How To Make This Loaf (or something like it)

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Note: the sourdough is a separate culture that takes a while (this one is mere youngster of ten days old, and I intend to keep it for a long time.) The recipe below uses an overnight pre-ferment as a pretty good substitute.

The night before:

mix a half cup water with same measure strong while flour, and a quarter teaspoon of dried active yeast (the rest of the sachet goes in the main mixture.)

The day you are baking:

  1. Weigh your flour: 350g strong white bread flour, plus 150g wholemeal, rye, spelt or any mixture thereof.
  2. Mix 200ml cold water with 90ml boiling water from the kettle, and whisk in rest of yeast sachet.
  3. Mix yeast and water with flours until a loose dough forms. Leave for 20 minutes.
  4. Mix 2 tsp salt, 1tb oil (olive or rapeseed) and 1 tb golden syrup or sugar into dough. Mix in pre-ferment/sourdough from last night. Leave for 10 minutes.
  5. Turn out mixture onto clean surface, gather it up together and knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth, springy and only slightly sticky (if at all).
  6. Form into a ball, return to bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave for an hour or until doubled in size.
  7. Turn out onto surface again, knock out air and knead briefly. Form into a loaf. Coat with a layer of flour. Move to a board or lipless baking tray (something a floured loaf will slide off easily). Leave to prove, with the piece of clingfilm over it, for c 45 minutes, until nicely risen.
  8. Turn on oven and heat to Gas 9, (really as high as you can get it.) If you have one, put baking stone in when you turn it on. (I got mine from Aldi for £3.99) If not pre-heat a baking tray.
  9. When oven has reached temperature, slash loaf diagonally 5 times, and slide onto hot baking stone or baking tray. Shut the door and set your timer for 10 minutes.
  10. When timer goes off, peek inside. If loaf is already golden, turn oven down to 5 and bake loaf for 30 minutes. (If it is not yet golden, wait another 5 minutes before doing so.)
  11. When baking time is complete, take out of oven and place on a rack. Check loaf is cooked by tapping bottom for hollow sound. (If in doubt cook for 5 minutes further.)
  12. Allow to cool for at least an hour before using: a loaf needs time to reabsorb moisture and to fix its structure before use.

Good luck! (If anyone tries it, please let me know how you get on.)

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Scottish National Anthem – Herald letter (No £wall)

Letters: We need a national anthem that celebrates peaceful co-existence.

YOUR correspondent David Stubley (Letters, February 12) suggests parallels between Flower of Scotland and La Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner, and indeed all three revel in bloody and violent events in the histories of the three countries concerned.

On the other hand there is a massive difference between the respective histories of countries themselves. The French and US anthems mark significant 18th century events where these were marked by violent conflict, while at the very time Scotland was taking its place in the parliamentary union of the United Kingdom. Against this background, it is puzzling why Scotland would prefer to celebrate ancient acts of war rather then an act of peace which paved the way to an end to wars with England.

A Scottish national anthem that celebrates freedoms secured through peaceful co-existence between former enemies would surely be better than one that celebrates warfare which cost thousands of lives and much misery. Maybe Ronnie Brown could add a couple of verses to Flower of Scotland: one celebrating the Act of Union and one celebrating the referendum of September 2014 which secured that union for the foreseeable future?

Peter A Russell

Part 2 of “Tony Blair – Shut It!” – or don’t hold your breath waiting for a second independence referendum

Extra-Parliamentary Routes.

When the evidence set out in Part 1 is put to pro-independence enthusiasts, they reply that the institutions of the state would not be able to resist the popular pressure of a mass of public opinion for a further referendum. Indeed, this appears to be the view of the First Minister with her repeated opinion that “the people will decide.”

The first point make in response is that a referendum is an exception in parliamentary system: it stands outside the norm of representative democracy, which is why it is used only sparingly to try to settle a point of major importance, usually concerning the constitution or national sovereignty. Therefore it is quite right that it should be in hands of those elected to uphold parliament’s sovereignty to decide when to hold a referendum.

Moreover, having held a referendum in September 2014, it is the duty of the Westminster parliament to protect the will of the voters of Scotland who voted No, whatever the outcome of a later parliamentary election.

The reading of Sturgeon and others – that an ill-defined “popular will” should prevail– is a direct attack on representative democracy and should be resisted by parliament for these reasons, if no other.

With Scotland’s MPs rendered impotent by being outside the possibility of government, a programme of extra-parliamentary action would be the remaining resort of those seeking a new referendum.

The last time such direct challenges to Parliament took place was in the 1980s, in the forms of the Miner’s Strike, Ratecapping, and the Poll Tax. In the first two of these cases, specifically politically motivated actions (including the declared aim of bringing down the government of the day) were decisively defeated. In the case of the Poll Tax, the decisive factor in its defeat (and the fall of Prime Minister Thatcher) was its negative impact in the country as expressed by voters at bye-elections.

It is also worth noting the differences in the case of the Poll tax between England and Scotland, and between then and now. Although the Poll Tax had been introduced a year earlier in Scotland (on the insistence of Scottish Tory MPs), there was only a low-level campaign of civil disobedience amongst Scots, unlike in England, where rioting took place. The main form of protest in Scotland was non-payment of the Poll Tax, which was ineffective as a protest and harmed only local government and its clients.

The main routes of extra-parliamentary action are demonstrations, and civil disobedience non-co-operation, and non-payment of taxes and charges.

In first case, Scotland has seen mass demonstrations against Westminster before, again most recently under the Conservatives . Following the 1992 General Election, large numbers of people gathered under the banners of Scotland United and the Campaign for Scottish Democracy – with no effect on the Conservative government of the day. It was up to the incoming Labour government to introduce the devolution settlement of 1999. In turn, it was the Labour government of 2003 which illustrated the impotence of public demonstrations on the parliamentary process in a representative democracy when in the case of protests against the Iraq War.

Again, there are now very few  unconvinced Scottish MPs to pressure through demonstrations: the SNP is the captive of its own success.

In the case of non-co-operation between the SNP and the Westminster government, there are two possible routes. The first would be to limit or refuse contacts between the Scottish Government at Holyrood and the UK government: in this case it is hard to see what effect this might have on the Scottish public, other than delays and confusion in capital projects and services. The second would be to withdraw SNP MPs from Westminster as a protest. In this case, it is hard to see what detriment this would be in the House of Commons: into the bargain, the SNP’s coveted place as Third Party would be surrendered to either the Liberal Democrats or the DUP (both of which have 8 seats.)

As for non-payment of taxes and charges, it is again hard to see how such a campaign could be effective. In the case of Income Tax, the vast majority of employees have this deducted at source through PAYE – and unlike the Poll Tax, there would be little or no outrage at the plight of the least well off, as these pay little or no Income Tax due to the coalition government having raised thresholds substantially. And if there is such a boycott, new arrangements for devolved Income Tax may very well simply rebound on the revenues available to the Scottish Government itself.

Which leaves the non-payment of other charges: perhaps Vehicle Tax or Television licences? Vehicle Tax would be an irritant to the government but no more (and hard to demonstrate now tax discs have been scrapped.) To boycott TV licences would only discomfit the BBC.

Which leaves only the routes of riot, insurrection and uprising: which surely only the most foolhardy and extreme Scottish Nationalists would even contemplate, having witnessed the strife and heartbreak of another part of the UK a few dozen miles away in Northern Ireland.

To conclude: there is no extra-parliamentary route to a second independence referendum which is not anti-democratic, impractical, ineffective or dangerous to civil order.

The future therefore looks to be one without a second referendum. So what is Tony Blair up to? My guess is that he is playing a bit of a game, using the spectre of an unwanted break-up of the UK to try to push people to towards a “Remain” vote.  If so, he should knock it off right now.  Because it doesn’t look like it will – or can – happen.

“Tony Blair – Shut It!” Or: Why A Second Independence Referendum Is Unlikely.

Part 1 – Blocked Parliamentary Routes.

I am in complete disagreement with Tony Blair. As anyone who can read my blog will know, this is surprising. To me he remains the best Prime Minister of my lifetime (1954, since you so kindly ask) and will judged as such by history. However, he was not infallible, and is not infallible now, which is why I take issue with his warning that a No vote in the forthcoming EU referendum will lead to Scotland leaving the UK (Tony Blair interview)

In fact there are a number of very serious legal and political hurdles in the way of such a thing happening.

  1. The Law.

It remains undisputed that under the 1998 Scotland Act, the constitution of the UK is a reserved power; and that as in the case of the 2014 referendum, a specific Order in Council would needed to temporarily transfer the authority to the Scottish Government for calling a further referendum. In short, a repeat referendum is not in the power of the Scottish First Minister, or her Government or the Scottish Parliament.

To hold a referendum without the legislative consent of Westminster would be both pointless and impractical, as it would be clear that it has no standing in the law of the land. It would be pointless as those opposed to the independence proposition would be feel totally justified to boycott such a referendum, and the UK government to ignore it.

An unofficial referendum would also be impractical. Those responsible for staffing polling stations, counting ballots, and monitoring outcomes would all need to be paid – at the same cost as the 2014 referendum this would be £15.8 million (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-34157264). As the referendum would be pointless, it would be quite reasonable for taxpayers to seek legal redress against such expenditure; alternatively, the Scottish Government would need to risk the political fallout and ridicule from such an expensive vanity project.

To conclude: the Scottish Parliament route to a second independence referendum has no foundation in law unless approved by Westminster.

  1. Referendums 2014 and 2016.

The first point to make about the 2014 referendum is that its result was firm No. Even the SNP admits this, although many of their supporters still subscribe to conspiracy theories of fraud or ascribe their defeat to such bogey figures as “pensioners” or “the old” or “English incomers” or the like. In fact, the big problem for the nationalists is that NO won in every age group except one, according to the best available polling evidence (YouGov recall poll)

So the result was cut and dried – although it is part of the nationalist mentality to deny this piece of historical fact. Like the old Scottish football manager Jimmy Sirrell used to say: “the score is what it says in the paper – anything more is gossip.” In this case, the score was 55 No, 45 Yes, and the rest is tosh.

What is more, even though the Nationalists insist that it is just a matter of time, or one more heave, or a short put on the 18th green, the winning margin of 10% actually works to their disadvantage.

In 2012 when the Conservative-LibDem coalition agreed to the 2014 referendum, it did so a number of assumptions. Chief amongst these was that independence was not a popular cause: at the time opinion polls put No about 20% ahead, and it was expected that this lead would climb in common with other the progress of comparable campaigns. As in: “Basic rules of referendum dynamics” in attached article, especially “(1.) Opinion during referendum campaigns tends to shift towards the status quo.”

In the event, the progress was in the other direction. This means that no-one will take a No vote for granted when considering a future referendum. In short, the more likely it is the independence will win, the less likely a referendum being granted will become.

The 2014 referendum was also widely trailed by the SNP, the Scottish Government (in its White Paper), the Electoral Commission and the official Yes campaign (as well as by the UK government) as a “once in a lifetime” or “once in a generation” event. So there can be no surprise when it transpires to be just that.

There is considerable speculation that the 2016 EU referendum could be the trigger for a second independence referendum, i.e., if Scotland votes one way and the rest of UK votes the other. This is described as “Scots being dragged out of Europe against their will.” (Another possible outcome in a close vote would presumably be “the English being dragged into Europe against their will.”)

In fact, the EU referendum would and should have no such status. It will be an all-UK (and Gibraltar) vote with every voter having the same voice and weight of opinion – that is the whole point. The border between England and Scotland will for this purpose have as little meaning as that between East and West Sussex.  Any move to have the result of the 2016 referendum trigger a further independence referendum would need to overcome the same hurdles as any other attempt and are described here.

To conclude: the closer than expected outcome of the 2014 referendum makes a second referendum less likely rather than a near-certainty. The 2016 EU referendum does not create any special conditions which make it more likely.

  1. Westminster and 2015 General Election.

The No outcome of the 2014 referendum confirmed above all that Scots wish to continue to be part of the UK and to be governed though two institutions: their Scottish Parliament at Holyrood (for devolved matters ) and their UK Parliament (for reserved issues.)

In doing so, they accepted that in electing its Westminster MPs, these would be in a minority when included with the MPs from the much more populous other parts of the UK. In choosing to elect 56 (then) SNP MPs, the constituencies concerned were also aware it was unlikely that their MPs would take any part in a UK government. This was unfortunate – in that they had given up any realistic chance of influence on reserved matters such as social security, pensions, or indeed the constitution – but was their free and democratic (if arguably ill-advised) choice.

For the purposes of scotching the myth that a second referendum can happen, the eclipse of the Labour Party in Scotland and its decline in marginal seats in England in the 2015 General Election mean that the Conservatives are likely to be in power continuously for the foreseeable future.  It is therefore unimaginable that there will be a party in power at Westminster with a mandate – the consent of its voters – to take any step that would lead to the dissolution of the UK.

Alternatively, the outcome of the 2015 general Election in Scotland can be seen as a paradoxical neutering of the SNP. By taking nearly all of the seats, they have ensured that Scottish voters have negligible leverage over either Tory government or the Labour opposition, who both have next to no seats to lose. The House of Commons arithmetic also means that any movement towards a non-Tory government would need to include Labour gaining seats in Scotland, which would be at the expense of the SNP itself – and a declining presence would be the opposite of a mandate for a second referendum.

To conclude: the Westminster Parliament route to a second independence referendum is so unlikely as to be negligible.

(Part 2 – Extra-Parliamentary Routes To Follow.)

Poem and Herald letter: “Russell In Last Gasp Makar Bid Drama”

(*See also Herald letters [£wall] for responses with and without sense of humour)

I NOTE with interest that Liz Lochhead is to step down as Scotland’s Makar, or national poet (“Search is launched for new Makar”, The Herald, February 1.) The following is my own application for the vacancy:

In Sturgeon’s Scotland, she’ll heal the halt and lame
It’s the Nicola Health Service –she’ll tak’ credit but no’ tak the blame;

In Sturgeon’s Scotland, our clarion call is “hope over fear”
To show it, a convicted perjurer holds a rally every year;

In Sturgeon’s Scotland, we’ll get wealth from a Money Tree
We’ll pay more tax and be skint, but unicorns come free;

In Sturgeons’ Scotland, neither your record nor manifesto counts
All we need for politics is a loudhailer and “Red-Blue-LibDem Tories Out!”

In Sturgeon’s Scotland, we invented the wheel and fire and phone
And if we don’t like reality, we just invent our own;

In Sturgeon’s Scotland, we eat our flag as daily bread
We’re all Jock Tamson’s brainless Bairns, since the
Referendum turned our heads.

© Peter Russell 2016

Please note that I also have other civic-minded pieces available, including a popular verse on the Holyrood Independence Camp entitled Camp Stupid.

Peter A Russell,
Poet and Tragedian