Maybe better this was not published…Letter to Herald


In the past, members of far-left parties, like Andrew C. Sanders were prone to the fallacy of believing that there is an overall pattern to history which makes things happen inevitably. For instance, communists believed that capitalism would be replaced by ideal workers’ societies as sure as night follows day. We all know how that ended.

Now the same magical thinking is being transferred to the equally unjustifiable claims being made for Scottish independence. According to Mr Sanders and his fellow nationalists, a Yes vote is a guarantee that Fascist dictators and violent religious fanatics will cease to be a threat to their own populations and world peace, and that in Scotland food banks will cease to be necessary, bankers will forgo their bonuses, and Trident will vanish beneath the waves never to resurface.

To respond to the example used by Mr Sanders, unilateralism has never removed a single warhead from Britain, and the magical thinking of the Aldermaston marchers achieved nothing other than a nice feeling of superiority. The same applies to their successors at Greenham Common a generation later: that base was closed in 1993 due to the hard, realistic and ultimately successful process of multi-lateral disarmament.

The claims made for an independent Scotland are equally bogus: Scotland would remain under obligations to NATO, with less clout than is currrently the case, with the same applying to the EU. Crucially for poverty and employment, its monetary policy would be dictated by a rUK Traeasury, whether outwith or within a (highly unlikely) asymmetrical currency union.

The magical thinkers were fooled once by far-left ideologies, and risk repeating the same mistake if they believe in independence as a credible way forward to their ideal society. And even George W. Bush knew the saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”


Peter A. Russell

This was a response to:

PETER A Russell (Letters, April 24) feels that Scotland would give up its influence at home and abroad by becoming independent. Would this be the influence which has connected us with foreign wars; created a society which has led to the growth of food banks while bankers and others pocket obscene sums, as well as encouraging an ever-growing unelected chamber at Westminster, stuffed with Tories, Liberal Democrat and Labour peers? Mr Russell goes on to claim that only multi-disarmament can rid us of nuclear weapons. Considering that the Coalition Government, with Labour support, is poised to spend billions upgrading these weapons of mass destruction, this is a ludicrous claim to make – and I speak as one who marched to Aldermaston more than 50 years ago . I think I’ve waited long enough and look forward to the day we in Scotland join those ” less important countries” , as he puts it, when we can feel pride in place of shame.

Andrew C Sanders,

Letter in Herald 24th April 2014

Scotland should not give up its influence at home and abroad

KM Campbell (Letters, April 23) is correct to point out that there are no certainties regarding the future, whatever the outcome of the independence referendum.

 However, there is a massive difference between the ways in which the two sides of the argument see how such uncertainties can best be faced.

For the Nationalists, facing the future appears to be a matter of leaving the big decisions up to others, with the most glaring example being their models for use of the pound after independence. The preferred option is a currency union with the core rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) having complete control over peripheral Scotland’s monetary policy, and second best is use of sterling in the same way that Panama uses the dollar. Both of these options remove any Scottish input into the governance of its currency.

The same applies to international institutions and organisations such as Nato, the EU, the UN and the World Bank, where Nationalists wish Scotland to stop being amongst the main players and join the ranks of the smaller, less important countries.

In contrast, those of us who support the continuance of the United Kingdom see Scotland as having a confident and accomplished integral role as part of one of most influential members in these organisations, with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, established authority as one of the leading big countries at the EU, and massive institutional authority at the IMF, the World Bank, and Nato.

Nationalists would give all these up, along with any say in the running of the pound or any other aspect of UK social or economic policy. (The same applies with defence: the truth is that multilateral disarmament can rid of the world of nuclear weapons, unilateral disarmament can rid it of a few nuclear weapons, and indepen­dence would rid the world of none whatsoever.)

The choice for Scots is not one between a future of certainty and one of uncertainty; it is rather the choice between retaining hard and soft influence domestically and globally – or abandoning responsi­bility for shaping and creating a better future for itself, the UK and the wider world.

Peter A Russell,


Goodbye Bike

2013-10-05 14.33.59 (3)

The charity woman rang the doorbell this morning
I led her through the house to the patio
Where you stood grim and steady,
Ready as ever to freewheel through
Winter, summer and daily seasons in between

Up to the canal and along its easy towpath
Lifted by gushing locks past the dank scented gasholder,
Stretching drying herons, occasional early morning deer
Regular all night drinkers, feral mink, television star foxes and
Once only the azure halcyon skim of a kingfisher.

The charity woman put on her cycle clips and rode you away
You will be rebuilt, polished and sold on for her Good Cause.
I hope to see you again with a new passenger aboard:
As lucky as I have been.

(Bike donated to: )


Trench Warfare 2014

It might be distasteful to some to use an analogy so redolent to the First World War, but there can be few that better sums up the current state of the Scottish Independence referendum campaign as “trench warfare”.  (By the way, my grandfather Ned Russell fought in the trenches, was wounded and reported missing in action in April 1918. He was taken prisoner of war, and lived until 1949 despite severe leg wounds.)

Where we are is that following the opening exchanges of the campaign, the front line between occupied territory as shown by the opinion polls is largely stagnant: for example, since January the polls which favour Yes (Survation, Panelbase,) have been stuck at about 40% in favour of independence. Likewise, those that record higher rates for No (YouGov, Ipsos-MORI) have continued to record Yes at under 37%.

In other words, Yes remains behind with only minimal evidence of narrowing, which is even then usually contradicted by a subsequent poll.

(Students of polling may also note that the polls that favour No are those with the better track record, for example, YouGov was the closest to accuracy in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections.)


In the meantime, there is no lack of activity. On the strategic level, the generals have been delivering the heavy ordnance. In November, the Scottish Government rolled out its would-be game-changer: the 600+ page manifesto for independence which was the White Paper “Scotland’s Future”.  In February, the big guns of the UK government and opposition responded with the crucial announcement that there would be no Currency Union between the remainder UK and any future independent Scotland.

The result of these assaults has been Not Very Much, as they have made little perceptible impact on the voting intentions in the referendum.

Peter Kellner of YouGov has written cogently on the subject on his  blog. His conclusion, having asked questions about who believes what, is that Yes voters overwhelmingly believe the Yes campaign and (lo and behold), No voters believe the No campaign in the same measure.

It will be interesting to see whether Better Together’s  Mother’s Day of Weekends from Hell on 29th-30th March has any effect on the polls: on past evidence, it will again be Not Very Much.

So why do we not all put down our guns, have a kick-about in no-man’s land, and go home?

First of all, it is because the UK government were so inept as to concede the timing of the referendum in the Edinburgh Agreement. It defies explanation as to why there needed to be any delay longer than May, when the polling arrangements for the European Parliament elections will be in place.

So we are stuck with the date, but what is to be made of the continuing activity? At the level of high politics, it is essential that the population is well informed, but as we have seen, the battlefield never changes. Unless something extraordinary happens, it seems highly unlikely that there will be a decisive big push or knock-out blow before 18th September.

So this leaves the media campaign and the local events and organisation.

The media campaign is where many of the small arms exchanges are taking place, although again it seems with little effect. However, it is worth pointing out that the Scottish media are caught in the barbed wire between the armies, and they are not coping well.

To break out of the WWI analogy, the better metaphor is that of the press coverage of the MMR vaccine. In that case the pursuit of balance in reporting led to equal prominence and credence being given to unscientific and partial opinion as to peer-reviewed and authoritative research, with dangerous outcomes as use of the vaccine fell below “herd immunity” levels. In the referendum debate, both sides get equal coverage, even if one of them (usually Yes) is talking mince, as we say in the west of Scotland. Two examples of note are the Currency Union debate, where Yes dismissed a definitive bipartisan policy statement as “bluff”; and EU membership, where Yes attributed the intervention of the President of the Commission as a bid to get the UK government to support him as Secretary-General of NATO.

In the name of intellectual honesty, it is incumbent on the Scottish media to be more sceptical of the Yes campaign in such cases: unsupported assertion does not deserve the same levels of prominence or credibility as measurable and accountable facts.

On the level of community events and local activity, the First World War analogy comes back into play: they are keeping the home fires burning. In the absence of real progress at the Front, the aim for both sides is keep up morale and prepare for the fight ahead.

There can be little surprise that Yes are doing quite well at this aspect of the campaign, in the light of its massively superior spending power. The SNP Scottish Government has diverted Scottish Government resources for the production of its independence plans and used large sums of taxpayer money for their publication and promotion. In addition, the YesScotland campaign has been heavily bankrolled by eccentric millionaires most notably the record lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir, as opposed to the many individual but much smaller donations received by Better Together.

So what we have is a static campaign, with buzz bombs and high explosives whizzing overhead, but not having much effect.

The poor bloody infantry are slogging away, sniping and lobbing the occasional grenade (what did for Ned’s leg incidentally).

The media are stuck, confused, in No-Man’s Land.

Back at home, each side is singing the right songs to keep spirits up, and turning a deaf ear to the other side’s blandishments.

The difference is that unlike in 1914-1918, we know when the final battle will take place: in the run-in to 18th September. Following the outcome of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election campaign, Yes will remain confident that they can and will succeed right up until the votes are counted. No will take comfort from the certainty that never again can a political campaign be as inept as the Labour Party’s on that occasion.

And if things go on as they are, there will be further comforts for Better Together. These are best set out by the redoubtable Professor Tomkins in his mighty blog:

BUt here are few of my own. First, they will start well in the lead, like an army commanding the high ground before the charge.  

Second, they will be equipped with certain knowledge that independence is not in Scotland’s economic interest – which shows time and again to be the issue which influences most voters.

Third, they will know that despite the high levels of community activity, much of it aimed at young people, school referendums are overwhelmingly in their favour.

Finally, they will know that much of the hopes of Yes will depend on a combination of a late swing of voters, plus differential turnout in their favour, and that the latter can be countered by sound organisation. And so, unless something unprecedented happens, No has every reason to remain the happier camp.

Hadrian’s Wall


I received the following feedback when I submitted the poem to The Referendum Rant competition run by First Scotland (not the bus/train company, but ex-Scottish Screen Firsts).

Dear Peter,

Congratulations on being a runner-up and winning £25 in the Referendum Rant Competition. There were nearly 130 contributions.

I know you will be disappointed and all judges gave your poems good scores. We enjoyed them enormously, and in particular Villanelle. I think that you have provided some of the most thoughtful lines in the whole competition, ones which deserve to be publicised and which will be repeated time and time again as a cautionary reminder. Like these

Our current times demand we adapt;
To draw the line is a 20th century disorder
The border is more than a line on the map
A wall of the mind, entrenchment, a trap.

Great stuff!


Rory Stewart is presenting an excellent programme about the history and effects of the Wall and subsequent manifestations of the Border. I wrote the following villanelle about the same subject, which a member of the audience at a reading was kind enought to praise. She was an elderly lady (and fellow poet) originally from East Berlin.

The poem suggests borders create politics of their own.

Hadrians Wall.

The border is more than a line on the map
It’s division concealed in a mockery of order
A wall of the mind, entrenchment, a trap

Tolerance will fray, patience will snap
Each side becoming less giver, more hoarder
The border is more than a line on the map

Deals will break down, in time be stop-gap
Suspicion that a neighbour reverts to marauder
A wall of the mind, entrenchment, a trap

So when accident comes, chaos, mishap
A rampart acquires more guards and more warders
The border is more than a line on the map

The other side always takes the rap
In memory, our history’s mad blind recorder
A wall of the mind, entrenchment, a trap

Our current times demand we adapt;
To draw the line is a 20th century disorder
The border is more than a line on the map
A wall of the mind, entrenchment, a trap.