Backwards and Wrong


I’ve been trying to think up a cheerful, positive pro-indy “journey to yes” type of essay, but it’s just not happening. At the moment I’m finding it hard to escape the “reallywhat’sthepointofBrexit????” thought train. I have my own personal Brexit alarm-o-meter. At one end of the scale I have a friend who secretly considers leaving the EU to be a jolly good idea, if we all avert our eyes for the next decade or so the whole messy business will magically resolve itself. At the other end of the spectrum I have a teenage employee who has denounced Brexit as “backwards and wrong.” Unfortunately with “precious, precious” Theresa at the helm I think “backwards and wrong” will win the day. There is of course an antidote to my Brexit fretting.

On March 13th Nicola Sturgeon plotted the course for Scotref. As night follows day this prompted an onslaught of hysteria within the mainstream media. The political division hyperventilated behind closed doors and the media wing put its foot on the Better Together gas. Every TV and radio programme I tuned into gleefully informed me that no way (because of José) could poor pathetic Scotland ever join the EU. Breathlessly they moved on to explain that an independent Scotland would face compulsory Euro membership (really strikes me as a tad unlikely that we’ll be outside the EU for all eternity, yet mysteriously using the Euro.) And for the finale – NO-ONE wants ANOTHER divisive referendum on independence! That last one is my favourite, especially when presented by the eternally be-fuddled David Mundell.

Lets just examine the recurring suggestion that Indyref1 was traumatic for all involved. The 2014 referendum has been widely praised as largely good humoured, positive and informative. My experience was that most voters cared, wanted to weigh up the arguments and make a considered choice, I found it to be an engaging and attitude changing experience. Of course there are always angry people, aggressive people, people who behave as though they’ve never been out in public before. But it was ever thus, every side of every argument has trouble makers. No national debate on anything that really matters will be one long round of skipping through fields with bunnies.

Now if you want to talk about divisive, and want to learn a few lessons in how not to conduct a thoughtful conversation….I give you the 2016 EU referendum. Wasn’t that a barrel of laughs? A week before doomsday, there was a “More or Less” programme on Radio 4, it lasted 2 hours, and covered all the EU bases, honestly, we could have washed away the preceding six months of nonsense, had a tea party, listened to “More or Less” and voted. As it was we had a “remain” side performing the old “terrify the voters” routine, and the “leave” side riding the anti immigration wave and lying about money.

In 2014 the Indy movement didn’t shrivel and die, but it did move on and Scottish life chugged on much as before. I appreciate and understand the reasons for voting “No”, there were valid, reasonable arguments on both sides of the spectrum. We all acknowledge that the case for Independence really faltered at the currency hurdle, announcing a currency union with a country which responds “oh yuck, no thanks, find your own currency” isn’t a credible move. But with Brexorama, there is no moving on. Just have a wee look “below the line” on any on-line news article discussing the EU exit, thousands of Brits are relentlessly picking over the Brexit bones. The reason for this sadistic cycle of angst? – the arguments presented for abandoning the EU are leaky as a leaky thing. Yes, yes, there are reasons a plenty for feeling uneasy about the European Union, the refugee crisis, shady trade deals, the Eurozone, but that old ref, wasn’t about any of this and it does nothing to address those concerns. It was about saving money, reducing immigration and re-claiming sovereignty. It’s clear as crystal that we won’t be saving a penny any decade soon, and migrants? Well there seems to be a very belated recognition that our beloved, struggling NHS needs staff from abroad in order to function. Ooh and sovereignty, not much of that happening up here in Scotland, love a bit of sovereignty thanks. Can we have it in the form of independence from Westminster?

This is why Brexitannia is the neverendum, is the debate that will never die, with consequences that will drag on interminably. Scotland has an opportunity to take a different path, there won’t be an immediate transition to greener pastures, we’ll have tough years, but one mega bonus – no more Brexit anxiety. Should we initially follow the EFTA, EEA route I can’t see that provoking the same level of soul searching. I think the first rule of Nationhood should be to find your own tedious source of eternal angst, England has suspicion of the EU, I’m sure there’s some niggle we could needlessly fret over for the next 50 years. And the right wing press in Scotland will need something to whine on about.

I suppose the the referendum lesson is that it’s OK to have a nifty tag line – “take back control” for example, but there needs to be some substance behind this, currency, pensions and the deficit need a thorough, intelligent examination. The Yes movement can’t shy away from admitting some aspects of this are just difficult to quantify. Honesty and debate – good, lying and Eton boys pretending to be populist heroes – backwards and wrong!

I don’t hate Brexit because of an undying love for the EU, I hate it because it’s being imposed upon us in an extreme, uncompromising form. Of course it needn’t have been like this, there is an alternate reality where one of the more sensible Tories is in charge, they tell the Brexit bananas to bog off, commit to full membership of the single market, consult and involve the devolved governments and don’t use EU nationals residing here as leverage. We’re not in that universe, we’re here in the Great Brexit Empire where diplomacy involves Boris Johnson skipping merrily around Europe waffling about prosecco, referencing the 2nd World War and David Davis thinks economics doesn’t involve writing down numbers.

So what I’d like, some-time soon is ANOTHER (hopefully not) divisive referendum! It will be a hard road, there will be debate, confrontation, argument, maybe a bit of shouting, some friendships may wither, there will no doubt be dark, abusive corners online. But we are (mostly) adults, and the alternative is accept we are mute, without influence, our assets a card to be exploited by a narrow cohort of the Tory Party. There are places on Earth where even talking politics amongst friends is a dicey business, in such places divisive referenda are what dreams are made of! We in Scotland are the lucky ones, we are going to be given a choice.

The End! I’ll try and and think of something not in the Brexit bashing arena for next time – not holding out much hope though, article 50 here we…….oh no it’s OK folks Nicola’s got a better idea!


Comic Book Politics


As a boy I read comic books such as The Rover, The Rover and Adventure and The Rover and Wizard. (I, obviously, liked The Rover!) The Commando comic book started around the same time I had taken an interest in these and became essential reading too, along with comics like The Hornet and The Victor. A common theme running through them all was the supremacy of the plucky Tommy, the British explorer and the British athlete. No matter how bad the odds “we” always won through, even if it involved only half a dozen of our brave soldiers against a horde of screaming Zulus or Afghan tribesmen. Our “Wilson”, “Bernard Briggs” or “Alf Tupper” (The Tough of the Track) would always beat the foreigners, even if they had a one lap start in a 2 lap race. (Incidentally, women did not exist in this world!)

At the same time our newspapers and black and white televisions told us that our lives were far superior to those in foreign places. We had better food, higher standards of safety, better wages; we built better ships, aircraft and motor cars and constructed better buildings, bridges and roads.

It was only when I moved into my teens and began to read more than comic books that I realised that the picture painted by our media was not quite true. It turned out that our standards were not as high as we were being told, our working conditions nowhere near approaching those of other countries. When we joined the then Common Market in 1973 we were forced to improve many of our standards in health, gender equality, safety and employment legislation. Workers gained rights that they would not have had were it not for our membership of the European Union.

Successive UK governments and business have fought tooth and nail against implementing EU legislation that “costs money”. The end result is that they have got away with the bare minimum to stay within the law. Here are some statistics that are truly shocking:

The UK

(a) is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world;
(b) has the biggest wealth gap in Western Europe;
(c) shows the worst productivity record in the developed world;
(d) works the third longest hours in the EU;
(e) has the second lowest wages in the OECD countries;
(f) has seen real wages fall fourth fastest in the EU over the past 10 years;
(g) has the fourth lowest state pensions in Europe; and
(h) has the highest infant mortality in Western Europe.

Less subjectively measured is “happiness”, but study after study reveals our children to be the “least happy” in the developed world.

It is no coincidence that 40% of all privatisation in the developed world over the past 30 years has been in the UK, as governments, both Conservative and Labour, sold off our national assets. (Thanks for the gold reserves sale, Gordon Brown, as well!)

Now, we approach leaving that European Union and throwing out even the basic legislation that has forced government and business to improve our working and living standards. The policies of cute hoorism, always present with a Tory government, look set to last indefinitely whilst the Labour Party continues to implode and suck itself into its own black hole.

Here in Scotland, despite the odds, we have a higher level of public services than elsewhere in the UK. This is not because we have more to spend on them but because we set our priorities differently to the rest of the UK. Politically this makes for a sore in the face of the UK government as people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland realise the truth as to how Scotland manages to show a better performance in its National Health Service, how it manages to supply free prescriptions and to be able to give its 0ver-60s free bus travel and its under-5s nursery care. Rather than howl at the scrounging Scots for having more money than they do, they are slowly beginning to question the priorities set by their own local authorities and the UK government.

But where does Brexit leave us? It pushes us into a world where we no longer have even the basic of basic legislation forcing the UK government and business to provide their citizens and workforces with the standards they should have to live and work.

However, Scotland does not need to go down this route. Within the next 2 years we will all have the option of choosing a different path that looks to the welfare of people first and not career politicians, lords in waiting and big business. We can also continue to be members of the family of nations that is the EU and work with our fellow members to continue to improve standards within our countries.

As a postscript, I would say that in the longer term Scotland’s independence will benefit the rest of the UK. Brexit will be a disaster in terms of the rUK economy, its health and welfare provisions, its pensions, its social obligations (or lack of them) and its wages. Hopefully we will see plucky Tommies, Wilsons and Bernards appearing to take on, not these dratted foreigners, but those who have led them into the dire straits they find themselves in. Whether this comes through a revival in the Labour Party, the Greens or a new party, remains to be seen. As long as it happens! We may even see an application to rejoin the family of European nations.


Dear Richard


I’m heartened to hear some positive press about Nicola Sturgeon, even if I have to read your blog on political economy and fair tax to get it, because it certainly doesn’t come through on the National Press.
I agree with you about the quality of the SNP team at Westminster and how they go about their business. Indeed they are a capable lot and there are many more of them in the Scottish and European Parliaments. As you say, so many of them have previous life experience and it shows. It just amazes me that, despite massive opposition from the establishment, we are sitting at about 50/50 in the polls. This despite the relentless ‘attitude of studied weariness’, as Lesley Riddoch calls it, emanating from lazy journalists trotting out the same old objections to the same stale arguments. The opposition, such as it is, prefer to hark back to 2014, as though nothing has changed in the interim. Meanwhile, as they well know,everything has changed in the interim.

Having been frankly disenchanted with politics for most of my life, I woke up a couple of years pre-2014 when I knew I had a big decision to make. Given that my grandchildren would have to live with the result, I wanted to make the most informed choice that I could. As someone who’s internally motivated with a lot of self belief, it didn’t take me long to back the principle of independence. After all, why would anyone refuse self-determination? It’s a bit like saying you don’t want to grow up. I knew there would a lot of work ahead and so I embarked on a course of self education. It has been a rapid learning curve but I’m not alone. The Independence movement has a lot of grass roots activists who are thoroughly engaged with the issues we will face as an independent country. We are none of us hopeless romantics, but passionate self-starters, pragmatists who believe in our fellow Scots and their collective problem solving ability. We relish the prospect of shaping our future together in a modern, outward-looking democracy.

It surprises me not one jot that most of England is out of touch with Scottish politics. It’s no wonder they have such a skewed opinion of the Independence debate and the Scots in general. The BBC is bound by its charter to promote the union. 70% of the media is owned by 3 news companies.  This obviously creates conditions in which wealthy individuals can set the agenda for what we read, wield huge political and economic power, and distort the landscape to suit their personal views. This is not in the interests of democracy. Instead of quality journalism in the tabloids, there’s a deliberate dumbing down, promoting the kind of escapist attitudes and sensationalism that ultimately reinforces the political status quo. The cards have been stacked against us from day one and the sooner we concede that it’s David versus Goliath the better. (I like to remember how that story ended though and it fills me with hope rather than fear.)

One of the main problems is that the English have a very poor understanding on nationalism in general. In the interests of clarity, we are the Scottish National party -for the whole nation- not the Scottish Nationalist party; a fine distinction granted, but an important one.
To understand where the SNP are coming from, we should make the distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism. The SNP believes in the latter.
Ethnic nationalists, as far as I can see, emphasise exceptionalism, ‘born into’ citizenship, common roots, blood inheritance and so on. Perhaps the emphasis is less on shared political rights and more on pre-existing ethnic characteristics. This would certainly fit the Brit nat mentality. One can see how it readily unites people against a common enemy–as we saw during wartime – or more recently, ‘foreigners’ with the isolationist culture that has taken root in the far right. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help people overcome divisions such as race, gender, class or division of resources. This is diametrically opposed to the ethos of SNP. The last thing the SNP are promoting is exclusivity. If the SNP are nationals, then they are civic nationals. Civic Nationalism emphasises rule by consent, democratic pluralism, liberty and strength in diversity. It provides the framework in law, legislative possibilities and political participation to reconcile differences.

We in the SNP are deeply concerned about Brexit and not just on the economic front. We are worried about the cruel new culture of xenophobia and isolationism that has been unleashed. We welcome and need our European nationals. (I’m embarrassed that I even need to make that statement because it shouldn’t even have to be said.) We are alarmed that we are entering a world that has seen a new and worrying war against human rights with Le Pen and her party’s history of fascism and racism and we are determined to resist the tide of hate. The turn of events in Europe and the US should be a rallying cry for progressives in all parties and none. If we don’t defend our values then they are no better than meaningless.

For those who think the SNP is anti-English, you must think again. This is a deliberate lie carried out by certain sections of the media who are hell-bent on stirring up division between Scotland and England and putting Scotland in its place. We in the SNP, (and we are not the only political group who want independence ) whether we are Scots, English, Canadian, French, German, Dutch, Indian, Irish, Pakistani or any other nationality, believe in progressive politics of inclusivity and the value of interdependence among nations, a view that runs counter to the fear-filled sentiment of the exclusive nationalism of Brexit and the right wing press who dominate the news. Not only that but the extraordinary remarks of the London Mayor at the recent Scottish Labour conference, where he likened Scottish Nationalism to racism, had our collective mouths dropping in utter disbelief. This is mischievous in the extreme and simply fuels further ignorance among the ill informed.

We are going in different directions Scotland and England. We seem to have very different ideas on social justice, from a market driven tax haven, to the privatisation of the health service, we just don’t want any of what Brexit promises. The hand holding between Theresa May and Donald Trump was the last excruciating vision of dystopia. We can do so much better than that.The SNP do not believe that we in Scotland are ‘better’ than any other nation, but just that we can think of ourselves as ‘as good as’ any other nation, something that our masters in Westminster seem to find very difficult to get their imperialist heads round.

In my opinion, siding with ‘Better Together’ and the Tories was a massive mistake for Scottish Labour. Had they joined forces with Nicola Sturgeon they could have lived to tell the tale in Scotland and may have even won back their grass roots after independence. I see some of them have broken ranks and started a Labour for Independence movement. Good on them.
Finally, it’s quite extraordinary that Kezia Dugdale’s father is a member of the SNP. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Not sure I’d like to be around that table for Sunday roast!

sincerely, Grace Sutherland


Living the dream


My wife Judith and I have just returned from a short break near Inverness. When I was paying the bill, I commented to the owner that I was disappointed that I couldn’t get BBC Scotland on the TV in our room (you could only get London news) as I particularly wanted to watch Reporting Scotland to see what they had to say about Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second Independence Referendum. He asked me if I was an Independence supporter and when I said yes, he said that he’d voted No in 2014 because he was worried about how it might affect his business but now with Brexit he wasn’t so sure.

I’m not quick witted enough these days to immediately follow up on such comments so having paid the bill I cogitated on our conversation. A short while later, while I was packing the car, the owner walked by. I approached him and said,
I hope you won’t take offence and I’ve never done this before but I’d like to try to persuade you towards Independence’
He looked at me warily and nodded, ‘oh alright’ he said.

I then outlined to him my view that the difference between Scotland as it is now and how it could be after Independence was rather like the difference between being an employee and being self-employed (I reasoned he’d understand this analogy, being self-employed himself). To an employee I said, however conscientious they may be, work is just a job and when not working they’ll rarely think much about the job. By contrast I went on, being self-employed sharpens one’s awareness so that you’re constantly tuned in to opportunities and threats to your business, what your competitors are doing, price comparisons and in his case, how tourism trends might impact on his business and how he might take advantage of any changing trends.

I concluded by saying that I saw an Independent Scotland as being akin to the whole Nation being self employed, that it would make all of us more aware of the factors that impact on Scotland and how we can make the most of opportunities and minimize threats.

He responded by saying that was very good, that he’d never heard it put like that before and that I’d make a good politician! He may have just said that because I was a customer, however he also said he’d been afraid of taking the risk in 2014 because they’d managed to carve out a decent living. I commented that he must have taken a big risk when he left his steady job to start his new business and had it been worth it? To which he replied that it had.

I offer this anecdote as a potential gambit to use with anyone you might know who is self-employed and is currently undecided or a soft-No voter. By the way, I’m not the least bit interested in being a politician. I think it must be one of the hardest jobs in the world.


Where’s the Brevision?


Really, what is the point of Brexit? In the fevered imaginings of Liam Fox and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit means low taxes for the super rich, privatised everything and not much in the way of worker’s rights. What I can’t fathom is what does your average, ordinary leave voter envisage Brexit will deliver for them personally? Yes I know – sovereignty, taking back control, blah, blah, blah. I think everyone’s realised the poor beleaguered English NHS isn’t getting £350m a week any time soon. So how does swimming in sovereignty translate into real life? What is the point of Brexit -what are the tangible positive effects on families and communities?

The Independence movement of 2014 had vision and ambition. It wasn’t independence for its own sake, it was independence with a purpose. It was engaging and inspiring, as well as considering the nuts and bolts and practicalities, as ordinary voters contemplated the kind of nation we could be. People – we had ideas, ideas about democracy, politics, trident, green energy, oil funds and a load of other stuff.

Where’s that vision and ambition within the grass roots Brexit movement (if there is such a thing)?

Brexit seems to be all about the anti – it’s the “we don’t like that thing” vote. Well folks, what do you like? Where’s the pro, where’s the positive, where’s the ambition? (Selling arms to Middle Eastern dictators is not something to aspire to, neither is a deal with Mr Orange. I’m after a better quality vision here.) We’ve heard a lot of waffle about the “opportunities” of Brexit. Well it’s been eight months………still a bit hazy as to where these “opportunities” are hiding. Is a £50 billion divorce bill an opportunity? Sounds more like an unnecessary drain on precious resources to me, but then I did once get 1% in a maths exam.

Maybe I’m just a dreadful sneering, liberal, cynic who needs to put down “The National” and pick up “The Daily Mail”. At some point in the next few years Theresa May is planning a fun activity she’s calling “The Great Repeal Bill”. Now it strikes me that this may be something that turns out not to be “great” or as simple as it’s being painted. But for arguments sake, magical Theresa waves her wand (she’s borrowed it from Hogwarts) and all that pesky EU legislation is re-homed in good old honest Blighty. So what now? Is there going to be a vibrant, radical campaign to IMPROVE this legislation – was that the point all along? We don’t want environmental protections as drafted by the faceless, distant European parliament, we want EVEN BETTER environmental protections, plus MORE animal welfare (all chickens to roam free at all times), MORE paid holiday, MORE funding for deprived areas; you get the picture. Now if this was the plan, then Brexit might not be so alarming, but I’m not hopeful. I’m starting to suspect that Brexit means Brexit means less. “Getting our sovereignty back” sounds OK, getting it back and giving it to an effectively unopposed, righter than right Tory government, maybe not such a cunning wheeze……Nigel Farage presented himself as the radical leader of a revolt against the establishment – then ran off to pose in a golden elevator. I think there’s a metaphor in there – something to do with manipulating people for personal elevation!

Brexit is an imposition, on Scots who don’t want it and on the English and Welsh who do. It’s being done to us, not for us, top down; like it or be denounced as a sneering liberal, divisive nationalist, moaning remainer. When (!) Scotland votes for Independence I don’t expect the winning side to say “fall into line, sit down and be quiet”, I expect collaboration, compromise and a collective effort. Brexit is more along the lines of “winner takes all, winner smashes all” and the Labour party provides the hammer. Isn’t the point of democracy that nothing is forever? We can argue, change our minds, have a re-run, bring down the government and replace them with a cabal of guinea pigs. (Guinea pigs would appreciate the EU’s animal welfare legislation.) 17 million Brits chose Brexit world, it’s their baby, where are the “leave” pressure groups attempting to shape and temper the government stance? I’m fairly certain most voters don’t have a hankering for life in a de-regulated tax haven. So why the unquestioning acquiescence?

I’m no rose bespectacled europhile, I was as anti the now defunct TTIP as the next sensible person, and the EU has really struggled with the refugee crisis, but Brexit, as realised by Theresa May and cronies, has nothing positive to offer Scotland or any average British person. And with the official opposition missing (not in action), the end of the Tory tunnel seems a long way off.

Maybe an independent Scotland won’t join the EU, maybe we will, maybe we’ll form a new confederation of small countries which occasionally experiment with fried confectionery. In an uncertain world I am absolutely confident that a small, independent nation, with an educated population and a wealth of other resources can do sooooooo much better than Brexit. And you know what, that goes for England too.


The Fall in the Value of the Pound – Scotland’s Fault?


Many people are not sure why their pound can, overnight, buy them fewer euros or dollars. Sometimes, this happens the other way round. The papers and the tv news report that the value of the pound has risen/fallen, that confidence in the pound is high/low, that trade figures are up/down, etc.

The fact is that currencies buy more or less of other currencies (the rate of exchange) depending upon simple demand and supply. If those who hold currencies like central banks, commercial banks and speculators decide to put a currency on the market, ie up for sale, supply increases and so price – the rate of exchange – falls. If they want to buy then the price of the currency rises.

There are many reasons for holders of currency wanting to buy/sell. However, the bottom line is that if they expect the value of a currency to fall they will sell – get out now whilst the price is relatively high. If they expect the value to rise then they will buy in expectation of selling at a higher price.

One of the main reasons for buying/selling currency is confidence in how well a country is doing – how buoyant is its trade? Are its future prospects good .. or bad? Is its level of debt increasing? Is there uncertainty as to how well it will do in the next few weeks .. months?

At the moment the pound’s value is showing an inexorable downward trend. In 2014 the value of the pound fell – we were told that this was due to uncertainty as to the result of the Scottish independence referendum. In 2016 it fell as a result of the EU Leave/Remain referendum. Now in 2017 as we see it falling we are being told that it is due to the likelihood of a second Scottish independence referendum.

It is not difficult to understand a fall in the value of the pound due to the madness that has caused a majority of the electorate in England and Wales to vote “Leave”. Walking away from the largest and most successful trading partnership in the world cannot fail to make the UK worse off, hence the rest of the world dumping its pounds and causing the exchange rate to drop. However, the situation with a Scottish independence “Yes” vote needs just a bit more thought.

Unionists in both mainstream and social media loudly tell us that all this independence uncertainty is the cause of the fall in the value of the pound. It’s Scotland’s fault that they can buy fewer euros for their holidays and that the prices of bananas and coffee and tea and everything else that comes into the UK are rising.

Now, at the same time we are also told that we are subsidy-junkies, a drain on the resources of the UK, scroungers, grant-takers and downright parasites. So .. here’s the question – “If Scotland is a drain on the UK and is expected to vote to leave and regain its independence, then surely this is a good thing for the UK economy?” In that case, with the UK’s prospects improving through no longer having to subside we Scots, surely the rest of the world, also seeing this, will want to buy pounds as quickly as they can, causing the exchange rate to rise? But wait .. the exchange rate is falling. Mmmm. Could it possibly be that the currency markets see the UK losing Scotland as being detrimental to the UK, ie Scotland isn’t really subsidised, but, in fact gives more than it receives?

As always, unionists want to have their cake and eat it.



Journey from No to Yes


I arrived in in Scotland in 1981 to run an educational charity. My work involved providing residential Personal Development courses for some of the vast number of young unemployed who were casualties of the Thatcher Government’s slash and burn policies. I was always pro-Europe and Scotland in the early 1980s was a net beneficiary of EEC (as it then was) financial aid due to its depressed economic status. Our courses were part funded by EEC grants to Strathclyde Regional Council. An early memory is of dealing with an SRC manager who complained about the bureaucracy of ‘Brussels’ where he said there were over 100,000 staff employed as administrators. I commented that this seemed pretty good value given that the EEC at the time had a population of over 250 million and compared very favourably with SRC which also has a staff of over 100,000 to cater for the needs of just 2.5 million people.

I’d always been a Labour voter and saw many parallels between my home area of the North East of England and Central Scotland, both of which were heavily dependent on coal, steel and ship-building and saw little reason to change my political affiliation. That all changed in 2003 when, along with thousands of others I marched in Glasgow to demonstrate against the impending invasion of Iraq. I gave my vote to the Liberal Democrats because they supported Proportional Representation and Federalism, which I’d always viewed as the best solution to the disparate needs of the UK. Even at that time I recognised that the Palace of Westminster was a de-facto English Parliament, given that 85% of MPs represent English constituencies (the recent introduction of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) is a travesty of justice in my view and indicative of the arrogance and sense of entitlement of English MPs. Pre EVEL, even with the support of all MPs from devolved parts of the UK, for a Bill to pass would still require the support of 41% of English based MPs).

I was greatly encouraged by the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and was therefore hugely disappointed by the result of the 2004 devolution referendum for a Regional Assembly in the North East of England which I saw as a chance to spread Federalism across the UK. The vote went 4:1 against, the main arguments against the Assembly were that it would increase bureaucracy and partisan loyalties about where the new assembly would be sited (Newcastle or Durham). My disillusionment was completed by the botched Alternative Vote referendum of 2011 brought by the Lib. Dems during their time in coalition Government. Still I resisted the idea of Scottish independence as I’d always associated Nationalism as anti-English xenophobia, views which were shaped by groups such as Settler Watch in Aberdeenshire and the burning of second homes by Welsh Nationalists in the 1990s.

The scales finally fell from my eyes in 2013 when I retired to a more rural area and, without access to my daily newspaper fix, started to read the news on-line. The revelation was in the comments that accompanied the newspaper articles which I quickly came to value most. One day a blogger mentioned ‘The Wee Blue Book‘ which I Googled, discovered Wings and the rest is history.

The young unemployed people I worked with generally had far more potential than they gave themselves credit for. A combination of lack of support, lack of encouragement and lack of opportunity had imbued in them low self- confidence that expressed itself in a ‘can’t do’ attitude. Rather than embrace challenges they actively avoided them. My work involved giving them more responsibility, providing support and above all, trusting them. In many ways I see my work with these young people as a metaphor for Scotland’s condition. So full of latent talent and with natural and physical resources to die for! All we need is a spark to ignite that potent mixture and I’m confident we can thrive. The ignition will come through independence and trusting the ability of the people of Scotland to embrace the opportunities that independence will afford.