Petition calls for more Scottish History
A petition urging a review of how Scottish literature and history is taught has gone before Holyrood's petitions committee. Launched by the Literature Forum for Scotland on St Andrew's Day last year, it has been signed by more than 1,500 writers and teachers.
It urged greater emphasis on Scottish culture in the education curriculum. However, committee convener Michael McMahon said teachers should not be prevented from choosing what to study.
The forum's campaign has received backing from novelists, poets, musicians and historians.
It said people without a knowledge of history and the arts could lack the confidence to relate to their own and to other cultures in a balanced way.
For some time Scotland's literary establishment is said to have felt that a greater emphasis is needed on the teaching of Scots literature and history at every level of education.
Principal petitioner Dr Donald Smith, convener of the Literature Forum for Scotland, said every citizen of Scotland is entitled to the opportunity to learn about Scotland's literature and history.
He said: "We want everybody in Scotland, not just in our schools, to be able to know something about its history, literature and languages.
"We don't believe at the moment that there's an overall plan or strategy in place to allow that to happen."
The formal petition reads: "Recognising that critical self-awareness of Scottish history, literature and languages is vital to a confident, successful and outward-looking Scotland, we submit that the present arrangements for the study of these disciplines at primary, secondary and tertiary levels are inadequate.
"We request that they be reviewed and effective frameworks established to ensure that all citizens of Scotland have the opportunity to understand these key aspects of their own society and culture."
However, Mr McMahon, petition committee convener, questioned whether it was wiser to allow teachers to decide what pupils should study. "If we become too prescriptive then we take away the ability of teachers to bring forward their own selves and their own art in teaching," he added.
The committee agreed to write to Education Minister Peter Peacock and Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson about the issue.
Members will also contact various education bodies, including the Scottish Higher Education Council, the Educational Institute of Scotland, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education and universities.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Petition calls for more Scottish History
Monday, January 16, 2006
Salmond sets his sights on Gordon
SNP leader Alex Salmond is planning to fight the Gordon constituency in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections. The Banff and Buchan MP would be taking on the current holder of the seat, Liberal Democrat MSP Nora Radcliffe.
At a meeting in Oldmeldrum on Sunday, Mr Salmond accepted an invitation from local activists to put his name forward for selection. A final decision on the nomination will be made by local nationalist members in the next few weeks.
Gordon is currently held by Ms Radcliffe and is seen by the Scottish National Party as its 18th "most-winnable" seat. Mr Salmond said he had considered fighting Aberdeen Central, a seat held by Scottish Executive minister Lewis MacDonald, but instead chose Gordon.
The constituency overlaps with his current Westminster seat, with some 10,000 of his present constituents in the Scottish parliamentary seat.
A further 6,000 of the Gordon electorate are also in the SNP-held Moray seat at Westminster.
Speaking at the SNP meeting, he said: "I said that I would stand for the Scottish Parliament in this corner of Scotland and that is exactly what I intend to do.
"The issues of the rural economy and services are vital across the north east of Scotland and these will be at the centre of our campaign. The SNP need to gain 20 new seats to win that election and become Scotland's leading party.
"The Gordon seat is the 18th most-winnable on that list of potential gains. Therefore, Gordon will be the crucible of the election. If we win Gordon then the SNP will be well on our way to a famous victory across Scotland. "
Mr Salmond said he expected a "tough fight". "I take nothing for granted, but we intend to win," he said. "I am looking forward enormously to this challenge as is every single local SNP activist."
He added: "Many thousands of my current constituents are already in this seat. The north east is not just my political base but my home and this decision gives me the opportunity to continue to represent this wonderful corner of Scotland."
Mr Salmond denied that present problems within the Liberal Democrats influenced his decision. He said it was gaining seats in the upcoming election not just holding seats currently held by the SNP. "They certainly haven't done themselves any favours by their shabby treatment of Charles Kennedy," he said.
"However my decision was made on the positive merits of what the SNP can do for the people of Aberdeenshire and Scotland not the failings of any other party."
Mr Salmond is also expected to head the north east SNP list, meaning he could return as an MSP without having to win the Gordon seat. At the last Holyrood election the SNP came third behind the Conservatives in Gordon.
The SNP has also named its candidate for the Westminster by-election triggered by the death of Labour MP Rachel Squire. Former councillor Douglas Chapman, who fought the seat of Dunfermline and West Fife in the May general election, was selected to contest the seat once again.
Mr Chapman, a former councillor for Rosyth West, has lived in Dunfermline for 15 years.
Ms Squire died on 5 January after a long battle against illness. Despite being unwell, she fought the general election in May and was returned for her Dunfermline and West Fife seat with an 11,562 majority.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:19 PM
(Swans - January 16, 2006)
In "The Case For Scottish Independence" (Swans, November 7, 2005), Joe Davison seems to want independence on certain terms only, those terms being that it is an unambiguous socialist republic.
I am also a republican socialist and I agree that in the twenty-first century it would be absurd to have an unelected monarch at the head of a newly independent Scottish state. However, at the end of the day that is a decision for the Scottish people to make, after we have achieved our independence.
(see rest of article on the above link)
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:33 AM
Sunday, January 15, 2006
By Brian Lironi Political Editor
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's plea to celebrate our British-ness was condemned by SNP leader Alex Salmond yesterday.
He poured scorn on the plan, saying: "Bulldog Brown is motivated not by national interest but by self-interest."
However, Brown's call to reclaim the Union flag from far-right groups such as the British National Party was roundly welcomed yesterday.
He suggested Remembrance Day would be appropriate to celebrate the British determination to fight for liberty.
But Salmond claimed it would turn Remembrance Sunday into a "flag-waving jamboree" and prove "deeply offensive" to many.
He called it a tactic to make Brown "acceptable as a British Prime Minister".
BRITISHNESS is the theme that Gordon Brown has chosen to develop over the last two years. Now he has suddenly brought it to the top of his agenda, for reasons that are not difficult to discern. As in so many instances in recent weeks, the catalyst is David Cameron.
We owe the slightly incongruous spectacle of Gordon wrapping himself in the Union flag to the almost chemical reaction that Cameron has triggered in Britain's political culture. Brown was addressing the topic of Britishness before Cameron came on the scene: his motive then was to persuade Home Counties voters that their Prime Minister-in-waiting shared a common identity with them. The advent of Cameron has lent fresh urgency to that endeavour. Hence the Chancellor's suggestion of establishing a special day to celebrate "Britishness".
This came as part of a package of proposals, including a community service scheme for young people shamelessly filched from a recent suggestion by Cameron, and an old proposal for more reform of the House of Lords. If this is Brown's bid for prime ministerial office in a Labour fourth term, it does not look too inspiring.
The instinctive reaction of most people will be that talking too much about Britishness is, in itself, un-British. His suggestion of a British Day, along the lines of Independence Day in America, is too contrived to have appeal. His proposal that it might be combined with Remembrance Sunday has already annoyed veterans: that is a day for reflection, not for celebration.
But Brown deserves some credit for addressing the issue of national identity. His patriotic credentials are good in more than one respect: he kept Britain out of the European single currency when Blair's instinct was to embrace it. Blair contaminated the brand, in his early Cool Britannia phase. Now his would-be successor has to restore some gravitas to Labour's interface with the national identity.
Our advice to the Chancellor is: do not try to manufacture tradition - it has to evolve naturally, in response to events, as both the Fourth of July in the US and Remembrance Day here did. But it would do us no harm to reflect on the concept of being British and what it means. In Scotland, a generation ago, most people thought of themselves as British, with a strongly Scottish complementary identity: today it is more often the other way round.
But the encouraging fact is, the upsurge in Scottish consciousness that began with North Sea oil in the early 1970s has not led to electoral support for separatism or to the cultural disintegration of our British identity. It is true that someone in Sutherland will feel that identity in a radically different way from a resident of Surbiton; but the common gravitational pull is the same. Many of us are perfectly relaxed with feeling both Scottish and British.
The characteristics of a common British identity may be summarised as a love of freedom, both constitutional and personal, under law; a well developed sense of tolerance and an antipathy to any kind of zealotry; a dislike of parading our patriotism, except when we decide to let our hair down for some national celebration, combined with a calm acceptance of sacrifice when our country is under threat, as in two world wars.
In the same way that we have no written constitution - but enjoy greater stability than most nations that do - our patriotism is understated but runs deep. What we need from Brown, if he becomes prime minister, is not a contrived national festival, but a return to respect for traditional liberties and legal guarantees and to government from the benches of the House of Commons, rather than the sofa in Number 10. There is a worthwhile British way of doing things and it will be Brown's responsibility to rediscover it. If he fails, Cameron will be happy to oblige.
Typical forelock tugging pish from the Hootsmon stable – Bring it on. The more of this garbage they try and force down our collective throat, the more we might be inclined to spit it right back at ‘em. – JOE
Politics moves on while SNP fight old battles
THERE are, at a rough estimate, three ways in which political careers come to a close. The rarest of these - possibly due to it being the most sensible - is the Planned Departure. Here, an individual announces in advance their intention of giving up, allowing family, colleagues and the nation to prepare. This also buys the politician time to tie up any loose ends (such as, say, withdrawing British troops from Iraq and establishing a domestic "legacy") and to search for a lucrative post-parliamentary earner.
Then there is the Self-Inflicted Death Wound. This, ostensibly the least attractive of options, is in fact highly popular. It is currently being practised by George Galloway, shadow-boxing and mewling his way to unassailable indignity in the Celebrity Big Brother house, and Sir Menzies Campbell, who is making an impressive fist of sabotaging a lifelong ambition to lead the Liberals.
Most careers, though, finish in less dramatic fashion: in what we might call the Boiled Frog method. This is something which happens to politicians, rather than being chosen by them. It is best characterised as a sudden, almost imperceptible, slip into obsolescence; one moment alive to the possibility of political advancement, the next politically dead. Over the last few years its main victims have been Labour MPs, many of whom saw themselves as coming men and women, and who are only now realising they will never receive the belly-tightening call from Number 10 asking them to serve. In the recent Tory leadership contest both Kenneth Clarke, a 64-year-old who thought his best days were ahead of him, and the fanatically ambitious Sir Malcolm Rifkind found that they too, without noticing, had become boiled frogs.
Back in 2001, Alex Salmond appeared to have settled on a Planned Departure. Though he did not give up politics, his resignation as SNP leader at Holyrood and return to Westminster was to all intents and purposes a retirement. Holyrood was the SNP's weapon of choice, and Salmond was sloping off to the Mother parliament for a relaxing denouement to a glittering career.
But then, 18 months ago, with the SNP in an electoral funk and facing something of an existential crisis, he was persuaded to take on the leadership mantle once again. Salmond has said he will return to Edinburgh next year - the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union - at the third Holyrood general election.
Now, perhaps he will achieve his stated intention and arrive as an all-conquering First Minister, having routed Labour and established the SNP as the parliament's largest party. Last November he predicted that Scotland will have broken away from the rest of Britain within six years: that is, by 2011. To this end, he has opened negotiations with the Greens, with a view to establishing the basis for a governing coalition.
But this return to the frontline also opens up the possibility that Salmond's career will not now end with gilded reputation intact, and at a time and place of his choosing. As a gambler, the SNP leader will be aware he is once more exposing his hide to the dangers of self-inflicted disaster or - and for a risk-taker this may well be worse - an ignominious slip into obsolescence.
At the time Salmond announced his decision to return, I wrote that he "cares enough to drag himself from semi-retirement and risk his hard-won reputation, so he'd better get it right... it will not be enough to pick up where he left off... any momentum from his re-entry into the Scottish political atmosphere will be quickly lost unless he brings with him fresh ideas and an engaging narrative".
And here, I fear, lies his problem. There has been no evidence in the intervening period that Salmond has adapted his thinking to the changed political climate of the 21st century. His most recent forays into battle have centred around decisions taken by the British government 30 years ago. He is still, after all these years, shouting at "the British", still fighting the 30 Year War over oil, and the 300 Year War over identity, and still using the same, tired tactics. I find the SNP's lack of intellectual and strategic development in the last decade - especially given the increase in its elected representation, and consequently in its resources - quite staggering.
They will, ultimately, suffer for it. There is, quite clearly, a changing of the guard occurring in British politics. The impact of David Cameron's election as Tory leader is now working its way through the other main parties. Tony Blair talks openly of David Miliband and Douglas Alexander as the future of the Labour Party. The Charles Kennedy regime has been deposed by a new generation of Liberal Democrats. Despite their differing party allegiances, this new breed share centrist instincts and a world view substantially different to that of the generation which preceded them.
Scotland cannot isolate itself from this trend - nor should it. In fact, the Scottish Liberal Democrats led the way last year by installing the youthful team of Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott at the top. Both men are among the few at Holyrood willing to address modern issues free from the diktats of anti-modern ideology. It is not enough to shout at Jack McConnell or stick to your dogma, pleasurable though these things may be. To win you must offer something better in tune with the voters' instincts. Cameron's pragmatism, for example, will win him Downing Street.
The arguments have changed, the ground has shifted and people have moved on since Salmond's salad days of the 80s and 90s. To be successful he must recognise this. If he does not, he risks resembling poor, old, obsolete George Galloway, shadow-boxing an opponent that only he can see. That is not worth coming back for.
Politics moves on while SNP fight old battles
This is supposed to be a ‘Scottish’ ‘news’ paper and yet they have this p*sh in it, it makes you want to puke it really does.
What Salmond and the SNP care about is independence – not some contrived retirement!
The hootsmon really is nothing but a sick joke that’s was never funny in the furst place.
Do they really think the SNP are going to adopt their shallow right wing Tory agenda just because Tony and his new clone Cameron have no principles between them?
Can someone please sack Andrew Neil and employ some people who have their eyes open and their ear to the ground to write in this paper.
I’m constantly embarrassed by the thought that someone abroad might read it and imagine that the Scottish people are really as gutless, sycophantic and personally deluded as this. - JOE
SNP dismisses Brown's flag call
Chancellor Gordon Brown has been accused of "waving the wrong flag at Scotland" after calling for Britain's national identity to be celebrated.
The Fife MP said Labour supporters should "embrace the Union flag" and reclaim it from the far right. But Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said Britishness "went bust long ago" north of the border.
And he said Labour's opposition to a Scottish holiday on St Andrew's Day was a "fatal weakness" in the argument. In his speech to the Fabian Society in London, Mr Brown said the modern Labour Party and its supporters should be unashamedly patriotic.
We should assert that the Union flag by definition is a flag for tolerance and inclusion. He said this could encompass "progressive" ideas of liberty, fairness and responsibility rather then right-wing beliefs.
"Instead of the BNP using it as a symbol of racial division, the flag should be a symbol of unity and part of a modern expression of patriotism too," said the chancellor.
"All the United Kingdom should honour it, not ignore it. We should assert that the Union flag by definition is a flag for tolerance and inclusion."
Mr Brown said promoting integration had become even more important since the London bombings. "We have to be clearer now about how diverse cultures which inevitably contain differences can find the essential common purpose also without which no society can flourish," he added.
However, Mr Salmond claimed that the chancellor was motivated by self-interest. "His repeated attempts to resuscitate British identity are looking increasingly desperate, a necessary move to make himself acceptable as a British prime minister.
"However, you cannot sustain a national identity just because someone wants to be national leader," he said.
"For two generations and more it is Scottish identity which has been on the rise. Bulldog Brown is waving the wrong flag at Scotland."
He said there was also a renewed sense of Englishness rather than Britishness south of the border.
And he added: "To suggest a new British Day while his own Labour colleagues in Scotland oppose the grassroots campaign to celebrate properly St Andrew's Day illustrates the fatal weakness in Brown and Labour's position."
Last year the Scottish Parliament voted against a bill to create a new public holiday, instead supporting a move to examine ways in which 30 November could be celebrated without the loss of a day's work.
Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major agreed with the concept being put forward by Mr Brown. But he said the government had damaged Britishness by steps such as introducing devolution in Scotland.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:49 PM
Thursday, January 12, 2006
The Impeachment of George W. Bush:
People have begun to speak of impeaching President George W. Bush--not in hushed whispers but openly, in newspapers, on the Internet, in ordinary conversations and even in Congress. As a former member of Congress who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, I believe they are right to do so.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:09 PM
Monday, January 09, 2006
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:56 PM
Tony Blair should be impeached over the Iraq war, a former senior soldier said.
General Sir Michael Rose, former UN commander in Bosnia, said the Prime Minister had to be held to account.
"Certainly from a soldier's perspective there can't be any more serious decision taken by a prime minister than declaring war," he said.
"And then to go to war on what turns out to be false grounds is something that no one should be allowed to walk away from."
General Sir Michael told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Blair's actions were "somewhere in between" getting the politics wrong and actually acting illegally.
"The politics was wrong, that he rarely declared what his ultimate aims were, as far as we can see, in terms of harping continually on weapons of mass destruction when actually he probably had some other strategy in mind.
"And secondly, the consequences of that war have been quite disastrous both for the people of Iraq and also for the west in terms of our wider interests in the war against global terror."
The general accepted Parliament had endorsed the war, but he said that was because the Prime Minister had stressed the weapons of mass destruction argument.
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:02 PM
Friday, January 06, 2006
Your Letters January 06 2006
So might Shakespeare's Julius Caesar have encouraged us to face up to the Scottish enigma. Ours is not a crisis of identity – we have never lost it – but one of loyalty.
Scotland did unquestionably benefit from the Union, both initially and in its role of Empire-building. Now that pride, self-confidence and prosperity have been replaced with doubt and decline, we must ask ourselves whether the present arrangements are in the best interests of both parties.
From a purely economic standpoint Westminster would not like to lose its primary source of energy, but England, far more than Scotland, has an identity crisis. It has lost its way, torn between Europe and America, spending its dwindling resources on ill-conceived adventures like Trident and Iraq, at the same time creating a domestic society quite alien to the Scottish psyche.
A serious vote for Scottish independence is just what England needs to shake up its complacent and outdated Establishment. The old United Kingdoms of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland can maintain open borders like the growing band of other Europeans – separation means no more than running our family affairs as befits our needs and aspirations. It's not nationalism, it's common sense.
R F Morrison, 29 Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh.
THERE are always two sides to consider in any argument, both of which usually make some valid points; this is certainly the case in the debate over the state of Scotland following Niall Ferguson's mainly prejudiced article (January 2).
One factor that is escaping serious discussion is the place of history education in Scottish schools, both state and "public"/private, for the history of a country is the history of its people and past achievements. Until relatively recently, the history taught was based on that of the British Empire with the emphasis being placed on the English input. Scotland was not the only Celtic-fringe nation to be so treated.
Undoubtedly, this historical educational fault has left a considerable imprint, one of basic subservience, on a great many Scots now holding senior positions within the Scottish and British politico-socio-economic scenes, so much so that those in thrall to the British scene frequently act against Scottish interests.
In this day and age, there is one undeniable truth in the democratic world and that is the fact that a country and its people will never realise their potential unless independence is achieved. This is becoming more obvious, on a daily basis, in Scotland.
Ian F M Saint-Yves, Dunvegan, School Brae, Whiting Bay, Arran.
In an otherwise entertaining letter on the Niall Ferguson controversy J M Stevenson, in a gratuitously offensive kind of way, criticises the action of Netherlee Church in raising a large sum of money to help provide shelter for "institutionalised women" in Sri Lanka (January 3). Stevenson professes that charity begins "at home". If, as he prefers, the sartorially unchallenged folk of Netherlee had opted to spend the money on a more local cause, then logic dictates that they and thousands of others like them throughout Niall Ferguson's "North Britain" should be honoured for denying relief to the hapless victims of tsunami, earthquake or, as in Netherlee's case vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, of brutally insensitive local traditions and practices in relation to mental healthcare.
At Netherlee we don't think that way. We oppose the medieval view that charity begins at home which resonates with the maxim we should ignore suffering and hardship outside Scotland – or outside Netherlee for that matter. We are proud of our 40-year link with St Andrew's Church in Colombo and we shall doubtless go on doing what we can to respond to the cries of help which we expect will continue unabated from our sister congregation in that unhappy country. If and when the same cry comes from the "lanes and alleys of Glasgow" then we shall do our best to make a response to that too. Indeed, we have done so throughout our 77-year history as the records will show.
Ironically, Ferguson chides modern Scotland for what he sees as its parochial, self-seeking and inward-looking obsession with itself – in stark contrast with its proud heritage of extra-boundary care and concern. Stevenson's sentiments – as they apply to the actions of churches like Netherlee – serve merely to advance Ferguson's wrongheaded claims in that regard.
Ronald Crawford, 50 Colonsay Drive, Newton Mearns.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 9:34 PM
The news that the SNP and Greens have been holding talks on possible future
coalitions is welcome. It makes sense that these parties who both seek
normal national status for Scotland should work together.
Both parties are of course already working together along with the Scottish
Socialist Party within the new Independence Convention.
While there are political differences amongst the Scottish parties there are
also very substantial areas of agreement, not least a concrete mutual
commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament.
There is also common ground on a fair way to raise local government finance,
on free school meals and prescriptions and the genuine provision of
comprehensive education and a national health service, all of which are in
danger from the English orientated Conservative/Labour axis.
What unites all the Scottish parties of course is their desire for Scottish
independence and their rejection of the unionist parties cap on Scottish
Labour's Scottish vote is justifiably crumbling and they can't count on
their partners in the Lib-Dems saving them for ever as their coat is on a
shoogly nail as well.
As the UK looks at even more Conservative rule (I'd hesitate to describe
Tony Blair or his bedfellow Brown as Labour men) it becomes more and more
obvious that Scotland's natural left of centre political ethos is
incompatible with parties whose policy emanates from London.
It's rather unfortunate that England still appears to be stuck in an
imperial past where weak chinned public school boys act as proxies for 'Her
Majesty' and do nothing positive to change society. Nowadays British
politics doesn't even bear favourable comparison with the USA as the two
main parties have became just as indistinguishable and irrelevant as their
However much the Palace of Westminster enjoys weakly sparring over nothing
the fact is that it's cozy vision of Blair and Cameron cuddling up to each
other across the despatch box is not shared by many people up here.
Personally I find nothing more horrifying than this pair of simpering
excuses for Thatcherism and I have a feeling I'm not alone.
Scotland's parties can make the break from the outdated British union and
the more they work together with one another the more likely it is that
their positive modern vision of independence will become reality. Let's
leave England to 'enjoy' their own unique brand of political soft soap, we
don't need it or want it and we never have.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 8:21 PM
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Tory MP hopes to drum up support for Union parade
IAN SWANSON SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
SHADOW Scottish Secretary David Mundell today called for a historical pageant in the Royal Mile to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union of Scotland and England next year.
He insisted that despite devolution, most Scots would want to celebrate the Union of the two countries' parliaments in 1707.
And he said the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections should not be allowed to put a damper on a proper commemoration.
Mr Mundell, Scotland's only Tory MP, said the celebrations for the anniversary of the Union of the Crowns in 2003 had been a non-event. And he added: "I think the Union of the parliaments is something we should celebrate.
"We are very lucky because we have still got the old parliament and we have the setting of the Royal Mile, so there is great scope to turn it into a pageant."
He added that the procession from the old Parliament House down the Mile before the opening of the Holyrood building in 2004
had been "quite a success".
Mr Mundell said the anniversary should be marked in London as well, perhaps with a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament and an address from the Queen.
He acknowledged his call for a major celebration of the Union would antagonise some Scots. But he insisted: "It is a minority of people who want to live in an independent Scotland. I don't think we should concede to them.
"What concerns me is 2007 is an election year. That was used as an excuse in 2003 for not doing very much. I hope the same excuse doesn't prevail this time."
Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz raised the issue in the Commons in October, arguing the Act of Union marked the foundation of Great Britain and no-one could deny its historical significance.
He was told by junior Scotland Office minister David Cairns that discussions were ongoing with the Scottish Executive and other departments, but it was too early to put forward definitive plans.
SNP leader Alex Salmond intervened to complain the Scotland Office had done nothing to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the death of William Wallace.
And he said it would be strange to have "a subsidised booze-up" to celebrate 1707. He suggested the minister should "do what he does best - nothing at all".
The 2003 celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Union of the Crowns included an event in Berwick-upon-Tweed, featuring hundreds of costumed musketeers and pikemen.
There was also a lavish £33,000 dinner hosted by the First Minister and visits by the Queen. But leading SNP MSP Alex Neil claimed the Queen had been among those eager to keep the 2003 celebrations low-key to avoid stirring up nationalist sentiment.
He said he expected more effort to mark the 1707 anniversary, but added: "The only celebration I would be interested in is if people voted for independence in 2007. The Union of Parliaments came about as a result of skullduggery and treachery by the 'parcel of rogues in the nation' and it will be the current-day parcel of rogues that want to celebrate the Union."
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said the Union was an important event in the country's history and would be marked in an appropriate way, but discussions were still at an early stage.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:38 PM
SNP in talks with Greens
The SNP have held talks with the Greens on parliamentary co-operation following the next Scottish election.
Nationalists are aiming to be the biggest Holyrood party in 2007, while the Greens have set out hopes to form part of a power-sharing Executive.
But SNP leader Alex Salmond pulled back from suggestions that the talks were coalition negotiations telling BBC Scotland: "The SNP intends to become the largest party in the parliament.
"The Greens I'm sure will be a parliamentary force in that parliament and you would expect the parties to be preparing for the situation where we'll be able to replace the current discredited Labour Executive with a different one."
But Mr Salmond stressed that talks were at an early stage, adding: "They were looking at areas of parliamentary co-operation. That would be more accurate than talking about coalitions."
The SNP and Greens agree in a number of policy areas such as nuclear power, rendition flights and Scottish independence, but the Greens may clash with the SNP's economic growth strategy because of environmental concerns.
Mr Salmond said: "Clearly there are areas where the two parties don't agree but there are areas where we do agree. Disagreements can either be put to one side or sidelined."
"Coalition is only one possibility," he added.
"There are areas of parliamentary co-operation that stop short of coalitions."
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "Alex Salmond's approach is recognising that the Greens are a serious force in Scottish politics, that we're going to be on the political map for some time to come and that where we have common ground, it's good to talk.
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:35 PM
Blair backs down over incapacity benefit
JAMES KIRKUP WESTMINSTER EDITOR
THE government backed away from radical plans to reform incapacity benefit yesterday, signalling that there will be no attempt to cut the £8 billion bill for the welfare payments.
Labour MPs had threatened a rebellion after suggestions from Downing Street of a move to reduce the total amount of money paid to the 2.7 million incapacity benefit claimants.
But ministers yesterday said there was no longer any question of cutting payments made to claimants. Suggestions that time limits or means tests could be placed on the benefit are also set to be dropped.
Instead, new plans to cut the incapacity benefit lists are expected to focus on expanding pilot projects that effectively pay claimants more money as an incentive to leave the welfare system and get a job.
The so-called Pathways to Work programme penalises claimants who do not attend employment-based interviews with officials, but it also offers an extra £40-a-week payment to those who get jobs.
John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said there was no question of imposing big cuts in the incapacity benefits paid to existing claimants. "I did not come into politics to make poor people poorer," he said.
Mr Hutton has written to the 100 MPs whose constituencies have the most incapacity benefit claimants, reassuring them about the government's plans.
An official spokesman for Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, also suggested that there was no longer any target of cutting the overall incapacity benefit bill, although falling numbers of claimants would reduce costs eventually.
"The primary purpose is to get people back to work," the spokesman said. "Given the demographics, that in itself is right for the economy."
Three of the ten constituencies with the most claimants are in Glasgow. Glasgow East tops the list with 11,300 people claiming incapacity benefits.
Ian Davidson, the Labour MP whose Glasgow South West seat comes 13th in the list with 8,600 claimants, said he was satisfied the government had backed down from its initial plans for widespread cuts in payments. "We want to make sure that this is not a means of saving money for the Treasury, nor a means of punishing those who are in difficulties," he said.
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=11982006
Last updated: 04-Jan-06 01:12 GMT
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:12 AM
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
The Scots who turned the world upside down
January 04 2006
"Fredome is a noble thing . . . "
John Barbour's famous words from The Brus resound across the centuries and
the ideal of freedom born in this period became engrained in the Scottish
psyche, affecting everyone brought up as a Scot.
Over four centuries later, Robert Burns still testified to the emotive power
resonating from those days: "The story of Wallace poured a Scottish
prejudice in my veins which will boil along there till the flood gates of
life shut in eternal rest."
I am convinced that in the great period of European nationalism of the late
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was this Scottish heritage that
galvanised people such as James Boswell to adopt the cause of Corsica,
George Gordon, Lord Byron, to die for the liberation of Greece and Lord
Cochrane to fight for freedom in South America.
Cochrane was called Le Loup de Mer, the Sea Wolf, by his admirer Napoleon,
and El Diablo - the Devil - by his enemy General Pezuela, the Spanish
viceroy of Peru. To the colonial powers of South America, Spain and
Portugal, he was regarded as an unprincipled and dangerous mercenary, yet he
rejected a far more lucrative commission from Spain itself.
In his day he was regarded by the British establishment as a dangerous
radical, but his exploits as a serial liberator in South America and Greece
thrilled everyone thirled to the concept of freedom. A contemporary who
witnessed his exploits in Chile, Maria Graham, wrote: "He is doing honour to
his native land, by supporting that cause which used to be hers, and in
after-ages his name will be among those of the household gods of the
Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, arrived in Chile with his wife and
sons in November 1818. He caused a stir in Valparaiso when he hosted a St
Andrew's night ball dressed as a Highland chieftain. His strategy initially
was to stage small-scale coastal raids on Spanish forts and procure captured
treasure. But he was also aware that he had to inflict mortal blows to
Spanish power to win control of the sea, and at Valdivia in Chile and Callao
in Peru he achieved this with spectacular success.
At Valdivia, a stronghold consisting of a number of separate forts, Cochrane
put in 300 men against a garrison of 1300. Before launching the attack, he
dismissed the small problem that his guns had been rendered useless when his
ammunition got soaked, by telling his men that their reliance on the bayonet
that night was in their favour as it gave them the element of surprise, and
the Spaniards had a "rooted aversion" to cold steel.
After Callao, Cochrane was the undisputed master of the Pacific, with
Peruvian and Chilean independence guaranteed. These raids are still
celebrated and commemorated as essential turning points in their respective
national histories and the sites are places of pilgrimage for Chileans and
Peruvians to this day.
Cochrane thenwent on to Brazil, where he similarly achieved spectacular
results against the Portuguese. In Scotland, he arrived home a hero and when
he appeared in an Edinburgh theatre on October 3, 1825, the whole audience
rose to give him an ovation.
He is buried in Westminster Abbey. I have never visited his tombstone, but I
have seen photographs of him lovingly taken by Carlos Arredondo, a Chilean
musician in exile here in Scotland. As is always the case with history, the
modern echoes are compelling. Carlos's life proves that liberty, once won,
has to be constantly fought for. He is aware that the navy founded by
Cochrane was engaged in gross abuses of human rights during the Pinochet
Knowing Cochrane's humanitarian reputation, Carlos believes that the admiral
would have abhorred the excesses of the navy under the fascists, and wants
to reclaim him for the Chilean people.
As a Scots-Chileno himself now, Carlos sees Cochrane as a symbol of the best
of both his homelands and as an icon whose example can help re-establish
real freedom for the people of Chile.
James Boswell is one of many Scots who became involved in other people's
liberation struggles, yet had seriously ambivalent feelings when it came to
his own country's history of independence and union. Although he undoubtedly
suffered from the Scottish cringe, he regarded himself as a Scottish patriot
and it is this feeling for Scottish history that attracted him to the
Nowhere is this stated more clearly than on the title page of his book, An
Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and Memoir of
Pascal Paoli, published in 1768, leading with the famous words from the
Declaration of Arbroath, "We fight not for glory, nor for wealth nor
honours; but only and alone we fight for Freedom".
But why were these men so drawn to become deeply involved in other people's
liberation struggles? Was their attraction to the cause an extension or a
sublimation of their feelings for Scotland, possibly an expiation of guilt
as they saw the distinctiveness of their own country being eroded in the
eighteenth and nineteenth century?
On the Grand Tour, Boswell was constantly in touch with home. From Avignon
to Rome, he came across illustrious Jacobite exiles. In the university
library in Leipzig, he also discovered a copy of the Declaration of Arbroath
and regaled astonished professors with declamations of his favourite
"They were struck with the noble sentiments of liberty of the old Scots and
they expressed their regret at the shameful Union. I felt true patriot
sorrow. Oh, infamous rascals, who sold the honour of your country to a
nation against which our ancestors supported themselves with so much glory.
But I say no more, only alas, poor Boswell was 24 years old and had the
gallus brass-necked cheek of youth as an ally when he succeeded in getting
himself invitations to meet Voltaire and Rousseau. It was Rousseau who told
Boswell of the Corsican struggle for freedom and of the nobility of its
leader, General Paoli. Boswell resolved to go there and tell their story to
The Corsicans had been dominated by the Republic of Genoa since medieval
times but had begun their struggle to free themselves more than 35 years
before Boswell's arrival.
Indeed, Boswell was able to travel freely because there was a lull in the
fighting, and with tensions relaxed, both General Paoli and the Corsican
people were open to this foreign writer engaged in their fight. He repaid
their hospitality by making their cause famous throughout Europe.
In British politics, like Lord Cochrane, Byron was a political Radical and
Whig, yet his romantic love of things Scottish attracted him to a High Tory
like Sir Walter Scott and they became firm friends despite political
By the early 1820s Byron was looking around for something momentous to
engage himself with and at one point he had discussions with people who were
involved in Símon Bolívar's anti-colonial movement in South America. When
his friend Hobhouse of the London Greek Committee suggested that he would be
an important focus for the Greek cause, if he would consent to be on the
ground there, he accepted and made plans for departure.
There is a painting by Theodoros Vrizakis which commemorates his arrival in
Missolonghi in January, 1821. Here, Byron alights wrapped in a tartan plaid
and carrying a Homeric helmet. He had commissioned both for his trip to
Greece - he had enough tartan to swathe his horse as well - and was aware
that these romantic symbols of Greek and Highland warriors would strike the
right heroic chord and help galvanise the disparate forces of opposition to
It is entirely possible that it was Cochrane's example which inspired Byron
to join the liberation struggle of Greece against Turkey. Amazingly,
following Byron's death, it was Cochrane himself in 1825 who continued the
fight as First Admiral to the Greek fleet. The invitation to him to take up
the Greek cause came via the same London Greek Committee which had
originally approached Byron. Its leaders included the Radical Scots MP
Joseph Hume, whose son Allan Octavian Hume went on to found Indian National
Congress, the main motor for India's struggle for independence in the
We could analyse the diverse factors which motivated all of these kenspeckle
characters till the kye comes hame, but let us not lose sight of their
unifying characteristics - they were all steeped in the Scottish traditions
of social progress via education and the Enlightenment and they had an
emotional attachment to the struggles of Bruce and Wallace.
Both traditions had a huge impact on the world. The story of Bruce inspired
Poland at the time of partition. Wallace was a hero of Garibaldi at the time
of the Italian Risorgimento. The tune of Scots Wha Hae was played at the
lifting of the English siege of Orléans when Joan of Arc and the Scots of La
Garde Écossaise liberated France. David Livingstone was known to sing the
song to revive his spirit and he was called Africa's first freedom fighter
by Kenneth Kaunda. "Now's the day and now's the hour" were the words on the
proclamation that inspired the American revolt against Mexico in Texas.
Robert Louis Stevenson was engaged in the cause of Samoa. The father of the
Norwegian independence movement was W K Christie and its cultural hero was
Edvard Grieg, both children of the Scottish diaspora.
And, of course, there's Corsica, Greece, India, Chile, Peru and Brazil. All
of their liberation movements have a proud pedigree rooted in the Scottish
experience of a people who know that Fredome is, and always will be, a noble
Billy Kay's three-part Radio Scotland series, Fredome is a Noble Thing,
begins tomorrow at 11.30am and is repeated at half past midnight, then again
on Sunday after 5pm.
Scots and revolution
1729 Corsicans begin a 44-year struggle against the oppression of the
Republic of Genoa
1768 James Boswell's An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that
Island and Memoir of Pascal Paoli published
1768-1789 Corsica comes under French control, and remains so today
1818 Admiral Cochrane arrives in Chile. Declaration of Chilean Independence
1820 Cochrane defeats the Spaniards at Valdivia in Chile and at Callao in
1821 Independence of Peru
1822 Declaration of Brazilian Independence
1823 Cochrane defeats the Portuguese in Brazil
1821 Beginning of the Greek War of Independence against the Turks
1823 Byron arrives in Greece to join the struggle
1824 Byron dies in Missolonghi
1825 Cochrane takes command of the Greek navy in the struggle against the
1832 Greek Independence is guaranteed in the Treaty of Constantinople
1883-1885 Allan Octavian Hume founds the Indian National Congress
1947 India achieves independence
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:51 PM