Herald letter: It is baffling that nationhood is being put before having food on the table (no £wall)

Tuesday 24 March 2015

IT is unusual, but as a member of the Labour Party, I find myself in full agreement with Ian Bell, in his analysis of the way in which Scottish politics now appears to be very different to those of the other parts of the UK (“Uniform swing in the polls that is not an aberration”, The Herald, March 21).

I also agree with him that I find this state of affairs to be baffling.

It is baffling to me because I believe in the British philosophy formulated by a Scot* (John Stuart Mill) and refined by an Englishman (Jeremy Bentham) that the aim of government policy should be to provide the greatest possible benefit to the greatest number of people.

It is also baffling because as a social democrat I believe that we achieve more collectively than on our own: as individuals in families, as workers in unions, and as neighbours in communities. The principle also applies to regions and nations within the UK and the EU: we share that all may prosper. This also demands a shared politics.

I am therefore baffled that so many Scots appear to be ready to support the Scottish Nationalists, whose belief is that the relationship between Scotland and England is unique in that it does not work for the greater mutual good, and that it never can, so a new political border is required as a result.

Just as baffling is that Scottish voters are now increasingly in favour of the SNP and therefore its policy of full financial autonomy (FFA). FFA would mean the end of the sharing principle of the Barnett Formula and would cost Scotland something like 138,000 jobs, an extra 15p on taxation or huge cuts in public expenditure.

In other words, Scottish politics are indeed very different, as Mr Bell says. They differ in that self-interest appears to be valued above sharing resources and finding common solutions. They also differ in that even that self-interest is a false prospectus, in that it looks like it is no longer “the economy, stupid” which will drive how Scots vote – the focus seems to be a nation once again, even if that aim risks a large number of incomes and livelihoods.

Or, Scots seem to be taking the old saying: “You can’t eat a flag'”and adding: “So what? That flag is more important than the food on our table and that of our neighbours and family.” Baffling indeed.

Peter A Russell,

(*NB: Correction: JS Mill born London.)

Bah. Sunday Herald did not print my letter…I thought it was quite good.


It seems that the sub-Gogol trend of recruiting dead souls to one’s cause is still not over: indeed, it seems that Nationalists are trying to rival the Church of Latter Day Saints in the number of posthumous conversions they can record. The latest to follow Robert Burns is George Orwell (letters 15th March).

I am sure that I am not the only one who really would like to know the views on Scottish independence of another very significant cultural figure.

After early public success in Scotland, he went south and became a cult icon, displaying his Scottishness while conquering his metier and indeed creating new creative genre.

He is now best remembered for a pamplimsistic rendering of a popular work which fused the original English language lyric with the Welsh-inflected rendering of its hegemenous  populariser, but delivered in an unmistakably Scottish manner.

Indeed, with the passing of time, we might see that he was hinting towards a proto-Chomskyan fusion of the deep text (anti-UK) with the surface performance (a sub-Treasure Island parody of a pirate reflecting the rapacious crimes of the British Empire.) At the time, his stage act included an alarming premonition of events yet to come called “The Faith Healer” which prefigures much of the thematic content from Seamus Heaney’s “Act Of Union,” with its vivid images of domination and abuse by an exploiter disguised as an altruistic and benevolent relationship.

What we really want to know is: was Alex Harvey a nationalist? Was he bumped off by MI5? Why has Pat Kane not spoken? Or is all such speculation just a load of pretentious and unverifiable twaddle?
I think we should be told. Anything else is a cover-up.
Peter A. Russell

Mastermind tonight 20th March at 8:00 pm

My subject is Elizabeth David. I have already posted my poem on the subject, and I will blog again after the event. But in the meantime, here is her Slow Rise Wholemeal Bloomer:


and here is the recipe, adapted from “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” (hint: take care to weigh the liquids)

Mrs David’s Slow Rise Bloomer.

Total flour = 570g

450g strong wholemeal flour
120g strong white flour

Or: 250g strong wholemeal flour
170g strong white flour
150g rye flour

150g boiling water
200g cold milk including 1½ tbs olive or rapeseed oil
1tbs salt
1tsp dried active yeast.

1. Mix the dough and knead very well (about 10 minutes).
2. Cover and leave at cool room temperature overnight (or for between 6 and 10 hours).
3. Break down, knead again (“very hard”) and leave at room temperature for 2 or more hours.
4. Break down and knead very hard again, shape into loaf, and leave for final proving on prepared baking sheet for 20 to 40 minutes.
5. Slash 5 times on bias; optional – spray with water and scatter some salt crystals on the surface of the slashes.
6. Put in oven preheated to Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, followed by 15 to 20 minutes at Gas Mark 6 or 7.
7. (If underside is still soft, invert and bake on wire oven shelf for further 10 minutes with heat off.)

Letter in the Herald. No £wall. (Spoiler: includes apologia for Tony Blair.)

The achievements of New Labour were considerable

Friday 20 March 2015

It is also worth reflecting on Ruth Marr’s view of the world, which is not uncommon in the post-referendum world, where some individuals and parties can do no harm and others can do no good (Letters, March 19).

So in the latter case, New Labour cannot be given credit for its international interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and Tony Blair must be personally blamed for all deaths in Iraq, including the 90 per cent caused by Arab-on-Arab attacks (by Baathists and sectarian criminals).

Likewise, he must be damned for catastrophic decisions made not by him but by the dysfunctional Bush White House, not least the infamous CPA Order No 2 that disbanded the Iraqi Army.

In the real world, if Tony Blair really was a war criminal, he would not have been appointed by the Quartet of the UN, EU, the United States and Russia to be its Middle East representative.

And we now know that Labour MPs would not have voted for the Iraq War had they had the same information before them that Ms Marr enjoys in hindsight, as both Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy have acknowledged.

The untidy reality beyond the “four-legs-good, two-legs-bad” dogma is that all governments get some things right and some things wrong.

The achievements of the Blair/Brown governments are very considerable, both in domestic and constitutional policy, and in international affairs.

So while it would be wrong to claim that those governments were perfect, and others will continue to parrot their failures, more reasonable people will conclude that the balance sheets of the New Labour governments are more positive than those of the alternative Major/Hague/Howard administrations would have been.

Similarly, as we examine the prospects of the next government, we can be certain that it will either be led by David Cameron or by Ed Miliband.

The question we should ask is whether – on the evidence of the past five years – we would feel that the former will do more good than harm or the latter.

My money is on Mr Miliband, who was not even an MP at the time of the Iraq War, and was instrumental in the vote to veto British airstrikes in Syria.

Peter A Russell,

My first namecheck poetry review (find at middle paragraph between 2 video clips)


It says:

There were also excellent readings from the brilliant Magi Gibson, Rosie Mapplebeck, Peter Russell whose Ewan MacColl inspired poem was one of the best of the day, Donny O’Rourke whose choice of Scots Pine though short was actually lethal, Bernard McLaverty, whose choice of topic seemed to be the boy least likely to succeed but did and made things happen. Stewart Sanderson who is yet another new and exciting voice to the spoken word scene and Stephanie Green who will be appearing at Stanza next month.

My musings on Ewan MacColl are here: http://wp.me/p3f2py-bC

Herald letter (No £wall) – SNP de facto regional party.

“The SNP is a regional party that should have no role in dictating policy in a government at Westminster”

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Both Iain Macwhirter (“Campaign is turning into a vile witch hunt”, The Herald, March 10) and your correspondent Maggie Jamieson (Letters, March 10) have turned their attention to the issue of the possible role of the SNP in a post-election deal with the parties of UK government. Surely the democratic principle is simple: that no party should be in government if it is not accountable to the majority of voters.

In this case, the SNP chooses to be a de facto regional party in the UK; so every Scottish voter can vote for Labour and the Tories (and Ukip) but no-one outside Scotland can vote for the Nationalists.

The SNP can therefore only be endorsed or rejected at the ballot box by roughly one in 10 of the electorate, and should not be entertained for any role which would dictate to the Government of the 90% of voters who cannot do so.

Peter A. Russell