Saturday 28 February 2015


I’ve been struck during the debate on Scottish independence by the attitude of nationalists to the issues surrounding defence. For reasons that have always been obscure to me independence supporters are almost universally opposed to military action, and especially to nuclear weapons. Strangely, however, they are in favour both of NATO membership and maintaining a strong Scottish military. The peculiarity of this position can be illustrated in the following way.

There are really only two logically defensible positions with regard to the military. They could be described as the isolationist and the interventionist positions. It would be perfectly reasonable for us to make a declaration that we will never attack unless attacked ourselves. Britain is an island, the last time we were invaded was 1688.

We could have sat out both World Wars. There was no direct threat from Germany towards Britain at the beginning of either World War. Quite the reverse, Germany was desperate not to fight Britain. A threat may, of course, have developed, and Britain’s interests either in Europe or elsewhere may have been threatened, but if Britain had remained neutral, it is no more likely that we would have been invaded than Spain, which remained neutral in both World Wars.

At no point during the wars in Korea, Malaya, Falklands, Iraq or Afghanistan or any other military action since 1945 has there ever been any threat of invasion to our island, though, of course, we have been threatened in other ways and there have been threats to our national interest.

The UK could logically revert to the position of ‘splendid isolation’. If we did so, we could cut our military spending to the extent that it was enough only to defend our island. We could in this way spend a similar amount of GDP on defence as Denmark, or even Iceland, which practically speaking has no military at all. Afterwards, we could say to the world: if you leave us alone, we will never again set foot on your soil. But this position of isolation and military cuts would, of course, be very vulnerable to a bullying foreign power unless we retained nuclear weapons. With the credible threat of retaliation we could point out to such a power, we may no longer be able to defend our interests with an army or a navy, but we still have nuclear submarines that can sail within range of your capital. Far then from nuclear weapons being costly, they are really all the military you need if you take an isolationist approach. This position it strikes me is logically defensible. Let’s look at the alternative interventionist approach.

Britain intervened in 1914 and 1939. We fought because someone else was attacked. It’s important to remember, however, that although we fought to defend someone else, we were also fighting to defend our own national interest, which would have been damaged by German dominance of Europe. Since World War II, we have continued to intervene internationally in order to defend the aims and interests of the West. We fought communists in order to defend democracy and free markets. We have tried to act as the world’s policeman removing tyrants when we decide that we don’t like them or when we think it’s possible to get rid of them. The problem in recent times however, is that we keep losing.

Look at the pattern of modern warfare. The USA is by far the strongest army in the world, so much so that in a traditional army to army conflict no-one else can even compete. But it makes no difference. US armed forces have had absolutely no answer to insurgency since Vietnam. Wars in Iraq were won twice decisively on the battlefield, but lost afterwards. Wars in Afghanistan were lost first by the Soviets, and a few years from now it will be clear that we too have fought there and lost. Our intervention in Libya has left a country in a worse state than it was before. Our intervention in Iraq together with our encouragement of revolution in “The Arab Spring” has left the whole region incomparably worse than it was before.

Is this an argument not to intervene? Perhaps. It would be fine if we could just live in ‘splendid isolation’ and ignore the goings on in the Middle East. Let them live as they please so long as they don’t threaten us. Does that work however? What if Turkey were attacked? We have our NATO obligation to defend a fellow member. What if terrorism spreads ever further, becomes stronger, so that at some point it comes here as an everyday threat that must be faced every day? The problem is that we are likely at some point in the future to have to fight against insurgency again, but whenever we do so, we lose.

The difficulty is that  reverting to ‘splendid isolation’ is only really effective against nation states. Who do you retaliate against if attacked by insurgents? What do we do if they see our commitment not to fight anyone unless attacked first as weakness to be exploited? What if our plea to be left alone in our ‘splendid isolation’ falls on deaf ears? Pacifism only works against a reasonable opponent. Stalin would have laughed at Ghandi and then crushed him.

So let’s assume at some point in the future we have to fight against insurgency. How do we do it without losing?

Was there insurgency in World War II? Yes. Why didn’t it win? Think about the Red Army on its journey from the gates of Moscow to Berlin. What would have happened to a German town that had been captured, but decided to continue fighting through insurgency?

We have forgotten the lesson of history that was taught to us by General Sherman when he said “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”. It is indeed a horrible thought, but the alternative is worse. Sherman’s point is that we must make war so terrible that those who are fighting against us want to give up. He took his army from Atlanta to the sea and destroyed more or less everything in his path over an area fifty miles wide. By doing so he shortened the war and thereby saved lives.

In the Second World War it was the fear felt by Germans and Japanese that made them cease fighting. We conquered their countries and then ruled them for years. Imagine if we’d allowed insurgency to continue in those countries. Imagine how many lives it would have cost in the end if we’d left them as failed states. Instead we taught them democracy at the point of a gun.

There is another lesson we have forgotten since the Second World War and which is likewise the reason that we keep losing. Think about the difference between how we fought in the world wars and how we fight now. News used to be tightly controlled and when we reported a story we did not help the enemy. Imagine if the BBC had made interviews with the residents of Hamburg after the fire storm or if the parents of every British soldier who died were interviewed. Imagine if during the Second World War the morality of each battle and each tactic was questioned by commentators. If we had fought World War 2 like we fight modern wars, we would have lost.

Casualties are tragic for each family who loses a loved one. But we have lost the distinction between heavy casualties and light casualties. In thirteen years we lost 453 soldiers in Afghanistan, while on one day in July 1916 we lost 19,240. Each life is equally tragically lost, but we need a little perspective. If you are not willing to lose 35 soldiers a year, you shouldn’t be fighting anywhere.

There was a moment during the battle of Gettysburg where it looked as if the Confederates would pierce the Union line. Union General Hancock needed ten minutes to bring up reinforcements so he sent in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment against a force five times as large. The Minnesotans were destroyed as fighting force suffering 82% casualties, but their sacrifice may well have saved the Union. No general would be so reckless with troops today. It is for this reason that we continue to lose. We have lost the sense of seriousness with which armies and generals fought in the past. We think war can be fought without loss on our side. It is as if we wish to play with tin soldiers. This is fundamentally decadent. It is our weakness. It’s why for all our technology our enemies laugh at us.

Insurgents are winning because they know they have a simple task. Kill enough of our soldiers and we’ll give up. We’ll parade them in flag draped coffins which simply helps our enemy whose only goal is to repeat this spectacle as often as possible. In Vietnam they had to kill over 50,000 Americans before the US decided it wasn’t worth it. It only took the deaths of 18 soldiers to drive the United States out of Somalia. At the moment we don't dare fight anywhere. 

Insurgents know that their task is not to defeat our armies in the field, but to defeat us at home. They are allowed to do anything when they fight us, but if one of our bombs kills civilians, if one of our soldiers in the heat of battle does something he shouldn’t, there will be hell to pay in our media. They fight with no holds barred, we fight with one hand tied behind our back. It is simply not serious. If we had fought this way in the Second World War, we would have lost. We must accept that bad things happen in war. I would not fight if I knew that one mistake puts me in jail, while my opponent can do what he pleases. If I’m captured, I’m liable to get my head chopped off, but if he’s captured, he’ll discover all his human rights even if he’s not wearing a uniform. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers lost their tempers on the battlefield as soldiers have done throughout history, but they knew that they wouldn’t go to jail unless they did something grotesque.

In fighting insurgency, we must fight as we did during the Second World War. Let’s have a tightly controlled media and news blackout if necessary. Above all, let’s do everything to defeat and conquer the enemy, and do nothing that helps the enemy fight against us. If we had fought this way in Iraq, with our firepower, we could have won quickly. Iraq could now be a democratic prosperous state if we’d fought like we did against Germany in 1945. We would have saved thousands of lives, too simply by making the population realise that insurgency isn’t worth it. We should fight no more wars until and unless we decide to be serious about it. Fight to win and do everything that’s necessary or don’t fight at all. In that case let us live in ‘splendid isolation’, disband the armed forces, but sorry, Nats, we’ll keep our nuclear weapons as the cheapest form of security. Either fight or don’t fight, but above all, give up this modern way of fighting. Any way of fighting war which inevitably leads to defeat is simply folly.

In Scotland the SNP would like to have ‘splendid isolation’ but without the one thing that might deter a serious enemy from attacking us, nuclear weapons. They would like us to have all the historic regiments of Scotland, but for these regiments to do nothing but remain safely within Scotland’s borders. But these cap badges look rather expensive if there is no circumstance in which you would actually use these regiments. For that reason having no armed forces, but keeping nuclear weapons gives us by far the most deterrence for each pound spent. After all no-one is planning to invade North Korea no matter what they say or do. The SNP’s defence policy amounts to soldiers wearing their precious cap badges painting coal white. It only makes sense to pay for armed forces if you can imagine a circumstance in which they might fight and given that we’ve not been invaded since 1688, defending this island might involve a rather long futile wait. If we want to have regiments, we must accept that their purpose is to be involved in battles. But there is absolutely no point paying for soldiers to fight unless we intend for them to win. Let’s fight no more wars unless we fight them in such a way that our troops can come home victorious. Let’s fight no more wars which we are destined to lose because we’ve forgotten how to win. Better anything than that, better by far to disband all those regiments who no longer can fight as their grandfathers did.

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon (book, Kindle), An Indyref Romance (book, Kindle) and Complete Works (book, Kindle) on Amazon. I appreciate your support.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Lily of St. Leonards, or, The complete works of Effie Deans

Someone suggested recently that it might be an idea if I gathered together all of my articles and published them in book form. I wondered at the time whether there was much point given that they are all freely available online. But on reflection I realised that a website is not easy to navigate when it becomes as large as mine. Anyway, I was intrigued by just how many pages I had written and just how many words. So I set about gathering everything together. What I present here is very lightly edited. When I began writing, I had a tiny readership and so I dashed off an article and simply published it without further thought. I spell poorly and remain largely indifferent to punctuation. Writing is simply a way of coming up with new ideas. As long as the idea is expressed clearly, then I could care less if a comma is missing or if it should rather be a semi colon.

This book has over hundred articles, is over 500 pages long and contains over 130,000 words. That’s a lot. It’s considerably longer than my dissertation. But then my blog has been read by considerably more people than all my academic work combined. What started out as a tiny band of readers who I met on twitter has built until now I have more readers than I ever expected.

Writing for me has always been first and foremost about being read. I like to share ideas. But it’s not only about that. It’s about developing a skill which every writer hopes will turn into something more. It’s about recognition and being valued. Some people train to be doctors, others lawyers. All of us when we work, expect some reward. My skill is writing. It’s really the only skill I have and I hope to develop it. It was for this reason that in the middle of the independence campaign I took a long break from blogging. I did some academic work and I worked on some fiction. When I stopped blogging, I did not know if I would start up again. I had lost the motivation to continue and had run out of ideas. I began also to think that the subject was not worth studying. Why devote so much time to such a paltry topic as Scottish nationalism?

Now I publish my complete works. But who is to say if they really are complete. There may be a second edition some time from now with many more articles. In the end, it is up to you. No publisher would publish a second edition if the first did not do well.

What I do is not free. It costs me a huge amount of time and effort. I wake up early in the morning on a Saturday and write. Sometimes I have no thought as to what new idea I can come up with that week, and then each week I wait to see how the idea will be understood. I’m not sure there is any more to write about this topic. This collection of articles contains every argument I can think of which might refute Scottish nationalism. Yet I also know that the fight must continue, for they are far from beaten.

I may well be back next week or the week after or in a few months. I’m drawn to the blog like a moth to a flame and write even when I ought not and when really I’m too tired and just need a break. I would be content with very little. If one out of every one hundred of my readers thought it was worth the price of a cup of coffee to see what one of my books was like, I would be absolutely delighted. People whose judgement I respect assure me that my work is worth reading. I would not make it available if it were not. If a newspaper offered to republish one of my articles I would be very proud and very grateful. I hope it is not too much to ask that there should be a little quid pro quo.

There’s a song I like very much about exile and parting

 ………………….my sad tears are falling,
To think that from Erin and thee I must part,
It may be for years, and it may be forever?
Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?
It may be for years, and it may be forever;
Then why art thou silent, Kathleen, Mavourneen?

I am a long way from home and I don’t know when I’ll be coming back again. Scotland seems very far away, because it is far away. We have our own problems here in Russia and my energies must mainly be devoted to doing what I can here.

The foundation of everything I do is Christian existentialism and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. He wrote a book called Either/Or.  In the end, everything comes down to a choice. And for that reason I’ve always been quite strict.  Either this book is the end, or it continues.  It’s a choice, but it’s not only my choice.

So it may be next week, or it may be forever. 

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon (book, Kindle), An Indyref Romance (book, Kindle) and Complete Works (book, Kindle) on Amazon. I appreciate your support.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Independence is becoming ever less likely

The SNP’s defeat in September has had a startling effect on Scottish politics. Huge numbers of people appear to have switched allegiance from the party they supported for years Labour. This is liable to greatly influence UK politics for some time. It makes it much harder for Labour to win a General Election. It potentially gives the SNP influence over UK matters that it has never had before. It enables the argument to continue that Scotland votes one way while England votes another. It makes Scottish politics tend to resemble Northern Irish politics with the major party in Scotland, just like in Northern Ireland, only standing there. If only the No parties joined together to form a common opposition to the SNP we could all vote according to our respective tribes just as if we were in Belfast. But does any of this bring independence any closer? The answer to this question has to be no. Independence is less likely than it was a year ago, indeed it is much less likely.

Over the medium term there are only really two interesting political questions. The first is how to solve the problem of living beyond our means, make our debt levels sustainable and continue to obtain a degree of economic growth. The major UK parties have reached a consensus on this. The programme of austerity that the Lib Cons in the end followed resembled very closely the programme set out by Labour. They followed plan B. If Labour get in next time they too will follow plan B. Each party will seek gradually to reduce the deficit. There will be differences in emphasis and differences in supposed timetable, but the market will determine the progress.  The rest is noise. The main political issue then is one of competence. Who is most competent to run the economy? Well in this your prejudice is as good as mine. The SNP, of course, are not part of this consensus. Their fundamental goal is to break up the UK. Naturally enough their economics would make the UK broke. After all it’s the UK they are set on destroying. But in fact even if they did get into a coalition, the SNP’s policy of spending ever more money we don’t have could not last long. There is a clear majority among UK parties for gradual deficit reduction and the SNP cannot change this. Nor can they change the fact that the bond market ultimately controls the actions of a chancellor. So assuming we don’t go down the self-destruct route,  à la Grecque, austerity will continue no matter how many nationalists are elected in Scotland.

The other interesting issue is Britain’s relationship to the EU.  If the Conservatives are elected there is likely at some point to be a referendum on EU membership.  This issue has to be faced anyway whether there is or is not a referendum as Britain’s relationship with the EU is changing whether we like it or not. In fact the difference between being in and being out is not that different. Even if Britain voted to leave, it’s hardly likely that we would cease to have some sort of trade agreement with the EU and we would still therefore be liable to adhere to some of the EU’s rules. Alternatively even if we choose to stay in the EU, we are going to be part of a different club from those countries who chose to enter monetary union with each other. If they go further down that path of integration and union we are going to find ourselves on the outside looking in whichever way we might vote in an EU referendum. The difference between voting to leave and voting to stay is a matter of degree. However, voting to leave would have major consequences for Scotland.

The SNP think their best chance of obtaining independence is for England to vote to leave the EU while Scotland votes to stay. With a Scottish parliament packed with nationalists they hope to engineer this into a divorce. It’s worth looking in some detail however at this scenario. Firstly, it is simply false that in a nationwide referendum, parts of the UK can have a veto.  When we voted on whether to remain in the EU in 1975 no-one seriously thought that Scotland could veto our choice. Logically if Scotland could veto the UK leaving the EU in 2017, then the Borders or Aberdeenshire should be able to veto Scotland leaving the UK. So if the whole UK votes to leave, the whole UK will leave. But what if an SNP majority in the Scottish parliament attempted to organise a second independence referendum? I have no idea if this would succeed. The UK Government of the time could block it in the same way that Spain has blocked Catalonia. But it is possible that the UK would permit such a second referendum, for the simple reason that the SNP would self-evidently lose it. It’s worth looking at why this is so.

If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014, there would have been no chance whatsoever of the UK having a referendum on the EU in 2017. The reason for this is that breaking up the 300 year old Union would haven been so complex that it would have had to have been completed prior to any divorce negotiations with the EU. But the same applies in reverse. It would be so complex for any Government to negotiate a withdrawal from the EU that there simply would not be the time or the energy to negotiate Scotland’s withdrawal from the UK. Trying to have two divorces at once would be a recipe for chaos. It’s rather hard to get a rational electorate to vote for chaos.

The whole long term “independence in Europe” strategy of the SNP is not really about Europe at all. Few Scots live and work in the EU and those that do would most likely be able to do so whether the UK were in the EU or not. Huge numbers of Scots however live and work in other parts of the UK. The SNP’s strategy was always about the UK. The key issue for SNP strategists has always been how to secure the long terms rights of Scots to live and work in the UK if Scotland became independent. Without that you could never persuade rational Scots to vote for independence.  The answer that the SNP came up with was the EU. But here’s where things become tricky for the nationalists, for if the UK leaves the EU, a German would prima facie have no more right to live and work in the UK than an American or a Japanese person. Such rights if they existed would depend on bilateral agreement and negotiation. The same at least in the long term would apply to an independent Scotland. The EU was the guarantor that everything would stay more or less the same after independence. But if the UK left the EU, it would be very hard to argue that everything would stay more or less the same in Scotland. All would be changed, changed utterly.

If Scotland were in the EU, while the UK was not, the border between Berwick and Gretna would be the border between the EU and the non EU. It would become the equivalent of the border between Belarus and Poland. It’s hard to see how the EU could not require such a border to be manned.

If Scotland were in the EU while the UK was not, it is hard to imagine that there could be a currency union between them. A currency union between separate nation states is hard enough, but one between those who are in different trading blocs is harder still to contemplate. Moreover, how could Scotland remain part of the UK single market if we chose to be in a different trading bloc? In general it makes little sense for Scotland to choose to leave a trading bloc (the UK) with which we do upwards of 70% of our trade in order to remain in a different trading block (the EU) with which we have comparatively little trade. Much of the Scottish economy, especially in financial services depends on being in a close economic relationship with the UK. But this close relationship would simply not be possible if Scotland were in the EU while the UK was not. The paths of our economies would diverge. There might be tariffs between non EU UK and EU Scotland. It is obvious that the economic harmony, which exists between Scotland and the other parts of the UK, would be hugely damaged if we chose the EU route rather than then UK route. Our prosperity would therefore be damaged. It is going to very hard to persuade a rational electorate to vote for this assuming it remains rational.

The SNP are not going to be able to win a referendum in 2017, because it is going to be still harder for them to make a rational case for it than it was in 2014. Imagine if a year ago the oil price had suddenly fallen as it has in the past few months. Would it have made a vote for independence more or less likely? The fact is that at present the only parts of the UK that are making a profit are parts of the south of England and London. Tax raised in London especially is transferred around our country, helping people everywhere including Scotland. This is the major benefit of being part of a single nation state. We help each other out. While Scotland in the 1970s contributed more than we took out, at the moment we contribute less. These things go in cycles. This is how we maintain a currency union. It is the fact that we are also a transfer union which maintains the stability of our economy. We have a transfer union because we are a single nation state.  Leaving this transfer union would obviously make Scotland poorer, for at the moment we are taking out more than we put in.  But we would be poorer in another sense too, not merely because we would have less money. The most important loss would be the special relationship which exists in the UK which enables us to transfer money freely between the various parts according to need. This special relationship is the key to successful monetary union. It exists in every nation state, but never between nation states. It is indeed what defines a nation state. Think of why there is a dispute in the Eurozone at the moment. Greece is living beyond its means. It has debts that it cannot pay. What Greece wants is for other members of the Eurozone to transfer money to it. If the Eurozone were a single nation state this wouldn’t be a problem. It would be automatic. But fundamentally Germans are unwilling to transfer money to Greece, because Greeks are not Germans. It is for this reason above all that they should never have decided to share a currency, for without transfers it is doomed to fail. On the other hand we transfer money between the various parts of the UK because we are all British. We are one people or else we would be foreigners to each other. If that were the case there would never have developed the monetary union, the shared pound that underpins our prosperity. Currency union in the end requires a common people united by history. It is this that we have that the Eurozone lacks. 

Scotland’s choice then in a 2017 referendum would be between remaining in a Union where we are treated as family (the UK), hardly something to be given up lightly, and leaving in order to stay in a Union (EU) where we would be treated as foreigners. We could in the end expect no more from the Germans than can the Greeks.

Scottish politics has become irrational. Huge numbers of people were caught up in the emotion of the referendum and the legacy of that continues. But the SNP know that any second referendum would mean that their case would once more be examined in close detail. They must know in their hearts that they simply cannot win that argument rationally and if they lost it a second time it would be game over for their dream. They could try to win using irrationality and emotion, but Scotland has shown already that we have too much sense in the end to be taken in. We rejected the SNP in September 2014 when they had a better argument than now. We would reject them again if they asked us again with a worse argument. So my prediction is this. No matter how many SNP MPs are elected, no matter whether the UK votes to leave the EU or not, there will be no second referendum any time soon. The reason for this is simple. The SNP would lose it.

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon (book, Kindle) and An Indyref Romance (book, Kindle) on Amazon. I appreciate your support.

Saturday 14 February 2015

An Indyref romance

The whole independence campaign, especially the last couple of weeks, was a shattering experience for me. There was absolutely nothing positive about the prospect of seeing my country break up, not least because I’d already been through that once before and knew first-hand about the traumas involved. I made tentative plans to leave a job I cannot afford to lose and a home, a landscape, that I love.  I felt joy at the result and relief, but my happiness was always edged with sadness at the damage done. That’s one reason I kept writing.

I wrote a number of blogs immediately after the result which tried to put the events into perspective. But I knew that I was missing something and that the format of a three page article was never going to express adequately what I wanted to say.  I wanted to capture the emotions, wanted a way to preserve what I’d gone through in the previous few months.

I began jotting down ideas in my notebook on the bus to work, started writing them up in the evenings and when I thought I had the beginnings of something, took some time off work to finish it. I always write very quickly or not at all. I either have a sense of "now I can go on" or I don’t. I had decided to write another novel. Everything followed from an initial idea. What if two young people from opposite sides of the debate fell in love?

A love story for me is the key plot device. There are also plots about war, espionage or other forms of conflict, but love is the key plot for everyday life. In each Walter Scott novel it is love that drives the story, even if it is incidental to what he is trying to say about some historical event or other. It is love that makes us turn the page even if later we forget who the lovers were and remember only the “minor” characters. I thought this romantic way of telling my story would also be a way for me to explore both sides of the issue, hopefully in a reasonably fair way, for I wanted sympathetic characters. In the end, in our country there are people we disagree with, but we are all human all too human and neither of my lovers are villains. I put myself in the novel, too as a sort of “minor” character and plot device. Anyone interested will find out lots about me, though it is worth remembering that the whole thing is made up even if it is grounded in my experience. It is the mingling of truth and fiction that enables us to say something in fiction that we cannot say in a blog. It was this that I had been looking for.

In the end, although my short novel is about last year it is also not about last year. My cover is a painting "Saint Cecilia and an Angel" by Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco. I use it partly because I like it very much, but mainly because my book is about music and the attempt to find harmony when there appears to be only dissonance. Coming to understand a piece of music is like learning a new language. Lovers also need to find a new language especially when they disagree. They need to see through their dissonance in order to find their deeper harmony, or else they need to separate. So my book is partly about music. It also touches on influences such as Chrétien de Troyes, and Perceval’s search for what he has lost through his folly. This is the position that we are all sometimes left in. We have to look for what is gone when we do not even have a starting point for our search.

My characters are interested in some of the things that interest me. How could it be otherwise? They read what I have read, watch films that I have seen. There is something about Russia and Russian, even little bits about Dostoevsky. My characters differ not only with respect to politics, but also in their whole attitude to life, love morality and faith. The conflict in the story and the plot therefore is not merely about Scottish independence, but about whether it is possible to find harmony when people differ fundamentally. So while there is a romantic element to the story which drives the plot, I would hardly describe the book as some form of “chick lit.” People who have never read me sometimes make cracks about Mills and Boon, but my novels are written in a similar style to my blogs and for good or ill are what you would expect from someone who has been writing “Lily of St Leonards”.

 I’m now moving on from blogging to writing longer works. It will need practice. Anyone who has a glance at my blog index will find that my early blogs were not that good. The crucial thing is that I received enough encouragement to continue. Likewise I hope to write better novels. I’d like to write something about cults in Russia, both the cult of the Party and the cults that followed the collapse of everything everyone knew. I have already touched on this, but it’s an important story also for Scotland. I’d like to write something about the composer Messiaen and how he wrote his Quartet for the End of Time in a prison camp. I am uninterested in biography, but I am interested in using biography as a point of departure to explore what cannot be said, but which can sometimes be shown. I believe everything that is really vital falls into this category.

I’m going to use my blog now mainly to promote my other writing. If there is a pro-UK Scottish blogger who has written more than me, I’m unaware of them. I have built up a sizable audience every week and while the nationalists have blogs with a more devoted and extensive following than mine, I hope “our” quality allows "us" to make up for the fact that “we” lack the horde of devotees.  

I hugely appreciate those people who have already bought my book Scarlet on the Horizon. Some of them have been kind enough to get in touch and tell me that they enjoyed it. This sort of encouragement and support I value greatly. Thank you.

It takes an enormous effort to write a blog nearly every week. I try always to be original as I see no point simply repeating what’s already in the papers. At times over the past few months I have found the process exhausting. It’s not always easy to justify the time spent. My husband nags about my wasting time. It is easy, moreover, to sometimes feel that there is no point. Does reason any longer have a place in Scottish politics? I do not speak the language of upwards of half the population and I have no way of knowing where to look in order to try to learn it. The sense of the damage done has only increased as the nationalist half of Scotland has continued to follow their pied piper. It has all been profoundly dispiriting as well as faintly ludicrous. I feel like I’m in a rowing boat that has been swamped and all I have is teaspoon with which to bail it out.

At the moment I’m in Russia doing some research. My university has been very kind in allowing me some leave, partly because my relations here are struggling and my husband felt duty bound to try to help. The cost of some medicines has increased 400 fold. Food is very expensive. People are having their wages cut or losing their jobs. There are no food banks in Russia, but nobody starves, they do what is necessary to earn what they can. Also we’ve been through worse, much worse. The state was never much good for anything anyway, so people help each other. Family rallies round, friends help, even strangers help. I have gained a new sense of perspective being here again. The problems in Scotland and the complaints made by Scottish nationalists appear trivial and selfish.

I am grateful for every tweet and to everyone who gives their support by reading one of my books. There follows the back cover blurb and the first  chapter of An indyref romance.

Back soon I hope,



In Aberdeen a few months before the Scottish independence referendum, Jenny just wants to get on with her studies. But she finds herself falling unexpectedly in love with Paul. This for the first time makes the debate real for her as she discovers that they have very different views about Scotland’s future and much else besides. They must discover a new way to dance together, learning a form of music which may yet allow them to find harmony in apparent dissonance. As they grow closer, the distance between their political views increases.  No longer able to avoid the debate Jenny secretly agrees to help her friend and tutor, Effie Deans, campaign for Britain.  Can her love for Paul survive their disagreement and can they forgive each other for being different?

Here is an inside account of what it was like during the campaign, but politics in the end becomes incidental to the story of a couple who must learn to share a new way of listening not only to the music they discover together,  but above all, to each other. Jenny’s journey will take her to Russia and, finally, back to the Aberdeenshire home of Effie Deans on the night of the referendum. Can Paul and Jenny find unity even in victory and defeat? Theirs is Scotland’s story.

Chapter 1

In early February 2014 two friends made their way to their favourite pub just of Union Street. They went there because it was the place most likely to serve what they called proper beer. Paul from the highlands had pretty much never tasted anything other than lager until he met Mark. But his Geordie friend had weaned him away from all things yellow by first buying him a bottle of “dog” known otherwise as Newcastle Brown Ale and moving on from there.  Paul still had the odd pint of lager when he was with other friends, but he also knew by then that however pleasant the taste of a pint of Heineken, it tasted much the same as a pint of Becks. There was nothing really to be interested in, while now as he looked at what was on offer this week at the Prince of Wales, he was delighted to see there was an ale he had never tasted before.
“I’m having one of those. Do you want one, too?” he said to his friend.
“Why not?”
It was about four on a Saturday afternoon and the pub was fairly full. It was their habit every now and again to have a couple there and then go for an Indian around five. Most restaurants were pretty much empty at that point, and you got faster service  and could hear yourself think. After that an early night, and they felt better the next day ready to study some more.  They were both in their final year at Aberdeen, Mark studying English, Paul studying French and politics. They’d both done averagely well up until now and so not that much depended on the next few months. There would be some exams, but not too many. Their result was already all but decided.
“You’re still determined to turn me into a foreigner, I suppose?” said Mark.
“You know fine I’m not,” said Paul.
“I know that you’d like to convince everyone of that.”
“We’re friends, good friends now, I think.”
“None better.”
“It’s not as if I’m anti-English then?”
“No, of course not.”
“I just think it’s the best chance for the left.”
“Most people are on the left where I come from, too. You know, we’re pretty much agreed on the politics. Just I want to see my country stick together and you want to see your country become independent.”
“But I’m British, too. I want to stay British, it’s just I want Scotland to decide everything, not some parliament where we’re outnumbered.”
“I doubt we’ll convince each other now,” said Mark. “But at least we don’t fall out about it. I’m not from Scotland and so in the end, it’s not my business. I’m not even sure I should vote.”
“Well, don’t expect me to give up trying to persuade you. It’s just you always seem to have a good argument. Where do you get them?”
“Some of them I think up for myself. I’m sure you do, too. But there’s a blog I discovered that I read. I rather like the style of it.”
“What’s it called?”
“Lily of St Leonards.”
“Effie Deans?
“That’s the one!”
“Do you think she’s real?”
“I know she is. She’s an academic here.”
“But her name is not listed. I’ve checked.”
“Wasn’t that a bit creepy of you?”
“Oh, someone online asked me, because I’m a student here.”
“She uses her Russian name officially. It’s some long monstrosity that you can’t even pronounce. But she still uses her maiden name in day to day business. It’s a heck of a lot easier for colleagues and students.”
“Have you met her?”
“I’ve seen her, but never really said anything. Jenny knows her though, and likes her a lot.”
They’d both known Jenny since they’d started at Aberdeen four years earlier. She was a tall, thin, blonde girl from Glasgow with a high-pitched, rather squeaky voice that they always compared to Minnie Mouse. Jenny was one of those girls who were rather shy, devout and who they both thought had never been kissed. She was average looking, pretty enough, but not someone you’d notice. She somehow seemed to lack the ability to attract. She lived in her own, rather splendid flat with Lorna and Susan who paid her, or rather her parents, some rent, though not the going rate. Mark had been with Susan for some years now. Paul had been chasing Lorna along with a lot of other men for over four years, and had got precisely nowhere.
“Have you decided to go the medic’s ball?” asked Mark.
“With whom?”
“I’d give up on Lorna if I were you.”
“I know. It’s been a pointless exercise for as long as I can remember.”
“You’re just another of her courtiers. She enjoys it very much indeed. But the enjoyment depends on sitting on her throne.”
“Has anyone made her descend from it?”
“Have you ever heard her mention someone from home?”
“A name crops up every now and again. Michael. Do you know he is?”
“I asked Susan if she knew. Michael is some chap ten years older than us. He’s not her boyfriend, but he’s the only one who is liable to become one. Lorna talks about him in a way she doesn’t talk about any other man. It’s like he’s on a throne and she’s the courtier. Same problem though. Just the other way round.”
“No much point asking Lorna then?”
“I don’t know if she’s going to the ball with anyone. Michael might take her, though I doubt it. He’s never even been here as far as I’m aware. But no, not much point. She might say ‘yes’, but she might well say ‘yes’ to half a dozen others. No not much point at all.”
“I’m not sure I can be bothered going at all then.”
“Why don’t you take Jenny?”
“Are you kidding?”
“You know her as well as I do. We’ve both spent enough evenings at her flat. She’s nice. She’s really nice.”
“Wouldn’t it be a bit like going to a ball with your sister?”
“Look, I’m here partly because of Susan. She asked me to talk to you. Jenny’s not a little girl. She has feelings. She likes you. She fancies you. She wants you to ask her. But she’ll never ask herself. You know she’s far too shy. How long is it since you’ve gone out with someone?”
“A couple of years, more really. I’ve been unlucky.”
“No, you’ve been chasing someone who doesn’t want you, while right beside her is someone who does. Besides, Jenny is a much better person than Lorna. I maybe know her better than you. She’s kind and gentle and capable of giving.”
“I’m not sure I could take the primness, the Christian Union nonsense.”
“You’d be taking her to a ball, not a church service.”
Paul thought of Jenny and of the dozens of occasions they’d all sat in the kitchen of her flat. He’d chatted to her loads of times, but he’d never been in her kitchen because of her and had almost never been alone with her for more than a few minutes. He tried to conjure her image into his mind and fleetingly was able to do so. He noticed an attractiveness that had not registered before. The fact that she wanted him was in itself attractive, indeed very attractive. Here was possibility while in the past couple of years had been only frustration and disappointment.
“Shall we visit them after the Indian? I wouldn’t want someone else to ask her before me?
“Why not ditch the Indian and go now?”
“I think, that wouldn’t be a bad idea”.
Half an hour later Paul, rather flippantly, said: “Jenny, you shall go to the ball.”
He saw her smile and exchange a glance with Susan. The glance seemed to say something like “Thanks.”
“Why don’t you two sit down and I’ll find something for you to eat?” said Jenny. “It’s so good of you to take me Paul, I’ve never been to a ball before.”
“Rather, it’s good of you to go with me after I asked you in that way. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure, we’ll have a great time together.

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon (book, Kindle) and An Indyref Romance (book, Kindle) on Amazon. I appreciate your support.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Things fall apart when the centre cannot hold

I’ve voted for each of the main UK political parties at one time or another. Often it has depended on where I lived. Sometimes I’ve voted tactically, sometimes not. I’ve tried to keep this blog and my tweets reasonably neutral with regard to UK party politics.  I genuinely hope that each of the Better Together parties does well in Scotland, for that is our best chance of defeating the Nationalists. However, I have already made it clear that I am supporting the Lib Dems in Gordon, as I think that Christine Jardine has the only hope of defeating Alex Salmond here.

I’ve never been a member of the Lib Dems. Over the years I’ve agreed with some of their ideas and disagreed with others.  I’ve neither been a supporter, nor have I particularly been an opponent. However, as opinion poll support for the Lib Dems has declined nationally over the past few years I find my opinion of them has steadily improved.  One of the main reasons why I’m supporting the Lib Dems in Gordon is that I think their record in Government deserves it.

It’s not always easy to remember where we were five years ago. We’d just had the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and many economic commentators were predicting huge economic difficulties for Britain. Markets were becoming very wobbly. Some commentators were predicting a sovereign debt crisis. We had an election and the result was indecisive. It was fairly clear however, that the mood of the country as a whole was that Labour and Gordon Brown had had their chance and that it was time for change. I have no idea what would have happened if the Lib Dems had formed a coalition with Labour. Would that have been a good result for the economy or the country as a whole? Who knows? But there isn’t much point anyway arguing about what might have been. The fact is the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservatives. Has it been successful?

It was obvious almost from the beginning that the markets preferred a Lib Dem/Conservative coalition even to the Conservatives ruling on their own. One of the reasons for this, is that senior Lib Dems immediately made it clear that they understood the extent of the economic crisis facing our country. Once it became apparent that the Lib Dems were intending to put country before party and rule in the national interest, supporting policies that they might otherwise have opposed, the coalition form of government became a source of strength rather than weakness.

It is in this context, above all, that voters today must understand the manifesto pledges that the Lib Dems made prior to the 2010 election.  No party that enters a coalition government can keep all of its manifesto promises. Each party has to compromise. But it’s also fair to say that prior to entering Government neither the Lib Dems nor the Conservatives were fully aware of the extent of the economic problems facing our country. Did any of us really realise that cupboard was quite as empty as it was? It was no doubt genuinely a surprise  for the incoming Chief Secretary to the Treasury to receive a note from his predecessor saying  ''I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.”

With the responsibility of Government the Lib Dems had to make hard choices. They had to do things they did not want to do. They could have ducked all of these tough decisions if they had simply decided to remain in opposition. But they saw that the country was in trouble economically and preferred to lend a hand. I’d always far prefer to have a party and a politician in Government who was willing to do what was right rather than what was easy. Wouldn’t you?

Much of the business of Government is dull. There have been some education reforms, some welfare reforms. Some of these have been popular, some less so. It will take time, perhaps decades before we fully see the results. Some progress, though less than hoped, has been made on the deficit. Consequently the national debt has increased. But the UK has the best rate of growth in the world among major economies and there is something of a job creation miracle going on. People from all over Europe are coming here precisely because the UK has the jobs which other countries do not. There is some way to go, but our economy is well on the way to recovery and if we keep on like this within a relatively short time we’ll have a surplus rather than a deficit. This didn’t happen accidentally. It happened in part because the Lib Dems made hard choices for the good of everyone.

For as long as I can remember, Lib Dems have sought to change the voting system. There was a referendum in 2011. Given the alternatives on offer the UK public decided to stick with the present system. To their immense credit the Lib Dems accepted the democratic wishes of the electorate. They didn’t create an enormous fuss. They accepted their disappointment and got on with the job of running the country. For this, and the mere fact that they've been working with the Conservatives the Lib Dems have seen their polling numbers crash.  Lib Dems might be forgiven for asking whether it was worth it.

If you’re a Lib Dem supporter, it looks rather as if Government has turned out to be a catastrophe. The party goes into the next election much weaker than the last. But if you’re an ordinary British citizen, you should be grateful that the Lib Dems joined the Government in 2010. The country is in an incomparably better shape today than it was then. This was not inevitable. We can see what poor Governments and poor political decisions have done to some of our colleagues in the EU. The Lib Dems have achieved more in the past five years than at any time since the days of David Lloyd George. They have made a major contribution to a helping the UK get back on its feet. Not only that, they played a significant part in defeating the greatest threat to the existence of the UK in centuries by helping us to achieve a No vote in the independence referendum. Lots of Lib Dem politicians have made crucial contributions to Government. It is frankly ludicrous that polls should suggest that someone of the calibre of Danny Alexander is in danger of losing his seat to an SNP member of the Highland Council. The UK has benefited from having people like Mr Alexander in Government. It has benefited from having the Lib Dems in power for the first time in decades.

Britain may well soon have another coalition government. The Lib Dems have shown that parties can work together for the good of all. Whichever of Labour or the Conservatives forms the largest party in the next parliament, I would far rather see the Lib Dems as their partners than any party on the extremes.  The last thing Britain needs is being held to ransom by parties with policies which would damage all of our prosperity. In Scotland there are a number of constituencies where only the Lib Dems can defeat the SNP. Those candidates if elected will contribute positively to the running of our country, rather than try to wreck it. Christine Jardine, Danny Alexander and others would be assets not only to the Lib Dems, but to the country as a whole.

It is my hope that No voters, including those who support other parties, will vote tactically for the Lib Dems. But if they should also look a little more closely at the Lib Dem record in Government, they will find positive reasons to vote for the party as well. The Lib Dems arrived in Government at one of the more difficult times in recent history. They will leave Government with our country in an improved condition. No party can do more.  It’s a record to be proud of. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.