February 15th, 2012

This piece appeared yesterday in the Scottish Review. Soon it will appear in Newsnet Scotland.

The extravagant headings, and footage, were not mine. Here is how I would have it.

I am 86. Thus I have lived in the United Kingdom for more than a quarter of its existence. My observations on its identity and mine may be of value.

     Even in the 1920s and 1930s I always knew I was a Scot. So sure was I of my identity that I never minded being called British or English. If called the latter I just thought they were wrong.

     During the war we were all called English. As I grew up I discovered that my petit bourgeois contemporaries thought that there was no Scotland. It had been absorbed into its greater neighbour. Looking back this is not surprising. The union gave us the chance to expand into the great free trade area that became the British empire. We seized that chance. Glasgow was the empire’s second city. We were the workshop of the world.

     Seventy years ago it seemed that the price we had paid for the wealth of empire was the loss of our identity as Scots. To be ignorant of who you are is profoundly disturbing. England suffers from it badly today. The England of the shires, of Puck of Pook’s Hill, has gone. England is now London.

     We have been luckier. We are still us. We blame the loss of our industries on successive English governments not on ourselves. We did nothing. We continued to vote unionist. The enterprise that built the great forges has been lacking. I can tell you where it went. It went to schools like Fettes and Loretto where the enterprise was whipped out of them and they were squeezed into the mould of English gentlemen. They live on in their great-grandfather’s
country estates here in Argyll. The enterprise has gone elsewhere.
     We lost our confidence when we lost our empire. Don’t worry. It’s coming back. Even Fred Goodwin, is a sign. Better to gamble and topple a great bank than to live in the suburban inanity of Bearsden. The 1878 failure of the City of Glasgow Bank led to the founding of the great law firm of McGrigor Donald and to the Industrial Exhibition of 1888. McGrigors, as it was laterally called, has now joined up with a great London firm. We Scots are true internationalists and there is no border to our abilities. Failure is the manure of success. The loss of empire followed by the loss of our industries has caused us Scots to look round. Even the great landlords are affronted to think their estates end at the salt seashore. The solum of the seabed to beyond the furthest horizon is still held by England. That is where the next great development will come. We have three quarters of the tidal power of Europe. Oil is pocket money compared to the tides.

      Even in a nation’s history 86 years is a long time. I remember the salient points of the change from British to Scottish. None of them was political. We never got the jail for the Stone. The people cheered us. There was public support for our ‘no numeral’ campaign when Elizabeth the ‘Second’ came to the throne. Scotland had had no ‘First’ Elizabeth. Our coronation souvenirs without the numeral were wildly popular. The newspapers backed us in their news columns but refused to take our paid advertisements. They were feart as they still are.

     Then one day I went into a pub and found a group gathered round a TV set cheering wildly. Someone had scored a goal against England. The affectionate anti-Englishness of the general public is far more proof of the independent vitality of the Scottish nation than any vote. There is more racial abuse towards us in the English papers than we would ever think of using towards England. It is a much loved foreign country but it is recognized as foreign.

     And now we are to have a referendum. Mr Cameron, the near-illiterate occupier of the post of Disraeli and Gladstone and Churchill, steals a word from Quebec and refers to it as a neverendum. Is there a better definition of democracy than a neverendum? He will face a neverendum at the end of his five years if not sooner. In the long history of Scotland our referendum’s only significance is that we feel unhappy and we want change. Whatever the result that feeling will remain.

     Recently I spoke on the same platform with a Tory and a Liberal. They said they would abide by the result of the referendum. I said I wouldn’t. I would always listen to any argument for the continuation of the union if one can be found. I have heard none except that change is bad. I asserted a principle. That Scotland is a nation. Nations should govern themselves. Can anything be clearer?

     We have different values, we and London. No clearer example can be found than in our belief that education is everyone’s right. ‘Til the rocks melt wi the sun’ said our first minister on the right to a free university education.

     I have lived through the last quarter of a union which brought great benefit to many countries including Scotland. I wish I was in my first year of university instead of being 86. Soon I will die. To die will be an awfully big adventure. But not as big an adventure as being young in our newly awakened Scotland.



February 12th, 2012


COMING SOON. An essay.                        ON IDENTITY


Meant to stop. Cannot. Another piece soon.


The right to hear

January 31st, 2012

What words of Tommy Sheridan did the Scottish government fear we might hear when they considered stopping his mouth?

We must guard our right to hear even as we proceed towards independence.

I ask the question of the Minister for Justice as a loyal member of the SNP.



I am delighted to see from one of my correspondents that it was the parole board who put on, and took off, this gagging order. The innocent family of one man found guilty have been put through far too much trouble and the government has done nothing to help. It made it easy to jump to the wrong conclusion.

God forbid that they should ever control the police but a few words of criticism of the nine police who terrified Mrs Sheridan and her three year old daughter would not have gone amiss.

Nevertheless I apologise to the government for my unjust criticism.


January 8th, 2012

What will Scotland get from investing its share of UK money in the billions required for the high speed link between London and Birmingham?

How many Scots travel regularly between London and Birmingham?


December 23rd, 2011

May Mrs Thatcher have a long life and a State Funeral just a little before our vote on independence.



December 20th, 2011

I am taking a day or two off to read these.

Perhaps Haggis and Chips and company can …………………..Oh! Well! It’s a season of goodwill.



Reply to Dougie.

Can’t manage it. A bit too long.

Anyway I want to get Ulysses in as well.


November 12th, 2011

After the First War money was short. The heroes who fought came from places that had never heard of the Somme. Alt na Beulluch  and the Somme have only water in common.Their women never knew where their husbands died. They were paid ten shillings for being a widow. Ten shillings is fifty pence.

Their children didn’t know why or where their fathers died either. Enough to know they were called and went and died. I saw their children. They scuffled on the sides of their feet. Their bones were fused from lack of milk. They had rickets. They starved.

Back to the withered poppy. Do you think every BBC broadcaster has paid for his poppy? Do you think that every politician who wears one has paid for those who served and died?

But it’s a charity, they say. It keeps Erskine. It looks after the permanently hurt.

This may have been true in days of poverty when Poppy Day was founded.

This year he Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland got a bonus of ten million pounds.

How much did the Royal Regiment of Scotland get for its wounded in the service of us all?


Westminster. Please don’t.

November 11th, 2011


On this day of Remembrance of OUR WAR dead I wear no Red poppy. War dead belong to all humanity.


I wear the tie of the RAFVR, the badge of aircrew. The dead in  Bomber Command Europe alone was 55,575. Their average age was 22. I was 19 when war finished. I was one of the waiting. I don’t suffer from ‘war guilt.’ I carry on. But I remember them. 


It is a long time since we two brother countries of Scotland and England had a bloody history. It must never happen again.


Shortly the Scottish Government is to hold a referendum. This is to measure what we Scots think of a rearrangement of our closest loyalties. It’s no big deal.


But a great many Scots think it is.


Now there is talk that Westminster will hold its own referendum.


About Us.


Please don’t.

To lose Scotland will be England’s grievous loss. Yet to stay or go is our business. The Atlantic Charter guaranteed the right of self determination for small nations. That is why I joined the RAFVR, as a schoolboy. (All pilots were volunteers.)


On a minor grievance I once called for Minutemen and Minute-women who would lie down on the street on a minute’s call. The minutemen in America shed our blood. We would never shed yours. We would just lie down.


Thousand upon thousand of us. The Minute People. Each unrecognisable except perhaps for a little badge in our lapel, as I wore a little badge to show I was one of the elite. I was RAFVR. Think of the great concourses of our two nations with all traffic stopped.


Us Scots. Lying on the streets. Your streets. Our streets.


Don’t do it.

Let us work out our own destiny.