Blogging from the Murcia region of Spain until I return to the Highlands of Scotland at the end of October
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 19 September 2014

Referendum on Scottish Independence - 18th September 2014 - the result

The referendum held yesterday to decide whether Scotland would remain a part of the United Kingdom, or whether it would become a separate/independent country has now concluded with the final result being announced officially earlier today. In brief the "Yes" campaign has been defeated and therefore Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom, a decision that pleases me greatly. The results for the "no" vote were 2,001,926 votes (55.3%), with the "yes" side of the debate receiving 1,617,989 votes (44.7%). However, there are going to be significant constitutional changes both in Scotland and in other parts of the UK (specially as they affect England) that if successful are likely to ensure that this ugly problem does not rear its head again anytime soon and that people's reasonable democratic expectations are addressed throughout the whole country. The "Devolution settlement" concocted by the last Labour government in 1997/8 was defective and has in my opinion led us directly to this impasse and its current efforts to deny English voters sole say in domestic English matters, for purely partisan political reasons, must be resisted at all costs, otherwise the amended settlement currently being negotiated is unlikely to be very durable. Whatever else may be said about this referendum exercise, it has on the whole been conducted in a civlised manner, with only the 'aggressive' tactics of some of the "yes" supporters marring this; it seems clear that many countries around the world have looked on with some amazement both that such a referendum for a part of a country to 'secede' was ever held in the first place, specially in a country that has existed for so long and been as stable as the United Kingdom, but that it was actually permitted in the first place, not to mention that it was mostly carried out in a peaceful, civilised manner. It was also completely honest and transparent, as all elections have been in this country for a very long time, so the pre-referendum agreement of all to accept the result will be honoured without question. What this really shows is that the home of modern democracy, the UK, has demonstrated once more how secure and self-confident we are in our democratic beliefs and credentials. Full results of the referendum can be found in the dedicated BBC website page here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On the eve of Scotland's referendum, my earnest plea is that you vote "NO"


For those residents of Scotland who have not already voted by post (as I have), tomorrow will be your opportunity to vote in the Referendum to decide whether Scotland will remain as an independent and free component of the United Kingdom or whether it will become a separate or "independent" country.

I have never been in any doubt myself. I voted "NO" and I urge you to do likewise if you will be voting tomorrow. Why? I am British and Scottish, or Scottish and British if you prefer - for me there is almost no difference. I am not remotely 'aggrieved', as so many supporters of the SNP and the "YES" camp generally seem to be, by the fact that Scotland represents less than 10% of the UK population - anyone who has given a cursory glance at public, commercial and political life will have observed that Scotland has performed way above what the raw population data might suggest. Anyone who thinks that Scots are, within the United Kingdom, in any way 'oppressed' or 'put upon' is, not to put too fine a point on it, completely deluded! To be totally honest, the 'Scottish cringe' and the 'chip on shoulder' mentality of so many SNP supporters or supporters of the "YES" campaign generally (and despite their protestations they are almost one and the same thing, to all intents and purposes, with the Greens and SSP being miniscule and maverick components), disgusts and appals me. The idea that Scots are 'oppressed' or ignored within the UK is ridiculous and absurd - the Scots are no more an homogeneous people than are the English; someone from the Highlands of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides or Orkney or Shetland is just as different from people in the Glasgow-Edinburgh area of Scotland as people in Cornwall, the North-east of England or indeed the North-west are from the people in London or the South-east of England. But none of us are so very different in any important sense. There are lots of Scots throughout the rest of the UK, specially in London and the South-east, just as there are significant numbers of English people or people from Wales and Northern Ireland in Scotland - and long may it continue! We are all citizens of one country (comprising four nations) and long may that continue, too.


No, I don't think the SNP is full of homophobes, although it does have some (as do most political parties), but it does trouble me greatly that one of the greatest financial backers of the SNP and the "YES" campaign is arch-homophobe Brian Souter. It is possible his support is purely because of his considerable business interests in the transport sector and his hope that a separate/independent Scotland will be more favourable to him (perhaps because of tax breaks), but it is not a risk I wish to take. So far as I am concerned he is an odious man and is one of the principal reasons why I resigned from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in 2001, because of his 'Keep the Clause' campaign and the support given to it then by the Conservatives. The Conservative Party has changed a lot since then and indeed the leader of the Scottish party Ruth Davidson, quite apart from the fact that she is a proud lesbian woman, has been a beacon of sanity and rationality in the campaign leading up to tomorrow's referendum. Although same-sex marriage has already been legislated for in the Scottish Parliament last February, the first marriage is not expected to take place until October - why the delay? Although the equivalent legislation for England and Wales was passed somewhat earlier (with no adequate or convincing reason why it was passed later in Scotland), during the first three months of the legislation in England and Wales, 1,409 same-sex marriages were carried out there. So far there have been none in Scotland. I recall that when civil partnerships were legislated for, the then Scottish Executive (Labour-dominated, and anyone who has ever read my blog will know I am no supporter of Labour) agreed that legislation passed in Westminster on this important new extension of civil rights would extend simultaneously to Scotland. The SNP Scottish Government has decided that the legislation for Scotland on this even more important aspect of civil rights equality should be later in Scotland than in England and Wales - the reasons for this one can only guess at, but I am quite frankly suspicious, given the financial input of arch-homophobe Brian Souter.


As I mentioned above, I am British and Scottish and I like being a citizen of both; I have no desire whatsoever to join the parochialists of the SNP or "YES" campaign by separating Scotland from the rest of our country, the UK. We are one country and I want us to remain one country. I hope you will vote "NO" tomorrow, as I have done already. To do otherwise will only bring damage to us all and to those who come after us, all for the sake of some illusory 'independence', frankly a chimera in our globalised world. Don't be swayed by the cheap and empty promises of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney and their SNP/"YES" accomplices. Please, please vote "NO".

Saturday, 6 September 2014

"Stay!" - an open letter to my fellow Scottish voters

This is an open letter I have earlier this afternoon sent to The Spectator magazine for potential publication; it is quite short, as the request for submissions in a tweet from the Editor suggested that they be limited to 250 words and I have done my best to comply:


Stay!

Dear fellow Scottish voter,

Because I am resident in Scotland I am lucky to be one of the approx 10% of the UK population to have a vote in the Referendum. I am mainly Scottish. I have used my postal vote to vote "no" and below I explain why.

For me it is mainly about emotion and only partly about financial, security or other issues; I am British and Scottish and always felt at home wherever I lived in the UK (various parts of Scotland, the Isle of Man, and London for several years) and in the 9 or so other countries around the world I have lived in I have always felt British, too. My British friends have come from all parts of the UK and now that I live back in Scotland, many of my friends and neighbours are English, Welsh and Irish (both parts), as well as Scottish of course.

I want to remain British and Scottish. The UK has generally been a force for good in the world and I don't want it to fade into history. I wrote above that I am “mainly” Scottish, because one grandparent was Irish (from what is now the Republic) and the bitterness of him being disowned by most of his family because he fought in the British army in WWI is still a scar. Scotland has largely avoided violence luckily, but "yes" voters delude themselves if they think nothing will change in their cross-UK family relationships, sadly.

Please stay!

William Cameron
Nairn

I have no idea whether my letter will be chosen for publication by The Spectator, but in case it is not it will at least be viewable by visitors to my blog, or via my Twitter or Facebook feeds.

Obviously I could (and have in the past) written at greater length on my firmly held conviction that not only is the UK generally a "good thing" and been a positive force in the world during the more than 300 years of its existence, but that in the longer term its continuation is good for both Scots and people who consider other parts of the UK "home"; for many of us Britons it is difficult to define exactly what we are, because our family backgrounds are often varied and intermingled, not only with people from all over these islands (the "British Isles", that archipelago of islands off the north-west coast of Europe), but in many cases with people from diverse countries around the world. Many people have family backgrounds from outside the UK, but have integrated within our wider British society and later generations born here mostly have little difficulty in identifying themselves as "British", plus whatever is the country of their family backgrounds - but we are all "British"; funnily enough, as I write this I am watching a repeat episode on the Yesterday TV channel of the "Who Do You Think You Are" programme, which is about the former athlete Colin Jackson - he seems to have no more difficulty reconciling Jamaican-Welsh-British roots than I do my Scottish-Irish-British roots; many millions of our fellow Britons have similarly or more complex backgrounds and, on the whole, we have all rubbed along together pretty well over the centuries.

In the context of the forthcoming Referendum in Scotland, whose franchise has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with who is actually resident in Scotland, whatever their ethnic or cultural backgrounds, my fervent hope is that the result will be for Scotland to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom; we are already as 'independent' as any people are likely to be in a globalised world and we are one with our brothers/sisters/fathers/mothers in other parts of the UK - becoming a 'separate' country is not going to enhance our notional 'independence' in any meaningful way in my opinion. All it is likely to do is add another costly level of bureaucracy, which frankly we don't need - all modern societies do of course require some kind of structured government, but we already have a pretty democratic, fair system in place. As a Highlander in Scotland, our current central government in London is no more remote in organisational terms than a similar administration is or would become in Edinburgh, but being a part of the UK gives us some of the advantages of economies of scale. As for lack of representation, I personally voted for none of the governments/executives which have run the Scottish Parliament since it came into being in 1999 any more than I voted for the UK governments which managed the affairs of the UK from 1974 to 1979, or from 1997 to 2010. It is called "democracy".

This is why it is my fervent hope that my fellow voters in Scotland will by majority vote for Scotland to remain part of the UK in the Referendum on 18th September 2014. Let it not be the demise of probably the greatest and most beneficial period in the history of these islands and in truth the demise of what has in practice been an overwhelming force for good in the world.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Salmond stretching the truth

Ahead of this evening's debate between Alex Salmond (for the SNP) and Alistair Darling (for Better Together) here's an amusing video-clip which illustrates pretty clearly the lies and distortions that flow freely from Salmond's lips and his hench-men or hench-women in and out of the Scottish Parliament in their aim to dismember our country, the United Kingdom:



Don't let the SNP succeed with their separatist and insular agenda - vote NO on 18th September, I urge you!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Hateful bigotry from Nairn's SNP Councillor on Highland Council

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Nairn has four Councillors on Highland Council and one of these is Councillor Liz MacDonald, who represents the SNP. The article below appeared in our local [weekly] newspaper yesterday:


Councillor MacDonald (SNP) stands by her "butcher's apron"
remark to Labour man
- article appearing in "Nairnshire Telegraph" 19th August 2014
(Unfortunately our local weekly newspaper in Nairn
does not have an on-line presence.)


- Hateful bigotry from Nairn SNP Councillor Liz MacDonald -


Click here to see an enlargement.



Click here to see an enlargement.

Whilst I find her "chip-on-shoulder" and plain nasty views deplorable, it is at least good that these have been exposed in our local newspaper. I think that all her comments deserve a good 'fisking', but I think this particular extract from the article above of one of her quoted remarks illustrates perfectly the kind of person she is:

"I was surprised that he had gone to the press about it because it was a tweet between us."
How naïve does someone have to be to make such a comment? Presumably if she had wished it to remain private she would not have tweeted publicly about it (but see below), but perhaps sent a 'direct message' instead, nor would she then have spoken about it to a reporter from "The Nairnshire". However, this particular remark says something more about Councillor Liz; this person, an elected Councillor, has a habit of blocking people from viewing her Twitter feed who have criticised anything she has tweeted in support of the SNP. For example, I am myself blocked from viewing her tweets because a couple of months ago I responded to a tweet from her suggesting, in response to one of my tweets, that I should get a copy of "Scotland's Future" to enable me to comment knowledgeably. This is a document put out by the Scottish Government (which currently is SNP led). I responded that I had indeed ordered this document soon after it was published and that I had subsequently read it cover to cover. I also commented that I found it merely a propaganda document (a 'manifesto' if you will) for the SNP and that it is vague on detail and provides no real factual information to allow people to make an educated and considered decision on how to vote in the forthcoming referendum. It is really just a very lengthy list of forecasts and wishful thinking. I realised some time later that Councillor Liz had blocked me as a result and I am aware that others locally have been blocked by her too, for having had the temerity to dissent from SNP 'dogma'. To be clear, I was never rude to her, but it is equally clear that she is unwilling to engage in meaningful debate and frankly doubt she merits holding public office with such a closed-minded attitude toward free debate. Our local newspaper "The Nairnshire" has performed a valuable public service by revealing the attitudes of our SNP Councillor when it comes to open debate.

Finally, it is unsurprising to me that the "The Nairnshire" article has gone unmentioned so far in another well-known Nairn blog; the writer is a supporter of the SNP cause and is usually very quick to comment on important articles appearing in our local 'rag'. Perhaps realising the devastating 'own goal' which the remarks and tweets made by Councillor Liz represent, he has preferred to draw a veil over it? She may regret that someone has decided to publicise her noisome tweets, but Twitter is part of social media and she will have to get used to it - or alternatively she might care to go into a sound-proofed room where she would be able to spew out her hateful rhetoric to her heart's content and not risk others becoming aware of her bigotry.

This article expands upon my tweet on this topic earlier today, here.

UPDATE (Wednesday 20AUG2014 16.45 BST) I have just noticed that our local councillor Liz MacDonald has unblocked me on Twitter; I can't say precisely when or why this has happened, but perhaps it is as a result of this blog article and my tweet earlier today. In any case I wanted to record this fact and that I am pleased about it.

Monday, 18 August 2014

One month today, Scotland will vote to remain in the UK!

I remain convinced, but not complacent, that the vast majority of Scots voters will choose to vote on 18th September in the referendum for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. This is obviously my preferred outcome, but I think my cautious optimism is solidly-based, both on almost every opinion poll and of course on the performance of First Minister Alex Salmond's (SNP) rather lacklustre performance in the debate with Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign on 5th August - I wrote about that here.

The "Yes" campaign regularly accuses the "No" side for being "negative" (whatever that means!), but it is really up to those who favour separation/independence to provide convincing arguments for how and why they think it a good idea, it is not enough simply to provide us with pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking and expect a majority of voters to follow them blindly. Why are the "Yes" campaigners, including Mr Salmond, so "negative" about Scotland remaining part of the UK? Scotland's partnership with England and Wales and later with Ireland (now Northern Ireland only, regrettably) for over 300 years has been one of the most successful amalgamations of nations into a country in history and, in my opinion, remains very successful to this day.

Democracy means having to accept what is the majority wish - I have accepted that a Scottish Parliament now exists, because that is what was voted for in the referendum held in 1998, just as I had to live with a Labour government from 1997 to 2010, although I certainly voted for neither. Equally obviously I did not vote for our current SNP Scottish Government in 2007 or 2011 and indeed nor did the majority of voters vote for the SNP either (the 2011 Scottish Parliament election results are here), but the vagaries of our electoral system gave the SNP a comfortable working majority. However uncomfortable I am with this, it is democracy and I therefore accept it. But of course, the real reason the SNP, with its 'beggar-thy-neighbour', 'chip-on-shoulder' attitudes (and I make absolutely no apology for slipping into cliché) does not really accept democracy at all, which is why it seeks to sow division between Scots and our fellow British citizens - I really do not believe your average Highlander in Scotland (me, in other words) is so very different from people in the lowlands of Scotland, the north-east of England or Devon or Cornwall, just to take some random examples - we all have to accept democratic outcomes which means that sometimes we get governments we don't wish for personally. The SNP only want a democratic arrangement which will favour them - hence their wish for Scotland to swim in its own little political pond, rather than to be part of (remain part of) one of the foremost economies of the world.

And speaking of 'economies', SNP plans give no certainty of what currency we might use should they prevail on 18th September, nor what entity will be responsible for acting as 'lender of last resort' or for setting interest rates. It is not "negative" to ask hard questions of these fantasists, indeed it would be negligent not to.

I shall be voting "No" on 18th September and I urge you to do so too. However, beyond that, I would like as many people to exercise their right to vote as possible, however you vote - this is a really important decision for all of us. Please don't miss your chance to participate in deciding our future. Finally, I hope the result is decisive one way or the other and both winners and losers will accept the result gracefully, as I intend to. Hopefully the SNP and its supporters will similarly accept the result if (as I hope happens) they lose their bid to split our country asunder. We will all have to live together once this is all over, so triumphalism by the winners is certainly to be avoided.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Why I will never give up completely on traditional SW/LW/MW radios

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking increasingly about this arcane subject, having first begun to think about it seriously a few years ago. Like many people I have at least one ordinary radio in every room in my home (including bathrooms), with all of them capable of receiving long wave (LW), medium wave (MW) and frequency modulation (FM) transmissions; I also have several radios capable of receiving short wave (SW) transmissions - one of these is a pretty sophisticated multi-band short wave radio although it is very large and heavy, so I rarely use it nowadays and indeed it generally lurks on a bookcase shelf in my garage. Obviously I also have a radio in my car, able to receive LW/MW/FM transmissions.

About 4 or so years ago I got my first digital radio, also capable of receiving FM analogue broadcasts and a couple of years ago a second digital radio, also with FM analogue capability.

A year or so ago I got my first internet radio and it can be plugged into a broadband router or connected to it wirelessly; this allows easy radio reception from more or less every country on the planet with a huge range of stations available from most countries with very high quality audio; obviously a broadband internet connection is required to make this work. I now have two of these radios.

Long wave transmissions have been broadcast for many decades, although are much less used nowadays, but they have a quite big reception radius (for example I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 LW when I lived in Paris and know that signals can be picked up as far away as northern Spain with adequate clarity under most weather conditions; the number of separate stations that can be fitted into this broadcast spectrum is quite limited though so there is great risk of interference if too many stations try to broadcast on similar frequencies because of the long reception range. Medium wave has a smaller, but still quite large, reception radius, whereas FM has a smaller reception range still, but provided a decent quality signal is available and the aerial is angled correctly, can provide much better quality reception that is hiss- and crackle-free. Short wave broadcasts can be picked up world-wide, but are very dependent on atmospheric conditions and time of day, with different short wave bands being used at different times of day when signals are being beamed to particular parts of the world.

Digital radio is a definite 'advance' (in some respects) on MW/FM broadcasts in particular; the reception is generally crystal-clear, but only domestic broadcasts can be listened to and only those which are carried on the digital platform and this is by no means all of them. I did take one of my digital radios to Spain a few years ago, but the digital receiver did not work there (I understand the technical specifications for digital broadcasts for different countries are different), although I was able to use it for FM broadcast reception, but because of the lack of digital reception capability there I brought it back to the UK to use it to its fullest extent.

Internet radio is mostly a marvellous advance - a huge range of domestic and worldwide broadcasts can be picked up easily - and the sound is of [equally] high quality whether one is listening to voice radio from the UK (such as BBC Radio 4) or similar kinds of domestic and international broadcasts from places such as New Zealand, Australia or Canada; the same is true of other kinds of broadcast such as classical music for example. Without an internet broadband connection however it will not work.

So why am I writing this article, specially with the title I have chosen? I certainly recognise the advantages of both digital and internet radio broadcasts - high quality audio with both and with the latter the capability of easy reception of broadcasts from all over the world. However, digital radio does require a decent signal and I have occasionally experienced signal break-up under certain atmospheric conditions, specially during the summer (I did query this a few years ago with the BBC technical people and was told that atmospheric conditions should not affect reception quality, but in my experience this is simply not true; to digress for a moment this signal fall-off also occurs in summer on Freeview TV reception). I live within line of sight of the broadcast transmitters for both radio and TV and it is not very many miles away, across water, so the signal strength is generally excellent. As for internet radio, it is excellent most of the time, but occasionally reception will break-up, even though there is a broadband signal and occasionally too a broadcast will not be available for "legal reasons" - this happens from time to time on BBC Radio 4 'Today' and whether I happen to be listening on my internet radio here in the UK or the similar radio I have at my home in Spain.

This last point brings me to the crux of my whole article:
- Digital radio is suitable only for listening to domestic broadcasts and not all domestic broadcasts are carried on this platform. We live in the UK in a pretty liberal democracy; the same is true of [most of] Europe and a number of other countries and regions (which I generally classify as North America, Australasia [Australia and New Zealand] and Japan/South Korea/Taiwan/India, plus perhaps a few others, for example parts of South America), but there is no getting away from the fact that one is with digital radio only able to listen to what the licensing authority in one's country chooses to allow one to listen to. The increase in reception quality that digital radio undoubtedly makes possible is at the price of being limited to only domestic broadcasts and only some of those;
- Internet radio is generally wonderful, except when one's internet connection is interrupted, which also of course means when the electricity supply is interrupted (which doesn't happen often either here in the UK or Spain, but it does occasionally), because although the radio itself can work for many hours on its rechargeable lithium battery, the broadband router cannot. Internet radio is also dependent on the proper functioning of the internet, which occasionally suffers technical problems resulting in a temporary interruption of connectivity, but is [more than] theoretically subject to political or perhaps commercial interference here or elsewhere.

Of course conventional radio broadcasts (SW/LW/MW) are also subject to some of these same problems as signals can be "jammed" more or less effectively by governments who do not wish their citizens to listen to certain (usually foreign) broadcasts, often in time of war, but also during peacetime or periods of "cold war". But generally speaking these methods of broadcasting are less-dependent on the full functioning of an advanced technological society and less subject to efforts to stop one listening to them for whatever reason, benign or not. So whilst I make full use of digital and internet radio, I never want to lose my ability to make use of less advanced technology - one never knows when this might become crucial, as people in some countries where governments block some of the internet already know all too well. Whenever there are breaks in my internet radio reception of BBC Radio 4 'Today' (referred to above) for 'legal reasons', I can easily switch to my digital or FM radios, but that may not always be possible under all circumstances. I prefer to retain my freedom to circumvent whatever controls may sometimes be placed on these more advanced broadcasting technologies. My motto is always to be as prepared as possible and not to become complacent - recent events around the world have only hardened this determination on my part.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

My verdict on "Salmond and Darling - the Debate"

A Scottish friend, who lives outside Scotland and therefore cannot vote in the upcoming referendum on separation/independence of Scotland from the UK, emailed me this morning about other matters, but wanted to hear a report on last night's "debate". A number of my Twitter friends had remarked that the STV on-line feed of the event seemed to crash or buffer almost continuously, perhaps because there was nowhere near enough bandwidth to cope with the demand (apparently from around the world) to watch it.

Luckily, though, it is going to be re-broadcast tonight on the BBC Parliament channel so at least most viewers throughout the rest of the UK should be able to watch it if they wish to.

As for the debate last night, well I both watched it and and recorded it. My overall impressions:
- was that there was nothing much new. Salmond certainly had no killer punch and Darling was only marginally less dull than usual, although I think he had the better evening;
- I doubt if anyone will have been persuaded against their previously held views or that many if any 'undecideds' will be any nearer to reaching a decision on how to vote;
- having said that, my view is that most 'undecideds' know perfectly well how they are going to vote, but they simply don't want to reveal it, possibly to avoid complications in their personal and professional lives if their real views don't 'fit' (they may also think it makes them interesting, perhaps, when instead it simply reveals how boring they are; not cynical at all, eh?).

Now onto some comments about what I saw and heard. Both participants mostly regurgitated their well-known positions and although it was mostly 'civilised' on both sides, it did descend into a Yah-boo shout-match on a couple of occasions.

One of the major topics of the evening was what currency Scotland would use post-separation/independence, should that eventuate. Salmond was asked what his back-up plan is should a 'currency union' with rUK not be agreed, as the UK government has repeatedly said this would not happen. Basically he said it would happen, because it would be in the interests both of Scotland and rUK; no evidence was offered, although eventually after much to and fro he did slip in that the UK Treasury "gained £40 billion from being able to include oil revenues, which it would not be able to do without a currency union" and that the current refusal to contemplate currency union by the UK government (and the Labour opposition, too) was mere bluff and bluster that would change quickly in the event of a 'yes' vote. My remarks - either you believe this or you don't as little real substance was offered to support his contention. This was really what both Darling and sceptics/opponents in the audience quizzed Salmond about most exhaustively. Salmond and his advisers really do need to develop a more credible position on this important topic.

As for Darling, his major stumbling block was when he was asked repeatedly by Salmond whether "you agree with David Cameron that an independent Scotland could flourish" to which he refused to give any clear response. The basic difficulty for Darling is that as a staunch Labour supporter he seemed incapable of putting aside his dislike of all things Conservative in a seeming determination not be be heard saying anything that might be taken to be support for a view expressed by the Prime Minister and leader of a political party he opposes viscerally, even at the expense of not achieving his aim of keeping Scotland part of the UK. In other words, the 'Better Together' campaign's main flaw is that its principal components (Labour, Conservative, LibDems) basically loathe each other and seem unable to put this loathing to one side in order to advance their joint desire to maintain Scotland within the UK. Darling and his Labour advisers and 'Better Together' partners really do need to develop a more credible position to enable them to answer Salmond's jibe (for that's all it was) with conviction - that of course Scotland could flourish as a separate country, but that they simply want to remain British. In other words, that the separation/independence debate should not solely be about economic and fiscal matters, but about emotion, too.

Apart from these two topics, which showed up glaringly the defects of both sides of this debate, there was nothing much more said that was not trivial or petty. Some of the audience participation on both sides was reasonably sensible, without in any way being anything other than naked propaganda for their chosen standpoints. The stand-out silly, unpleasant comment/question came from an independence supporter though. There is a thread (actually a dirty-great ship's traditional jute rope!) running through much separatist/independence rhetoric and that is that anyone who is not a supporter of their position is not a true Scot and is somehow a traitor. The stand-out comment which illustrated this attitude perfectly was from a lady who asked Darling in an aggressive and argumentative manner if he had an address in Scotland, seemingly expecting him to say no. Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have absolutely no love for Labour, but have always thought that Darling is, for a Labour person, a reasonably decent and honest man and that he is so self-evidently Scottish that I don't think any rational person could seriously have posed the question that lady did, unless blinded by nationalist rhetoric; it is perfectly easy to establish that he has a home in Edinburgh and is of course the MP for a constituency in that city.

That's really all that needs to be said about last night's programme I think; I don't care for Bernard Ponsonby's presenting style, but he did a competent enough job in all fairness.

The general verdict of most commentators is I think that Darling won 'on points':
- Herald;
- Scottish Daily Record;
- Daily Telegraph;
- Guardian.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Obama: "We tortured some folks"

A pretty remarkable statement for any US President to make, even if it is long overdue and hedged about with many qualifications and "justifications":


A fuller version of his statement is on C-Span:


Although President Obama cautioned against being "too sanctimonious" he also stated that the US had "crossed a line" in some of the techniques - for example in 2009 soon after he took office he referred to some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" favoured by the CIA (amongst them "waterboarding") by commenting "whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake". His latest comments on these techniques included the statement that "any fair-minded person would believe were torture".

Basically, in advance of the publication of a US Sentate report which is expected to criticise the CIA for its use of brutal abuse of terrorist suspects in its custody and moreover that such methods did not result in any life-saving intelligence. It seems also that CIA personnel have also been involved in spying on Congressional staff preparing the Senate report, something which CIA Director Brennan has already apologised for

Basically, the current US administration is now accepting that its predecessor used torture, something it has studiously avoided doing until now, for fear of the legal ramifications. Although I do not wish to criticise President Obama too heavily, for it is after all his administration that has (at long last!) acknowledged publicly what every objective observer around the world, including some in the US itself, has known or very strongly suspected for years. Nevertheless, President Obama's attempt to jutify or 'place in context' US actions do not really wash with me. The President has stated, for example:
- "It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.";
- "It is important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent.";
- "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened.".

My reaction to these comments and statements is, to put it brutally frankly: STUFF AND NONSENSE! Torture is wrong. Period. No ifs or buts. No attempts at 'placing in context' are acceptable or justifiable!

Nevertheless, his remarks on Friday are very welcome, as they seem to indicate that the US as a nation is at last finding its way back to reality, rather than trying to rely on making up rules which flouted its international legal obligations:
- "When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques – techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture – we crossed a line.";
- "That needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.".

One suspects though that whilst the US no longer uses torture, at least since the current administration came to office, it is not part of President Obama's thinking for the US to atone for its earlier crimes under the Bush 43 administration. Will we see those responsible for authorising the use of torture by the US arraigned before the International Criminal Court in the Hague? I doubt it very much, unfortunately, but in an ideal world I would expect the criminals responsible to be held to account (principally President George W Bush, Vice-President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld plus no doubt some others slightly lower on the totem pole of power in the US at the time - the then current Director of Central Intelligence or later National Intelligence, for example, for running the agency which carried out or procured the carrying out of the torture); the verdict of history on this criminal period in US governance is I strongly suspect not in much doubt, whether the criminals responsible are made to pay for their crimes during their lifetimes or not.

To summarise my views about this whole lamentable affair, there is no justification whatsoever, under any circumstances, for torture under the relevant UN Convention on the matter (CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - you can read it here), although the US when signing the convention inserted a large number of qualifications - see here.

I have written about torture a number of times in the past, so won't repeat all I wrote here, but links to some of the articles most relevant to the latest US developments are linked below:
- Cheney tries to bury Vice-Presidential records (21 September 2008)
- "The Moral Maze" and "Torture" (23 July 2008);
- The truth about 'waterboarding' - it is torture (2 July 2008);
- The US under G W Bush and 'torture' (24 July 2007);
- Torture - is it ever justified? (20 March 2005).
(There are many later and earlier posts - simply put "Torture" into the search box at the top.)

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Flying of St Andrew Saltire at Nairn cricket pitch

(Please see UPDATES at end)

I have earlier this evening written a message to the Highland Council (whose website is here) on the above-mentioned subject. I repeat the text below:

QUOTE
I have noticed for the past few years that a St Andrew Saltire flag has been flown permanently from a flagpole at the southern side of Nairn cricket pitch. By my recollection this practice started [only] a few years ago, during the period an SNP councillor was briefly Provost of Nairn, until “ousted” from this role by "Independent" colleagues; my home overlooks this venue, so I have been observing it closely for many years. Again by my recollection, prior to this time, no flag was flown over the cricket pitch except during the weeks immediately prior to the Nairn Highland Games (held during mid-Agusut), when it was a Union Flag. Please clarify why this policy has changed in very recent years?

In the run up to the referendum on Scottish "independence"/separation from the rest of the UK, to be held on 18th September 2014, I am sure that Highland Council would wish to appear strictly non-partisan in this important decision affecting all our futures. Or am I wrong? Is Highland Council strictly non-Partisan?

Or is it some other body that has authorised this change of flag-flying practice at Nairn cricket pitch in very recent years? Who might that be? I think I and some other Nairn residents would be interested to know.

(Note: as a proud Scot, I like to see our St Andrew Saltire flying from time to time and if year-round raising of this flag had been the normal practice at Nairn cricket pitch over the past several decades I probably would not have even remarked on it, but the fact is that its year-round flying is a very recent change.)

I am not even going to pretend I am neutral on this topic; I want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK for short), but probably even now would not raise a query had the new practice of flying a St Andrew Saltire year-round been restricted only to the immediate weeks around the Nairn Highland Games. But it is obvious that this recent change of practice represents something different; why is our national flag the Union flag not also being flown?

I am posting this message simultaneously in my personal weblog:
http://billcameron.blogspot.com/ (i.e. this blog)
UNQUOTE

I shall be interested to observe what response I may receive, if any; naturally I will report on this here.

UPDATE (Wednesday 30JUL14 14.30 BST) I just had an email acknowledgement of my query, from Highland Council, allocating a case reference number and advising "We aim to deal with this case within 10 working days". Developments awaited.

2nd UPDATE (Monday 18AUG14 12.30 BST) As I have not heard further from Highland Council within the 10 days they mentioned in their acknowledgement to me, I have today emailed them asking them to expedite their response.