties. This isn’t Project Fear, it’s Project Destroy Salmond. That’s the only reason they’re in this game and if they could convince him to walk away tomorrow, their plans would follow him. Scots who do want more powers have to ask themselves who is really delivering those powers. The answer of course is Salmond. Without him there would be nothing on the table. I watched Brown pacing like a caged bear having mastered a new technique to scare the nervous and after every new idea I said the same thing: …’entrenched powers’ – why now? ’40 per cent of tax’ – why now? ‘partnership of equals’ – why now?

Because they’re in a deadly struggle to save their Union and must wring every ounce out of the system to persuade us to stay on side when all of this could and should have been enacted when he was in power but it didn’t matter enough then. Remember his backroom meddling in Scottish Labour to keep his influence alive? Remember how he couldn’t bring himself to speak to the newly elected Fist Minister for weeks because of his psychotic loathing of Salmond? Brown is seen as a big beast but his personal relations – with Blair, Darling, Salmond, Alexander and the Civil Service – reveal him to be a small man.

His credo is based on control. He is threatened by free minds and new ideas. He is literally history and represents a past Scotland is growing out of. He failed at Westminster and Scotland is his last chance to claim a sliver of success and influence. How complete would his tragic decline be if the Scots voted Yes. I’m fed up running around in circles.

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Feel the Fear

Frightened yet? You should be. They’re all piling in now – assertion upon allegation, horror upon hazard, claim upon calumny – from Brussels and London and even from the heart of our democracy at Holyrood where Danny Alexander opened his maths jotter and pointed to the page where the teacher had written Mortgages UP…

(This appeared to be a lick-the-pencil-tip exercise where you add suggestion to supposition – remember to carry the one – add it all up and add a nought…devised by a bank no-one’s heard of. Happily, it means we will all pay a nice round £5000 more for our mortgage, said Danny proudly, winking at the reporters – there’s your headline, boys. )

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The heat is being turned up, if you think Hermann von Rompuy qualifies as a heat source. Even an unrelated decision by a bank, which used to be Scottish, to base a division in London, is interpreted by the Telegraph propagandists as a snub to independence. Who’d want to base a bank in a small, independent, out-of-the-way country with funny habits…like Switzerland…or Monaco…or Hong Kong…Singapore…or Malta…or the Caymen and Bermuda…or…I give up. No, wait. I count 31 non-indigenous banks operating in Ireland – remember the basket-case economy that Jim Murphy laughed at in the Commons? GDP per head 2012: Ireland – Euros 35,700…UK- Euros 30,300 (source countryeconomy.com).  I make that one of Danny’s nice round 5000 numbers that makes a good headline. So here is one I made earlier.

IRISH €5000 A YEAR RICHER THAN BRITS AFTER SIX YEARS OF ECONOMIC FAILURE

It rather depends who and what you want to believe, does it not? Danny’s Treasury-written composition paper was based on how lenders would treat a country that failed to pay its debts. (Flaw alert incoming). Lenders – our altruistic, morally-minded “markets” are gentlemen to a fault, apart from the ones who are ladies and are regularly treated like Page Three slappers in City firms. Therefore they would view anyone with a bad credit history as a bad risk. But what if you didn’t default? What if you had no debts in the first place and someone else had publicly declared their intention to pay off those debts which they, not you, had incurred and to do so in all circumstances? If a lender sees a profit opportunity with low risk, sees a gleaming and industry-approved asset backing up the loan and a borrower with a low annual deficit, a net exporter, does he a) decide it isn’t fair that the borrower’s offer to help with someone else’s debt had been spurned and he should be punished for his audacity by being sent packing or b) give him the cash at a reasonable rate and watch how he performs?

If, on the other hand, another borrower appears with debt more than 100 per cent higher than income putting it 13th from the bottom of the world league table with the debt rising at £7000 a second, whose borrowing capacity is stretched to breaking point and buying in more products than it sells, shouldn’t it be liable for an interest risk surcharge, if it deserves any loan at all?

And, if you’re minded to believe the European Commission, (antidote pills are available), their estimate is that for the UK to come out of the EU, the cost would be £3000 each, proving that when it comes to scaring people, Westminster may have met its match.

But don’t think this kind of stuff doesn’t have an effect. In the Guardian today Martin  Kettle  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/19/alex-salmond-acting-spoilt-children turns what is a reasonable swipe at the SNP’s failure to quell doubts about currency into a rant ranging over the EU and pensions. His starting point has validity because, whatever the misgivings, a convincing alternative must find its way into the minds of the voters or a water-line leak will expand and lead to a flood. SNP protestations about synthetic politics from the Unionists are genuine and, as soon as an alternative emerges, will be revealed for what they are – a campaign gambit devoid of honesty. But there is no disguising the need for something definitive, otherwise the gambit wins. Kettle stretches the point beyond the reasonable, or even the logical, but the fact that he has given up on what little respect he had for the independence tactics, is a straw in the wind. He repeats the McTernan line about the SNP response. “It felt like a reputation destroying performance. For if anyone is guilty of bluff, bluster and bullying with which Salmond loudly charged his much better argued critics, it is Salmond himself. I’d be pretty confident that voters would see it that way too.”

Salmond can’t afford to let this caricature take hold because the trick of politics isn’t really what you say, it’s what people want to believe. If they’re minded to back independence, they will listen sympathetically to the case and if you tell them you have been obliged to seek an alternative because your opponent has acted unreasonably, they will understand. Don’t Knows who are weighing it up will appreciate the dilemma and perceive a pragmatic response – and will be much less sympathetic to a second round of attack from the opponents. In the course of the change, Salmond is seen as reasonable and accommodating in the face of intransigence and if he pulls off a clever trick with a neat solution, such as using the pound regardless, he wins again. But these decisions must be made within days, if not hours. The idea that there is no alternative takes hold quickly and an eventual reply looks grudging.

(This is where I diverge from Kettle whose lack of detailed understanding is betrayed by his unquestioning acceptance of the Barroso (latest) intervention. There simply are no independent observers who take this seriously and a journalist can’t complain when the SNP don’t either. Barrosos’s assertions are so far off the wall there is only one answer which is that he is taking us and the EU for fools. The same goes for Kettle’s belief that Gordon Brown has raised important questions on pensions. There IS clarity on pensions in the White Paper but there are remaining questions over the EU requirement on funding cross-border schemes but this is exactly where the civil service comes in – to engineer solutions, perhaps by negotiating a 10-year period over which full funding can be achieved. As this was raised initially by the Chartered Institute of Accountants, you’d think they would propose an answer – isn’t that what we pay them for? I’m afraid Kettle can’t get away with blaming the SNP for going for the man not the ball in the case of Brown. As I said yesterday he is responsible for destroying the pension value for millions of people, despite being warned of the consequences and if you don’t have a final salary scheme today, blame Gordon. Whatever the arguments over pensions, Brown has brass neck pretending to have a solution. Kettle may respect Brown, but he is in a minority).

Kettle uses a phrase that made me gape wide-eyed at the ipad. “I know a serious argument when I hear one, and Osborne and the others have been making serious arguments in the past few days. It is simply mischievous to pretend that they are not dealing with major issues which, if mishandled, could be seriously destructive to ordinary lives, communities and standards of living. Yet, faced with genuine intellectual and political challenges on big subjects, Salmond and his colleagues act like children who scream as loudly as possible in order to avoid listening to a message they do not want to hear.”

Destructive to ordinary lives? I was listening to the news on Radio Four at the time. Here are two stories run one after the other. One: “An increasing number of under-18s with mental health problems in England are being treated on adult psychiatric wards, it has emerged. And many children are having to travel hundreds of miles across the country to receive hospital treatment. Treating young people in such units should happen only in exceptional circumstances. The Department of Health had promised this would stop by 2010….‘Sometimes we have to make 50 to 100 phone calls around the country looking for a bed. They [young people] shouldn’t be shunted around into inappropriate facilities, however much the staff there try to help them,’ said Dr McClure.It may be the first time they’ve had a breakdown. They need to stay in touch with the people they know and love, and if they’re having to move 200 or 300 miles, it’s very difficult for the family to stay in touch.’ He said funding for mental health services had been cut, particularly for child and adolescent services in the community.”

A mother told of having her daughter dragged out of her arms and hearing her screaming out of a window: “Mummy, don’t leave me…”

Two: “Forty-three Christian leaders, including 27 Anglican bishops, have signed a letter urging David Cameron to ensure people get enough to eat. They argue that cutbacks and failures in the benefits system are forcing thousands of people to use food banks. The End Hunger Fast campaign called the situation “truly shocking”. It wants a national day of fasting on 4 April. But the government said it wanted to help people “stand on their own two feet” by cutting welfare dependency.

The letter comes after Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned last weekend that welfare reform was leaving people in “destitution” and labelled it a “disgrace”.

Those two routine items on the UK national news are what I call destructive to ordinary lives and if Martin Kettle imagines an independent Scottish society would permit those offences when money was available, he isn’t keeping up. It is exactly that kind of brutish, despicable, community-shredding blindness that we want to escape. People across Britain are recognizing that they don’t want to live in a society that has lost its heart and only counts money not blessings. What is the Guardian’s solution? Vote Labour? Back Ed Balls? Or is Kettle the one  putting his fingers in his ears and humming?

Our currency will be sorted out, and the debt, as will the EU, and we will keep our pensions. Britain and Scotland will never prosper by listening to Brown, Balls and Osborne. The truth is that, no matter how hard it is for southern commentators to take on board, Britain is finished. It may run on in London and the grab-it-all south east but even there insane house prices are killing communities, and everywhere else there is a powerful sense of abandonment and imprisonment in a Britain we don’t remember ever voting for. It may be at the other end of Britain but it is difficult not to feel real pain for the flooded people in the south west whose homes are ruined, who face uncertain futures and limits to insurance and whose flood defences were never rebuilt as they were promised. Three hundred of them were meant to be replaced but weren’t. This too is a symptom of a top-down, cynical political system to whom people are customers to be lured, hoodwinked and fleeced. This is from an item in Social Europe by Simon Wren-Lewis: “Cuts in flood prevention are a small part of austerity, but there are close parallels with the macroeconomic case… Just as some in government never believed in all this climate change stuff, others thought that this Keynesian idea that austerity might be a bad idea…was fanciful. (Some, like George Osborne, appear to have thought both.) When these mistakes became evident it was, with the floods, the Environment Agency’s fault, and also the last government, while with the recession it was all down to those Goddam Europeans, and of course the last government. Yet whereas the links between austerity and prolonged recessions may appear mysterious to many, the links between lack of flood prevention and flooding are all too obvious. And the real danger for the government is that perhaps others may begin to see these parallels.”

What is being called the SNP’s fit of pique is partly an expression of this deep frustration, that when you come up with promising solutions, perhaps a way out, a better way forward, the forces of authority and a complaint media work their hardest to destroy it. They are currently in full defence mode, backs pressed against the wall, realizing that they have gone for broke by legalizing the referendum and refusing a second question and are now in the hands of the Scots. As is their economic future. A decision to split would be a severe blow to hopes of closing the deficit, of shifting some of the mountainous debt, of keeping their borrowing costs low, avoiding an almighty nuclear weapons headache and diminishing them in the eyes of the world. And still the polls tighten. http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/8765-worries-for-no-campaign-as-currency-threat-halves-lead

The latest thistle in their pants is the game-changing warning that liabilities are equated with assets, a fine principle in law, and the reason they are now working overtime to suggest Scotland will suffer if it declines their invitation to load up the national credit card with their borrowings. I don’t see it. Salmond has offered to pay. They have in effect declined the offer. They are stuck with it, palms getting sweaty.

There is of course now no easy solution, they having painted themselves into an ever-reducing box. The offer should be to negotiate but they’ve thrown that one away. They can’t make soothing noises because they blew that one too. All that’s left is what they’re good at – threatening and warning…assuming you are intimidated by Danny. But a deal will be needed. London must acknowledge an agreed deal and Scotland’s negotiated departure before most of the world will accept us. So it may be that some share of debt is accepted even if they stick to the refusal to share sterling and we will begin our new relationship as we began it all those years ago, in resentful and grudging acceptance of our one-sided relationship with the grabby neighbor.

Agents of State

Wasn’t Caroline Flint at the same game as the Tories? Strange how Labour have become Conservative clones in their approach to a social progressive democratic movement to return power into the hands of the people. Vote against Us and we’ll retaliate, was the message. Forget the Union and hundreds of years of friendship.  If you mess with us, we’ll buy energy from the French instead even if it’s dearer…so there. The French are England’s traditional enemies but when it comes to saving the British state, they’ll work with anyone. We drop to the bottom of the pile.

I do wonder how some of these self-appointed bullies would react to the same treatment. After all wasn’t Caroline the woman who stood up to Gordon Brown and refused a job or something they see as important in Westminster? She wanted more women in Cabinet, I think. She clearly didn’t understand Gordon. So she’s sparky and defiant when she has to be. Perhaps she should ask herself what would her reaction be if the Scots announced we wouldn’t be exporting any more of our energy to England and they could suffer blackouts because we didn’t care about them since they introduced the bedroom tax, or some other reason. She’d shrug and say OK, would she. I’ll fall into line Scotland. Sorry, should have realised I was upsetting you. Won’t happen again.

Or would the same lady say: Fuck you. Don’t tell me what to do. Who do you think you are, threatening me? Probably adding for fun: You cheeky jocks.

What we are dealing with in all these incidents including Bob Dudley or Bo Didley as I now call him, is an attitude problem. It has removed the film of doubt over the overweening sense of importance and, worse, the superiority of the British state and its self-appointed agents in the media. They are Us and we are Them. Thus Matt Frei on Channel Four demanding to know from Swinney why “WE” should pay to bail Scotland…not the rUK, but “US”. Thus Flint saying it is “OUR” money, “OUR” subsidy to you. “WE” can remove it and give to someone else. “WE” control you. “WE” hold power and there is no distinction between Tory and Labour in their perceived overlord position, Miliband, Balls and Flint doing a Flashman just like Osborne, Hague and May. Everyone as self-unaware as each other, talking down to those they pretend are their oldest friends in the greatest Union in history.

Again her threat was gobbled up by the media, a quick Up Yours, jock and a two-sentence reply from the Scottish government tagged on the end where nobody would bother reading. I think that’s why my former colleague Haley got into bother trying to deal with Fergus Ewing on GMS. He sounded like he was strapped to a wind turbine receiving jolts of electricity every second. But what he did brilliantly was to point out that this isn’t a quick one-two of a story, it’s a complicated tale of interconnectedness and shared markets and needs and Britain’s green credentials. Forgive me but this was what the programme needed, an explainer about how the power generation and distribution in the UK works and how it is likely to work after a Yes vote. You play that and then you tell the audience what Flint is saying and get Ewing to respond. Ewing’s point is simple…that we have a power line supplying our neighbours with energy they can’t as yet generate themselves and because it comes from renewable sources, it counts towards their carbon reduction targets. It’s a double whammy for them and a win for us. Flint may not be happy at the thought of independence but her duty will be to provide the best value services for the people of rUK and to say otherwise is vindictive, small-minded nonsense. Instead of the media setting up a sane informed debate, we get flint threatening and Ewing patiently having to say why she’s wrong. Poor Haley couldn’t get a word in. The programme should have pre-recorded a package explaining the complexities of the energy arrangement and what the implications of the Flint thesis were. And why is Labour happy to subsidise French and Chinese nuclear companies for 35 years at inflated prices when they would pull the plug on a green deal with their friends in the North? Be afraid, Scotland…be very afraid.

I am increasingly convinced that this hectoring, patronising word slurry is failing and is counter-productive. The trouble is…they can’t stop. It’s who they are and it’s what they really think of us. 

Quick! Before it’s too late…

I was enjoying my Times of London this morning when I came across a story that made me frown. It was a mother from England complaining that her daughter had been bullied at school in Fife by someone telling her to go back to her own country. Gordon Brown was involved and it was linked to the referendum. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article3992554.ece

I groaned. Here we go again, some idiot with an attitude is stirring up feelings of anti-English hatred. There is no question that some ignorant Scots will use any difference to insult and abuse others, be it colour, religion or origin. But in my personal experience this is the antithesis of the approach taken by anyone directly involved in the Yes campaign where there is a total lack of tolerance of anti-English sentiment. This is I think representative of a kind of journalism which contains just enough truth to make it editorially viable – if you add a few bells and whistles – and brings into the public gaze the idea that there is something nasty and sinister about a political campaign. So I read it again. Something puzzled me.

First of all the headline described it as “bullying” which is intimidating through violence or threat thereof, usually habitual or repeated.

Yet what the 13-year-old’s mother describes is a single incident in class when a another 13-year-old becomes angry and sweary and tells her to “fuck off back to your own country”. Disgusting and aggressive…but bullying? The incident was sparked it seems by the diametrically opposite approach from another boy who “told her he was glad to have her in his team because she had won several Burns poetry competitions…she had achieved this without even being Scottish…” One classmate commends her, the other insults her.

Isn’t this is the type of scene repeated in schools across Britain every day, I wondered? An adolescent row breaks out and children call each other names – specky, ginger, skinny and, yes, no doubt paki, chinky, bluenose and tim as well. Is a 13-year-old of an age that makes him capable of an adult intention to racially abuse?

I don’t blame any parent for defending their child if he or she is upset by unacceptable behaviour at school and the nature of this boy’s attitude is unacceptable.

Then I stopped reading as a journalist and read as a parent. What would I do in the same circumstances?

I would start by naming the offender to the school and asking them to confront him. I would suggest they contact the family. This is a matter for the school authorities as it happened on their premises in school hours and is a breach of the behaviour code laid down by teaching staff. Only if it was a repeat offence that the school had failed to deal with would I consider taking it further. Why would I as a parent contact my MP? I might, in despair at lack of action by school and education authority if they had ignored me, which they didn’t, want to raise it with an elected representative but since it is an education matter which is devolved, I would in any case approach the MSP (David Torrance SNP Kirkcaldy) rather than the MP (Gordon Brown Labour).

The mother contacted Brown’s office to complain and he called her back. The quotes attributed to him are exactly what you’d expect from a constituency MP doing his job. He offered apologies and sympathy and said he would call the education authorities. I wondered at first if his office was the conduit for getting this into the newspapers but there is nothing there to indicate that Gordon’s people did anything other deal appropriately with a constituent’s issue. No MP or MSP would in any case go to the media with an individual’s story without their permission. The story makes an issue of and puts in the headline the fact that Brown is part of the story which is puzzling since he is just acting as constituency MP, not drawing conclusions or judgments about any political implications.  We read – in a story about a row between teenagers in a classroom – that Gordon has “kept a low profile” so far in the referendum campaign. The referendum campaign! What has this to do with the referendum? Were the kids arguing in class about the Barnet Formula, did they get mad about Governor Carney’s loss of sovereignty remarks on the currency? This phone call to the mum and to Fife Council is described as Brown’s “latest intervention”, although done by him totally without publicity, and we are told, comes “amid increasing fears that internet abuse of pro-Union supporters which has become commonplace in the run-up to this year’s referendum on Scotland’s future, is starting to become more mainstream.”

This wasn’t internet abuse, it was a classroom stushie…and how does that tie into increasing fears of abuse(?) becoming mainstream. The only way it is becoming mainstream is by the publication of hyperbolic fear stories like this.

The mother contacted the school and she confirms they dealt with it. “They were extremely apologetic and they have been really good at sorting this out”, she says. So why is a classroom incident dealt with professionally by school and by MP in the news and how is it linked to the referendum and by implication the Yes campaign?

Inside the story it describes the mum as a pro-Union supporter…fair enough and good luck to her. Her Facebook site has a like link to a page entitled “Alex Salmond is a deluded wanker.” Well, we all use the net to have a laugh and scoff and make fun and who wants to censor anyway – not me.

But as a dad I did wonder how a parent can be so upset by a child using revolting language to my daughter when I publicly declare my approval of terms like Wanker. The girl was so upset by events, she stayed off school a day. Maybe she’d stay off again if she saw mum’s Facebook entries. And when you think about it, if there is internet abuse, isn’t it the mum who is engaging in it, not the daft laddie who berated her daughter?

This woman is right to complain about her daughter’s treatment and in a way it seems unkind to imply criticism of her. But hold on. She is quoted as saying she is afraid to put a pro Union sticker in her window…in case of what? Are there mobs of nationalist loonies prowling Kirkcaldy checking for windows to cave in? Is she serious? Yes. She is. “My concern is that the situation could possibly get totally out of control if nothing is done now before the referendum…” What events? Children fighting in class? “The authorities and even the politicians must do something immediately to try to defuse the whole situation before it gets out of hand”. Round up SNP voters? Jail the MSPs? Censor the media? Put Jackie Baillie in the classroom? This stuff is quoted without any reference to perspective. What evidence does she have of widespread, violent anti-English abuse?

Here’s my other concern. This lady is photographed with her lassie both looking suitably victimised. What do you think, as a parent, is likely to be the result of this upfront publicity with a picture of the girl? Am I wrong or will it just encourage other kids to make an issue out of something only one or two would have known anything about? Every pupil at Balwearie High will now know of her celebrity and is that likely to lead to respect or is it more likely other kids will ridicule and jeer? And what about the parents of other children at Balwearie? I would understand why a parent was upset but I would be dismayed that my school was brought into disrepute this way. If I had a son I’d know that some parents would wonder if it was my boy who did it. If I was on the teaching staff, I’d be furious that my school had been dragged into the public domain and somehow smeared with this taint. And make no mistake, this story is now out there on the internet. The next time a Daily Mail reporter wants to vilify the Yes campaign he can sit in London and Google “anti-English abuse” and there it is. He wont read all the detail, just write: “Gordon Brown had to step in when an English schoolgirl was told to F**k off to her own country in a Scottish classroom”.

And so another grisly ingredient is dropped into the bubbling soup of bile and grievance artificially associated with the independence cause. Yet where and from which side of the debate did it come? Not from Yes. But guess to where the stink will be traced.

This mum is quite right to stand up for her girl but I think she has done the school, Kirkcaldy and her adoptive country a disservice by promoting a crude and disappointing incident of childhood into a political smear.

The really revolting intervention  this week came from Ian Lang telling us that if we voted for our country’s independence we defiled the memory of the British war dead. It doesn’t get any lower than that and I suspect a lot of Scots, Unionist or not, bridled at that presumptuous display of bigotry. There are almost daily signs of hysteria from No sources and still eight months to go…still time for them to find some dignity even if they can’t find the truth.

Devo Max Mix

First of all, congratulations to Alex Rowley, victor in the Cowdenbeath by election. He is, I think, one of a breed of Fife Labour folk who are the heart of what was once – and may be again – a working class movement worthy of the name. He doesn’t fit the mould of the modern, media-savvy slick boy and, although I don’t agree with his analysis and solutions, I do respect his political background and longevity. I hope he breaks away from the grip of Gordon Brown when he’s at Holyrood where I think he will become a real contributor, especially if leaves at the door any anti-Nat baggage that is distorting Labour’s message. All my  dealings with him, some years ago now, left me with the impression of an uncomplicated and honest man, not something I say often about the politicos. (And a convincing majority too).

Anti-Nat baggage? Well, I spent a lot of time yesterday in the company in Labour people, some of who you have definitely heard of, and one theme that emerged was a deep frustration at the two-way finger-pointing of both Labour and SNP. There are people out there – in the know but not under a leadership edict – whose vision of, and for, Scotland is non-tribal and cooperative and who see real advantage for the Scots in the parties working together in the areas where there is agreement – a space of  impressive scope if we only realise it.

Outside the quoted nomenclature of Lamont, Darling  and Murphy there is a community of Labour people who are desperate for deep and radical reform of the powers of the parliament to turn it into a powerhouse of progress with comprehensive tax autonomy, welfare responsibility and entrenched powers allowing it stand aloof from Westminster decision-making when it chose to do so. They envisage a Scotland which is effectively independent showing the rest of Britain what can be achieved if they too have powers devolved. Except they retain the current anchor chains of macro economics and foreign/defence affairs. Now I know that isn’t enough for nationalists including myself but the reason it’s interesting is that we know this is the political territory the majority of Scots also currently inhabit and in a whole Scotland national interest, we could all compromise. Or rather, we could have. These are not necessarily Labour rebels but, according to my evidence, encompass names of some the Nats love to hate.

They belong to the Donald Dewar school that “devolution is a process not an event” and believe that Dewar himself wished for and would today be campaigning for a wide-ranging upgrade of powers and responsibilities beyond anything we anticipate emerging from the Lamont commission. And they have little faith that Lamont will deliver. They see Scotland being held back by lack of flexibility in tax and spend, are appalled at the social impact of Westminster welfare policy and are unconvinced Miliband can lead Labour to victory. (Or what he will deliver if he wins). They wanted a Devo Max option and agree with those of us who argue that Labour should have “demanded” a second question, defined the policy and won hands-down.

Instead they recoil from the Lamont leadership with its lack of strategy –apart from Get Salmond – and it’s constant errors in seeking ways of distancing itself from the SNP. Her praising of London is the latest example of foot-shooting. The nationalist-led narrative about the UK’s resources being sucked into runaway London is working so Lamont must contrive a way of heading it off. She does so by telling the Scots they are dependant on London’s wealth – that it’s a good thing – when there isn’t a sane observer north of Watford who fails to see how unbalanced Britain has become by the concentration of wealth, investment, tax revenues, monetary and fiscal policy in one area. (Even Mr London, Professor Tony Travers of the LSE, agrees). To acknowledge is right but to endorse is wrong. No Labour voter likes the idea of reliance on London and wants to know how we tackle it. To say we must thank London is like telling Labour Scots to love the Tories. As one contact said: “Who is advising her?”

Some voices were heard at the Labour for Independence gathering in Glasgow, some from those still connected to official Labour but others are not. And here’s the thing. A thinking constituency of senior Labour people will vote Yes…not for independence but to make sure the vote stays up. They worry that if it is too low, the energy for change will die, even in Labour, when what Scotland needs is decisive and far-reaching reform. They are riding on Salmond’s coat tails and doing so as a means of securing a positive enough outcome to justify continued change to the Union. Of course, there is always another option – that movement in the polls emboldens some to go public and urge other Labour voters to join them in voting Yes, not necessarily for independence but to guarantee deeper reform. And it’s here you see the possibilities of cooperation if there is a No vote in September. All the pressure will heap on to Labour with demands to know what they will offer and how and those voices won’t only be from the SNP but from identifiable Labour figures pressing their own side to deliver. It was Gordon Brown who stopped Labour’s last push for reform which was to follow Wendy Alexander’s doomed referendum call. I hope his doleful influence doesn’t stop Alex Rowley championing real change now his chance has come. He was unceremoniously dumped from the general secretary’s job after arguing for more powers for the Scottish party years ago so this may be his last chance to impact on national politics.

AND…having boasted yesterday about 9200 hits in a day…yesterday I was a few short of 13,000 hits – in 24 hours. The big boys out there may scoff but I’m quite humbled by those numbers. And I can see on the worldwide map there are people logging in dozens of countries, even in tiny Pacific atolls. Don’t tell me thew world doesn’t care about Scotland. Thank you.