Archive for ‘Scottish Parliament’

December 7, 2017

Short-changed: Scotland’s currency a Unit or Unite?

Or minting it in Aberdeen 

rob iii gold lion

Robert III gold lion

Banks have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, again. Can’t remember when it was otherwise. In certain parts of the country such as where I live it’s virtually impossible to find a working bank that doesn’t involve a round trip in a car that takes a good hour and a half or by bus the greater part of a day. It really is like going back more than a century.

Now it appears banks will also remove many cash machines making it all but impossible for folk in rural areas to access their own cash, never mind the difficulties all of this involves for local businesses in depositing takings at the end of each day or for community groups trying to get their hands on change for admission charges to facilities or indeed bank these safely and locally.  

Not so long ago Scotland’s influence over its money supply was greater than now with local banks and even stock exchanges dotted around the country and like now banks issued bank notes but not coins – this ended in Scotland 300 years ago.

Since the Union of 1707 Scotland’s mints along with so much else were consigned to the scrap heap thereby diminishing this nation’s ability to influence her own economy despite Article 16 of the Treaty of Union stipulating that Scotland retain its own mint –

“…a Mint shall be continued in Scotland under the same rules as the Mint in England…”

What happened to that? The Mint at Edinburgh stopped striking coins a mere two years after the Union with an issue of half crowns and shillings in 1709. In 1870 the Coinage Act transferred the nominal role of Governor of the Mint of Scotland to the English Chancellor of the Exchequer in London. Another Coinage Act, this time in 1971 finally extinguished all sign of Scotland’s distinctive currencies when the Chancellor of the Exchequer became the Master of the Mint under Edward Heath (apologies for any unwanted imagery associated with that statement.)

The mint at Aberdeen was one of the earliest Scottish mints. It began during the reign of William the Lion (1165 – 1214) and continued intermittently until the Act of Union. Despite its long existence few Aberdeen coins are extant for coins used to be melted down and the precious metal re-used for new strikes at the behest of the monarch who pocketed the difference between the higher value of old redundant coins and lesser worth replacements. Essentially this was a means of underhand taxation that benefited the monarch while anyone else caught snipping off pieces of coin for its silver value faced gruesome execution. 

We are all too familiar with being short-changed nowadays when using Scottish currency in England but you may be surprised to learn that the foundation of this has legitimate basis for people with long memories. Way back in the 12th and 13th centuries the amount of silver that went into making silver coins or sterlings was reduced from 240 pennies created from one pound of silver to 252 squeezed out by Robert the Bruce’s moneyers compared with 243 around the same time in England.

When David II was held for ransom by the English the Scots paid £40,000 to get him back using silver from which 294 pennies were extracted (and later still a pound was used to produce 352 coins) giving rise to complaints that the exchange was being carried out on the cheap. It has to be said that England did the same whenever cash was required – for example to finance military campaigns or to pay off debts – the medieval equivalent of quantitative easing. Coins were also cut in half or quartered to provide coins of lesser value used along with small value currency such as round half-pennies and farthings (which date from Alexander III.)

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Alexander III silver penny minted in Aberdeen 1250-1280

It’s not known where Aberdeen’s mint was situated. According to one of the city’s 19th C historians, Kennedy, it was in Exchequer Row, but others disagree – in the way a bunch of historians do (worse than ferrets in a sack.) It might be mints from different periods operated in different parts of the town for there was no need for a specific building as little space was required to produce coins – they were made by hand, stamped or hammered from a die imprinted with the design of the coin. Perhaps a furnace was employed to soften pieces of metal to be cut to an appropriate size of disc and weight which were then placed between a two dies – the top one hammered to make the distinctive markings on the new coin. Mechanisation was brought in during 1637 in Scotland with the appointment of French coiner Nicholas Briot as Master of the Scottish Mint.

Naturally, control over the creation of money was tightly regulated. In 1526 the Scottish parliament decreed that –

“feigners and counterfeiters” of the king’s money should be severely punished by which was supposedly hanging, drawing and quartering.

Such a dire threat might have dissuaded some from forgery but not all and a cursory glance back in time shows just how tempting it was to try. In 1566 arrests were made in Aberdeen of individuals accused of bringing in counterfeit or black money called hardheids from Flanders and the town’s commissioners, Robert Crichton and James Millar, were ordered to carry out an investigation which resulted the following year in Andrew Murray, a burgess from Perth, and Patrick Ramsay, a burgess from Dundee, being found guilty and gruesomely executed. In 1594 Scotland’s Privy Council reiterated a ban on foreign currency to reduce the amount of foreign coins circulating, sometimes from legitimate reasons e.g. the old rose noble of England had been temporarily allowed into Aberdeen to pay for English soldiers then barracked in the town.

As I mentioned above control over currency rested with the monarch who appointed moneyers to mint coins and he or she determined the timing of new issues. Sometimes a moneyer’s name was pressed onto coins, adding to confusion over their source for coiners and moneyers were peripatetic and moved about the country following the monarch’s movements and supplied coins where necessary.

Scotland’s own currency, silver pennies, first appeared in the 12th century during the reign of David I. Before then all sorts of currencies were used for trading including Roman, Northumbrian, Viking and Anglo-Saxon which explain why exposed money hoards have often included money from different parts, for example two hoards of Roman silver denari found in 1966 at Birnie, near Elgin in Moray (pronounced Murray as in Andy not moray as in the eel) inside wee leather purses which had been placed in a pot lined with bracken. A couple of centuries ago several purses and bags of money were discovered in Aberdeen which dated from the time of Mary Queen of Scots and these coins carried both her name and that of her husband Francis, Dauphin of France.

mary and francis testoon

Mary and Francis testoon

It was in 1136 then that Scotland’s first coins were minted – in England, or rather that disputed territory of Carlisle. The town had been taken by the Scottish King David and as there were silver mines there along with a mint he put both to good use and had a number of silver coins struck. These first issues looked remarkably like English money but over time Scotland’s currencies grew distinctive. By the reign of James III (1460 – 1488) instead of showing a nominal portrait to represent the monarch Scottish coins featured realistic regal portraits and were by now more comparable with French coinage than English – a hint at the close relationship between Scotland and France. Those from the reign of James III also featured Scotland’s heraldic emblems of the thistle and the wonderful unicorn. The golds were called riders and the silvers were placks.

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Find the unicorn

Edinburgh has long been Scotland’s financial centre and unsurprisingly an important supplier of Scottish currency although it wasn’t until 1527 that a specific building was designated for the mint. Edinburgh was also the last place in Scotland to mint coins after the Union of Parliaments. The Union of Scotland and England was marked by striking a new coin which interestingly acquired similar but different names north and south of the border – known as a unit in Scotland and as a unite in England (make what you will of the subtext of these names.) The unit was silver and worth £12 Scots or £1 sterling (English) and from the time of the Union Scottish currency had to fit in with England’s; both silver and copper.

Aberdeen minted coins were of a slightly more recent vintage than Edinburgh’s but as parliament followed the king around Scotland with the mint in his wake Aberdeen became a centre of production for several years from 1342 when plague ravaged the country encouraging the nobility to head north in hope of escaping it.  

Whenever mention is made of Scotland’s former currencies it’s usually the groat or bawbee which are recalled but there were many other coins circulating here across the centuries including the plack, bodle, pistole, crown, demi-lion, ducat or bonnet, merk or mark, unicorn, half-unicorn, dollar, farthing and ryal as well as half-groats, half-pennies, and half almost anything – produced by cutting a coin in two. Of course not every coin was minted at each new strike and not every mint from the Borders to Inverness produced a range of coinage.

As trade increased so did constraints on currency. Parliament imposed limitations on the movement of money leaving the country. Such a tax in 1331 was set at one shilling in the pound and provided Aberdeen with over £8 duty taken from £160 of its currency which had moved away that year.    

While there are not many extant Aberdeen minted coins some remain. Several turned up in a silver hoard of 12,000 coins unearthed in a 3-legged bronze pot in 1886 in the city’s Upperkirkgate, at Ross’s Court. Most of these 13th and 14th century coins were English pennies along with a number of French Mary Queen of Scots testoons and 113 pennies from the reign of Alexander III but as to where they were minted there is no record and no hint on the coins.

On the subject of things missing several coins from that cache, sixty-two of them, were bought by Queen Victoria including twelve early ones produced under Alexander III, a couple from the time of Robert the Bruce and two from John Balliol’s pretendy reign – they have since disappeared along with several handed over to both the National Collection of Antiquities in Edinburgh and the British Museum. The bulk of the hoard, around 10,000 coins, was returned to Aberdeen city and the University of Aberdeen but again a portion of these have also disappeared.

Aberdeen coins showed the king’s crowned head on the front except for those dating from Alexander III’s time which show an encircled head containing the king’s name and title. The reverse features a long double and single cross with stars, pellets and so on in the angles – and the mint name in a circle. In the case of the groats and half-groats an outer circle included the motto Dominvs Protector Mevs et Liberator Mevs (the protector and liberator) or contractions of it. On the Alexander III penny the coin includes the name of the moneyer, John of Aberdeen (no, not THAT one!)

David II was the first monarch to have groats and half groats minted, the latter marked Vila Aberdon indicating they were struck in Aberdeen. A Robert III groat reads Villa de Aberdein. A rare James II half groat from the Aberdeen hoard has Villa Aberden. Another variation denoting Aberdeen in James III and IV groats is the legend Villa de Abrde. Coins carrying HA were also Aberdeen mints signifying an occasional spelling of Aberdeen as Habirden.

As British banking staggers from crisis to crisis and the ordinary people of this country are the ones to shoulder the burden of bankers’ incompetency and criminality and at a time financial experts warn that the state of the UK banking system is worse than useless for its ability to ride out another storm the likelihood of which is extremely high it is surely time to return to more localised fiscal controls – not dependent on the whims of a monarch but a national bank of Scotland issuing 21st century currency, perhaps the unit.

November 3, 2017

There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

August 31, 2017

The Englishman Dr Livingstone, I presume: the unmaking of a nation through its school history

Myths and truths about Scottish History in Schools

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There is a fairly widespread belief that Scottish history has not, until recently, been taught in our schools. This is not true. Let me qualify that. From the earliest days of informal schooling an amount of storytelling doubtless crept into lessons; the exploits of national heroes and heroines until history as a discrete subject was formalised in the 1880s.

Most Scottish children since then were made familiar with some aspects of our past even if that amounted to little more than fleeting references to a handful of monarchs and a few notable battles. Granted among the baby-boomer generation it might have been for some their only encounter with Scottish history, any history, was at primary school – taught by non-specialist teachers in the main. Before the introduction of O Grades in 1962 thousands of Scots children could have left school with their leaving certificate having been taught no history at their junior secondary school and even with O Grades, later S Grades, it was possible for children to get no history after second year.

Does it matter? There are plenty who claim history serves no purpose and time in school would be better taken up teaching maths and science. Consider then waking up one day your memory has gone from an accident or Alzheimer’s disease with you having to make your way ignorant of what you’ve done and who you are. A clean sheet. Make of it what you can. Welcome to a world devoid of history.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. (Machiavelli)

Even though we are too stupid to learn from those who came before us Machiavelli might have added but did not.

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The actions of our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundations of the lives we lead today. It is useful to understand that process. What we learn of the nation’s past defines our perception of it then and now and our understanding of how our world has evolved – and in that those who argue Scottish children have not been taught their own history are correct to some extent.

History is not a series of facts strung together along a timeline. Although that’s how it has sometimes been presented. It is a muddle of events – a smorgasbord picked over by people who fancy themselves a bit of this and a bit of that. History can be simply entertaining – stories of adventure and discovery and it can be a powerful tool for propaganda. Propaganda of the past is all around us – shops are full of it, radio and television, too, complete with a telegenic communicators eagerly offering their carefully chosen morsels to seduce you into falling for their particular bees in their particular bonnets. My advice is treat with caution. No telling of history is ever neutral – the very facts presented have been selected at the expense of others that don’t fit the message. Scrutinise the historian and ask yourself why she/he is saying this/that/whatever and not something entirely different. Historians are not always transparent – what is it they aren’t telling us? And why have they couched their interpretation of events in that way?

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Despite (almost) every child in Scotland attending school at some point in their lives too many adult Scots are unfortunately ignorant about education – what goes on now and even when they were in the thick of it. Memories are patchy and woefully unreliable. How many Scots have I heard going on about their O Level passes when they never sat any but took O Grades, unless they attended private school? How many Scots bemoan Highers as inferior to the English A Level blissfully unaware the Higher was set to be taken a year earlier than A Levels and the reason ordinary university courses in Scotland were longer than their English equivalents?

There are also those who go on about the national curriculum unaware that there is no prescribed national curriculum in Scotland instead a huge amount of leeway is provided to specialist teachers to use their initiative within guidelines and constraints of the exam system and the reason why some people’s experience of history will be different from others. What you were taught depended a great deal on your history teacher and it might be you went to one of the very few schools, in the west of Scotland I understand, where the openness of the curriculum allowed history to be removed altogether from secondary years one and two. Moronic. Also moronic was the introduction of faculty heads to replace discrete department principal teachers giving rise to the ludicrous situation whereby the history department of a school could be run by someone who dumped history to become better acquainted with a football. Few primary teachers will have been specialists in history but all secondary teachers should be. However that is a great big rag bag in itself.

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Teachers and what they teach is only as good as their own learning and the resources available to them. Just where do you find quality materials to teach a range of topics to pupils whose ages range between 12 and 18? No history teachers enters the profession equipped with an expansive knowledge of every topic required in the classroom so where to find material? Books you may reasonably say. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Books are expensive and teachers have a tiny budget that always fails to cover the essentials to teach everything covered in years one to six. Books get destroyed, lost and tatty and even history books become out-dated. This is why so many teachers make up their own worksheets – and we have all experienced how iffy that can be. But even worksheets are expensive to create given the budgets available and they have a short shelf life.  

That said there was a time when reasonable supplies of  books were to be found in classrooms. Many were published in England and were almost like foreign texts. What is taught as ‘British’ history does not always sit well in the Scottish classroom. For example an awful lot, let me repeat that, an awful lot of histories written by English teachers and/or historians largely ignore Scotland. Try finding examples of everyday life in the Victorian period – it’s as if everyone in the UK lived in London or Manchester. Look at histories of the Napoleonic wars – presented as English wars fought by Englishmen on the other side of the English Channel. What, historian Sydney Wood, asks

“… went through the mind of the Scot from Lewis who was required to haul aloft Nelson’s pre-Trafalgar signal of ‘England expects every man to do his duty?”

Wood goes on

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Convention of Scottish Burghs (1905) complained of the existence of school books in which: Great Britain is called England, the British throne is called the English throne … David Livingstone is called an Englishman, James Watt and Adam Smith are called English.”

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To that list we might add were there no Chartists active in Scotland organising for democracy? Were Scots instead quietly sitting at home supping porridge? In British histories Scotland is excised again and again. That literary tick of substituting English for British, England for Britain produces an untrue twist on its narrative of the lives of our ancestors in these islands yet there it is on a page in black and white so it must be true. Such crass sloppiness is everywhere from Oxbridge dons to daft little-Englanders cheering on England’s Brexit from the EU.

What did you learn in school today dear little boy of mine?

I learnt that the government of Britain was English and that in England both parties, Liberals and Conservatives, favoured peaceful progress and social reform unlike most countries of Europe afflicted by conflicts and political revolution.

I learnt that Dr David Livingstone from Blantyre was English.

I learnt that the poet Lord Byron was English because he had an English father (and Scottish mother) and he was born in England.

I learnt that the philosopher economist John Stuart Mill was English because he had a Scottish father – uhm – but he was born in England so he was definitely English.

I learnt that the writer Rudyard Kipling was English because he had an English father and was born in India – but couldn’t possibly have been Indian because he was English, after all.

History our flexible friend.

For most Scots Scottish history in primary and the early stages of secondary school was very well covered – but it was a case of pupil beware.

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I don’t know who Flora Forbes MA was but her Past and Present books, published by John Cormack of Edinburgh presented a very unionist interpretation of Scotland (but then so did they all.) She wrote of an “angry” Scottish Parliament demanding equality with England over trade and shipping at the adoption of the Hanoverians and how “moderate men” saw the sense of a union of the two parliaments. She did not mention the storm of opposition to this in Scotland but noted Scots “naturally feared that England would once again deal unfairly with the smaller country.” Perish the thought.

On Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Queen Elizabeth she wrote:

“When Queen Elizabeth began to reign, England was not yet in a settled condition with regard to the religion of the people. Although the government was Protestant, half of the people were Catholics, and they believed Mary Stewart to be their rightful queen. Elizabeth’s task in ruling the country was therefore far from easy, but she proved to be a wise and clever ruler, and she was helped in the work of government by very able men.”

Some might call them liars, conspirers and charlatans but there you go.

Not all Scottish school textbooks were as partial and sickeningly obsequious as Ms Forbes’s efforts.

Scotland the age of achievement Hogarth's contrast

John Patrick’s SCOTLAND  the age of achievement was less whimsical and more authoritative (nothing to do with him being a bloke.) A lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education he used Hogarth’s drawing which contrasted poverty in Scotland – the ill-fed Scot – against the prosperity of the well-fed Londoner inside the cover. “Many English cartoons in the eighteenth century made fun of Scotland’s poverty,” he explained.

Patrick took a responsible approach to the scoundrels of Scottish history in his account of the trials of 18th century reformers Muir and Palmer and we are left in no doubt who he believed was the scoundrel in that episode. In his summing up the hanging Lord Braxfield intent on suppressing sedition addressed the court:

“…the government “is made of landed interests, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them?”

Ah the witty and respected judge Braxfield set the tone for a fair trial-

“Come awa, sirs and help us hang these rascals…”

Rascals were people who dared to criticise the monarchy and corrupt governments made up of the landed gentry in government to enhance their own interests and shitting themselves that revolution in France might prove to be contagious. Dundee minister Palmer was sentenced to 7 years transportation and lawyer Muir to 14 years.

IMM Macphail, A History of Scotland Book 1, 1950s

Many of you will surely have been familiar with A.D. Cameron’s History for Young Scots Books 1 and 2 which were widely used in primary and early stages secondary during the 1970s and ’80s and created a patchwork impression of Scotland from the Neolithic settlers at Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands to more recent time when the European Coal and Steel Community was held up as a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity in a coming-together of nations in the Common Market.

“Could Britain afford to remain outside such a large and vital market in Europe? Could she become a member without endangering her unique partnership with the other nations in the Commonwealth”  he asked without a question mark. Tut tut.

Cameron ended on a note of optimism explaining that Britain did join the European Economic Community and people found they could travel more freely and got on with one another. Where did that get us?

Cameron made up dialogue to inject life and human interest into what is sometimes dismissed as a dry subject.

“Here is food; here is plenty” the comment of a contented Skara Braen tucking into a mountainous whale as a wise old man surveys the scene on the beach, “There is food for many moons,” he declares with just a touch of Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Cameron was nothing if not confident in his statements for example he assured us the women of Skara Brae spent about an hour every day grinding corn into flour.

Patrick achievement

Cameron’s approach to school history was entertaining and his books were well-illustrated: Picts, Celts, Romans, Vikings, English, Wars of Independence, burghs and so on- to the Union –

Britain” – (hang on A D you mean England and Wales?) “was at war with France during Queen Anne’s reign, and the English, fearing the Scots” (not at war with France – just saying) “might select a king of their own and revive the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, decided to allow the Scots free trade” – (which they had done their level best to destroy up till then) – “if they would consent to the creation of a British Parliament.”

Cameron fell into the British/English trap there did you notice?

Under the Union he informed us English and colonial markets were to be opened up to Scottish merchants and Scottish currency, weights and measures were abandoned in favour of English equivalents. Religion and law remained uniquely Scottish.

And with the Union an end was put to Scottish history – in a sense – that’s me, not Cameron.

Patrick, no Union

Cameron’s school histories were enjoyable and useful tools for teachers but frustrating for those parts of Scotland ignored in their pages. Pupils in Dundee, Aberdeen and areas north, northwest, south and east found little there to reflect the lives of their foremothers. The nature of the colossus that is history means inevitably there are gaps but where those same gaps are replicated a false impression of the past becomes entrenched into our minds: Cameron illustrated the widespread Highland Clearances with a snapshot of the Sutherland clearances at Strathnavar; Industrial Scotland was largely and predictably confined to the Clyde and west of Scotland. Cameron was a Principal Teacher of History at Inverness Royal Academy and should have known better. That’s all I know about A D Cameron.

 Aside from those unfortunates not offered history in a handful of secondary schools a perception that Scottish history was not taught might be because pupils chose not to study it as an O grade or Higher and simply forgot or because their teacher lazily churned out what she/he came across in muddled myth-laden textbooks entirely Anglo-centred: agricultural and industrial revolutions; social and political changes; housing; transport etc  – as far as the eye can see.

Historical events and change in England has always been taught in Scottish schools whereas in England Scotland seldom features – and usually only as that pesky aggressive neighbour to the north. Where Scottish histories have generally reflected Scotland as part of the United Kingdom English histories have a tendency to see England standing alone bold and magnificent – succeeding. European and World history as portrayed in history texts are seen through the lens of England and the English people with Scotland rarely a footnote.

There is no doubt that for much of the 20th century Scottish history has been much under-represented in our own schools while any Scottish dimension of British and world history virtually disappears south of the border. Can we wonder then at the sheer level of ignorance in England when it comes to Scotland? Watch as bemused smiles break out on the faces of quiz show contestants when asked anything relating to Scotland.

Historian Sydney Wood considered the role history education plays in the development of our sense of national identity – pointed to how Scotland’s education system retained its independence post-1707 until the English Education Act of 1872 gave London oversight of Scottish education right up to 1939.

Decades later Thatcher’s Tories tried to mould education to suit her rightwing agenda but found strong resistance in Scotland yet English Tories were able to wield some influence here. Devolution in 1997 returned education in Scotland to the responsibility of the Scottish government, albeit still following a unionist agenda.

It is true that teaching distinctly Scottish history tottered during the 20th century. Children might learn about early settlers – Skara Brae in the neolithic period and Stonehenge – but how many were taught about the sheer richness of neolithic evidence there is in Scotland? How many English children ever learnt about any early settlers in Scotland? Precious few. Vikings were mainly English Vikings. The Industrial Revolution took place mainly in England. Urban expansion and overcrowded homes were suffered in England. Poverty was English. No-one rioted in Scotland because they were starving. We were led to believe. Orator Henry Hunt and the Spa Fields (somewhere near London) riot over parliamentary reform (lack of) was drummed into the lugs of young Scots while in Scotland all was quiet – we were led to believe. Not that there has been much sympathy for rioters in history books – mad, angry, mobs, unruly, violent. As for the politicians whose actions led to such deprivation and inequality – they avoided pejorative adjectives attached to their activities.

Life expectancy as many Scots pupils once knew was very different between a man in Liverpool and one in Bath. Bath – Bath? Where’s that Miss?

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Every child in Scotland learnt about the Speenhamland system – a barbaric means by which magistrates in Berkshire in England provided charity to starving men, women and children. What was happening in Scotland? Scotland that impoverished neighbour of England? Presumably all was hunky dory.

Chartism was scarcely a whisper in Scotland – if you believe many of the histories taught in our schools. And in Scottish histories Chartism only occurred in Glasgow.

Scottish school children learnt about changes in English farming – the Norfolk system of crop rotation but who in England learnt about farm toons and run rigs?

Britain’s Story Told in Pictures printed in Manchester c1950. Brave to title the book Britain but let’s take through its chapters.

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I guess the authors were too busy putting the book together to visit Callanish standing stones or Orkney to become acquainted with its amazing Neolithic sites – or any of the unique recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire and other important features all around Scotland dating back over 5000 years. Let’s try the chapter Roman Britain. In what sounds like a national entity called Britain life was evidently most interesting in the south, as that’s all presented here. Picts of Caledonia get a single mention only in relation to Hadrian’s Wall not who they were of any reference to their pictorial art.

Let’s try Anglo-Saxon Britain 410-1066 – you can imagine I’m not too hopeful for this chapter. Aha, at least we have more definition as it begins with “The English are descended from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes…English conquest” blah, blah, blah…”English race” an interesting concept – especially given the previous paragraphs explaining the number of different peoples who’ve formed this ‘race’. I’m not expecting any mention of Scotland because this chapter doesn’t apply here – although Scots kids all learnt about it. But what is this? There’s a sketch of a Viking cross at Oransay, Scotland – that’ll be Oronsay I expect – and it’s what we call a Celtic cross and it dates from around 500 years after the chapter’s cut-off date. History our flexible friend again.

Chapter 4 looks at Medieval Britain 1066-1485 with not a cheep about Scottish royalty but everything you need to know and more about the line of English kings. There is a mention of Scotland in relation to the English Edward I. That’s it. There’s a nice drawing of a battering ram – know what I’d like to do with that – lots of Norman this and that. But hark! What comes here? It is an illustration of Robert the Bruce (again because of the association to England as is the case for the sketch of Joan of Arc.) So that’s it for Medieval Britain – must have passed Scotland by.

Tudor Britain up next and as Scotland didn’t do Tudors there’s no point looking here but I can’t resist having a wee peek. Elizabeth I of England, “greatest of the Tudors” and what’s this? “Foreign policy was directed against the menaces of Scotland, France and Spain.” That’s not very nice – first we’re all part of the British family then we’re a foreign enemy – again. Glowing it is – glowing in its admiration of Elizabeth I of England – and the advances in trade – Levant and East India, ne’er a hint of exploitation and stripping India of its assets …”Many universities and Grammar Schools were founded” – not a mention Aberdeen which between 1596 and 1826 had as many universities as in the whole of England. That’s worth putting in a book on Britain only it was in the wrong part of  ‘Britain’ evidently.

Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, is included in Tudor Britain for some reason when it should be in a chapter called Stuart Britain – which comes next – and why? because it covers the period from 1603 when the Stuarts decamped to England. This is not a history of Britain it is a history of England – a bundle of baloney.

James VI is introduced as James I – because that’s his English regnal number and England precedes mention of Scotland because English historians know Scotland’s place. Back! Get back!

The Act of Union – I’ll get my magnifying glass out – straight FACT “Act of Union (1707). “By this Act the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established under a single government, Scotland being represented in Parliament by forty-five Members in the Commons and sixteen Peers in the Lords.” Parliament being in London,  not Edinburgh, naturally.

Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil is a case of move along nothing of interest here. No mention. Sure there are sketches of the Duke of Cumberland – Butcher as he’s known here – and Charles Edward Stuart, “the Young Pretender” – note that slick derogatory description we’ve come to accept – not forgetting his old man, another Pretender. There’s a pic, too, of George I who “succeeded under the Act of Succession” aye he did – positive write-up we may say for George.

There’s a fine illustration of a Highlander – post Union – not doing what most Highlanders would have been doing at home whatever that might have been and we certainly don’t find out from this book but as a soldier from one of the Highland regiments which became so popular with successive governments of the United Kingdom. Not so much back! back! as get to the front! to the front!

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The chapter on Modern Britain pauses long enough to condemn the General Strike of 1926, to praise the national spirit, to picture the murder of a British bishop in Uganda, to comment on the notable growth of democracy during Victoria’s reign – notable being an elastic term for restricted. There are lots of pictures of ‘natives’ from the Empire – Zulus being war-like, ‘Kaffirs’ being obedient, a Maori looking a bit savage. There’s a head and shoulders of Cecil Rhodes, boo; Gordon of Khartum, boo; the cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence River at Quebec – but not the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge, boo – evidently a victim of being located in North Britain. There’s a sketch of a round table conference, at a long table, at which Mahatma Ghandi and his pals “demanded independence for India” – blighters. There’s mention of the “heroic Red army” in WWII, hurrah; there’s Lord Woolton representing rationing during WWII but no mention of John Boyd Orr. Shamefully predicatable.

If you were spared this sort of nonsense in place of real history at school be grateful.

It is apparent that generations of  Scottish schoolchildren left school better informed about the Nazis in Germany or the poor laws in England than they did about lives led by past generations of their families here in Scotland. Our ancestors were living breathing people very much like ourselves – dour or cheerful, cup half-full or cup half-empty types but Scotland, even a short historical hop back in time, was a very different place and it’s near impossible for us to really imagine their dreams, sorrows and pleasures. Our connections with the past are the vital means of securing our place in present-day Scottish society; understanding the route we have come to where our lives are today with a backward glance at patterns of struggle and achievement which form lessons for us now and into the future. It is a scandal that history has been so badly served since the formalisation of education in this country – that so much in history books is nonsense, jingoism and cant  – that knowledge of the Kirk post-Reformation; the Scottish Enlightenment; Scots in the Empire (warts and all); Scots in America – even events surrounding that most important detail were marginalised even here in Scotland, the Union of Parliaments, getting scant recognition until recent times. Why? You may well ask. And demand better. But, of course, sifting through the dross there are truths there to be found that should not be forgotten.

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December 23, 2016

Watch “LONDON CALLING: BBC bias during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum” on YouTube

 

 

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/oh-what-a-tangled-web-we-weave-when-first-we-practice-to-deceive-bbc-scotland-and-the-labour-party

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/the-bbc-and-the-2015-general-election-its-at-it-again

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/good-morning-scotland-sic-bbc-scotland-sic-a-station-like-no-other

 

May 11, 2016

Old Glenbucket’s land need reforming

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Glenbuchat is stunning. More rolling countryside than majestic mountains it sweeps and dips and is a tonic to the eye. But behind the magnificence lurks a darker tale.

Raptor Persecution UK mentioned in a blog in 2014 that the Convenor of the Cairngorm National Park Authority (CPNA), Duncan Bryden, wrote to the Environment Minister about incidents of raptor persecution and “disappeared birds” – notably the first fledged sea-eagle for 200 years in Scotland had disappeared over the eastern area of the Park and such incidents he said, “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination.” Perhaps this is the point it should be pointed out North Glenbuchat Estate operates a grouse moor within the National Park.

The “disappeared” young sea eagle, hatched miles away on the northeast coast, is not the only victim to fall prey to Strathdon’s equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. Other satellite-tagged eagles have also perished here, in a National Park of all places, just vanished – well, not just vanished. The remains of one eagle was discovered, poisoned, in 2011.

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/police-raid-estate-in-sea-eagle-enquiry/0010759/

Eagles are not its only victims. Various species have suffered a similar fate including the protected short-eared owl whose numbers are at risk – one was found shot dead here, its corpse hidden beneath a boulder. Another way of disappearing. Courts are still unwilling to curb the behaviour of rural criminals who wilfully destroy the nation’s wildlife.

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Bellcote at Old Glenbuchat Church with unusual draped urn

Land reformer and now Green MSP, Andy Wightman, investigated the North Glenbuchat Estate, also in 2014, “one of a number of notorious hotspots of wildlife crime”. Andy has worked tirelessly to throw light on the shady world of land ownership in Scotland and delving into the murky world of who owns Scotland – precious few it seems – he found that in 2008 the Estate was purchased by the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven, George Ivar Louis Mountbatten. Take a few minutes to read Andy’s work on this area: From Glenbuchat to the Turks & Caico Islands.

It is odd to think, perhaps not odd in post-Panama Paper times, that Scottish glens can be owned by companies registered in far-away places with exotic names – such as the case with North Glen Estate Ltd. There is a deceptively similarly named company North Glen Estates Ltd which is registered in the UK.

flat gravestone Glenbuchat

Tracking down who owns what in Scotland would put a le Carré novel to shame.  It is high time land ownership in this country was simplified and out in the open. Andy’s  well-researched informative articles are illuminating which is more than can be said for our current land registration. Also please read the comments that follow his blog on Glenbuchat.

http://www.andywightman.com/?s=glenbuchat

http://www.glenbuchatheritage.com/picture/number404.asp

The North Glenbuchat Estate takes up part of the glen. In the 1960s death duties forced the break-up of Glenbuchat Estate and this is when the North Glenbuchat Estate was created and bought by a Major Michael Smiley of Castle Fraser who was connected by marriage to the Cowdrays of Dunecht, also into buying up properties in the area. Part of the original estate was retained by the Sole family, whose most prominent member is possibly David Sole, former Scottish rugby captain. In 2015 the Soles sold off their holding and so, too, did the Dunecht estate. 

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Z-plan Glenbuchat Castle rubble-built with beautiful stone

Glenbuchat lies between the River Don and the Ladder Hills, 6 miles west of Kildrummy and just over 30 miles west of Aberdeen and was once a Gaelic-speaking area. At the end of the 16th century the estate incorporated Glen Nochty in Strathdon and at the end of that century John Gordon of Cairnborrow had a Z-plan tower house or castle built on a magnificent site over the Don whose crumbling remains are now in the hands of Historic Scotland, Alba Aosmhor.

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The Bonny Earl o’ Moray died from horrific wounds

Gordon was implicated in the murder of the Bonny Earl o’ Moray (Murray as in Andy not as in the eel) that gave rise to the popular ballad.

Ye Hielands and ye Lawlands
Oh whar hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray
An’ layd him on the green

He took part in the Battle o’ Glenlivet at which Catholic clans resisted attempts to curb Catholicism during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Huntly Gordons, Hays, Comyns, Camerons and Cummings though greatly outnumbered by troops led by Protestant forces under the Campbells of Argyll along with Murrays, Stewarts, Forbes, Macgillivrays, Macleans, Grants and Chattans appear to have been the victors. 

The last Gordon to own the castle was the famous Jacobite general, “Old Glenbucket” the mispronunciation coming from the German prince who became King George II of Great Britain and the monarch Jacobites hoped to throw out in favour of the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart. Apparently “Old Glenbucket” gave the Elector of Hanover nightmares from which he woke up screaming “De great Glenbucket be coming” although I have to say that sounds like German via a Holywood interpretation of a house maid from Alabama.

turret Glenbuchat

Glenbuchat Castle remains hint at its once grand turrets and towers

Glenbuchat then became Glenbucket. It has since recovered its softer pronunciation with a “ch” as in loch not as in lock. Take your time to pronounce it and keep the throat open, don’t close it and you too can say it as it without sounding like some cranky old monarch. 

William Duff aka Lord Braco aka Earl Fife bought the estate in 1737. Duff was on the opposite side from Old Glenbucket, and an enthusiastic supporter of George II’s son the notorious Butcher Cumberland  whose troops tirelessly hunted down and savagely killed men, women and bairns following the Battle of Culloden – for decades. The flowers known as Sweet Williams were named after him, a name hugely offensive to many Scots, but here in Scotland, they are still sometimes referred to as Stinking Willies.

Corner Glenbuchat castle

Glenbuchat Castle

Angle turrets contained turnpike stairs and turrets were supported by flying arches

The Duffs built up a fortune through acquiring land across Scotland; a quarter of a million acres in and around Aberdeen, Banff and Moray. They were not alone. By the end of the 18th century land ownership was concentrated in the hands of a few families. Though the Duffs acquired Glenbuchat Castle their seat of power was Duff House at Banff, to the east, not in Glenbuchat.

The isolated glen was opened up when a military road was pushed through early in the 19th century. Previous to this there were only tracks and drove roads used to walk cattle over the hills to markets, across to Speyside and farther down country to the south. Agriculture was, of course, the main occupation of glen folk. Their isolation from markets forced them into self-sufficiency which restricted the population the glen could support and delayed its adoption of modern agricultural practices when most other areas were responding to innovations of the Agricultural Revolution. In the glen animals continued to roam freely and improved crops were slow to replace traditional bear and oats.

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Glenbuchat Castle   remains of one of the two square towers

While cattle were raised in the glen they were rarely eaten by its tenant farmers whose diet was mainly restricted to cereals and vegetables. Animals were reared to sell to those who had the money to afford meat and went to markets in the south for their flesh as well as for their leather hides and the sheep’s wool. Limestone quarrying was also carried out in the glen and remains of old lime kilns still exist.  

It was possible to earn money while living in the glen but as incomes improved so their lairds realised an opportunity to squeeze more from their tenants and rents were increased. Of course during economic depressions rents did not go down but inflicted greater hardship on the poorest of communities scraping a living in Glenbuchat. 

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Glenbuchat Castle

Glenbuchat Castle was protected by a heavy wooden door and a yett and set at an angle in the building to secure the house from enemies. Over the door was inscribed  Nocht on Earth Remain Bot Fame. Its ground floor housed the kitchen and cellars while the laird’s accommodation was on the upper floors.

The nature of their existence forced people to co-operate with one another and farming in the glen was organised as self-sustaining communities – sharing tasks, equipment and animals in their ferm touns or clachans.

Late in the 17th century the glen had one shoemaker, a miller, one walking mill (a process in cloth-making – here it was woollen cloth from their sheep and linen from locally grown flax or lint), and three weavers. There were four weavers working in the 1840s as well as three wrights, three masons, three blacksmiths, two shoemakers, tailors and two wood manufacturers (perhaps carpenters?). Three meal mills operated early in that century and two waulk mills. The last of the mills finally closed in 1927.

http://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/details/893497

It was into the 1960s before mains electricity made it into the glen. Up till then heating and cooking was by open fire – peat, timber and presumably later coal once roads permitted the transportation of imported supplies from Aberdeen harbour.

landscape at Glenbuchart castle

Lighting at one time when no wax candles were available was by burning roots, sliced into strips and dried. As with every impoverished and isolated community the people of the glen were dependent on their immediate environment for all their needs, certainly in the days before roads. Apart from the castle and homes of wealthier individuals, buildings were constructed from dug-up turf, divots,  piled on top of each other and so too were roofs covered with divots over a timber framework. Tiny homes of two rooms, the but and ben with earth floors and an open fire where smoke eventually found its own way out through the opening in the roof, the lum. No luxury and certainly no privacy and horribly smoky.

When wine became taxed beyond the pockets of all but the wealthy in towns and cities so a taste for whisky grew and here lay opportunities for glen-dwellers to enhance their paltry incomes. Or would have done but then the potential of taxing whisky meant the government went to great lengths to ensure no ordinary spirit producer in the glen made anything from it. In 1821 a raiding party searching for illicit stills charged and took away 39 Glenbuchat men – some to jail. Imagine the impact this would have had not just on individual families but on the work of the glen. Not everyone was prosecuted for producing whisky locally, only the poor and vulnerable folk – ’twas ever thus.

Of the 138 people who lived in the glen in the 1960s only 91 remained ten years later. Making a living was more difficult than ever in a world of changed consumer habits. 

But one person’s problem is another’s opportunity. What was big in the glen? -apart from its hills and they aren’t that big. Wildlife. Which brings us back to where we started.

Some people value our wildlife and others say they do but what they really mean is they value it for the buzz they get from destroying it. Hunting stirs the blood of some. They lust after the brutal pastime. Birds and animals in their gun sights are not, well birds and animals, but game. Game was not/is not for ordinary people to take and eat, no matter how destitute they may be, game is property – of the laird and for entertainment or sport.

By 1820 Glenbuchat had become a shooting and hunting paradise – and co-incidentally a good earner for the laird – better than impoverished tenant farmer rents.

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With property comes laws and regulations to limit who can get access to wildlife – and to preserve these laws and regulations gamekeepers were hired to look after the interests of the laird’s nice little earner.

Go into Glenbuchat and admire the scenery, the little old kirk and churchyard and the remains of Gordon’s castle but leave the wildlife alone, please.

Glenbuchat churchyard

Finally, let us push for major land reform that is in keeping with the 21st century and stop tugging the forelock as though we still exist in the 19thC.

The local Rev. Robert Scott was a collector of local ballads – see The Glenbuchat Ballads – https://folkloreforum.net/2008/11/05/david-buchan-and-james-moreira-eds-the-glenbuchat-ballads/

April 10, 2016

Edinburgh’s schools are falling down…PFI

Edinburgh’s schools are falling down

Falling down, falling down.

Edinburgh’s schools are falling down

PFI.

Private Finance Initiative aka Public Private Partnerships aka Milking the Public Purse

Surely someone is responsible – who could it possibly be?

Oxgangs Primary

Let me take you back – if you have a moment – to 2001 when the then Scottish Executive signed a contract worth around £360 million with a private consortium to build and maintain schools in the capital. What could possibly go wrong?

Labour was in power back then – I know – it’s hard to believe. The Scottish Executive proudly announced plans to build or refurbish some 110 schools across Scotland at a cost of £2.3 billion. Many of the schools had stood since Victorian times and it was thought a good idea to modernise the sector but the projected figure of £2.3 billion was queried with fears that, one way or another, we the public would end up paying through the nose for the deal.

McConnell makes investment pledge

Jack McConnell with Helen Liddell

Jack McConnell takes delegates’ applause

By BBC News Online’s Brian PonsonbyJack McConnell has committed the Scottish Labour Party to a programme of investment in public services which uses private finance as well as government cash.

The first minister told delegates at the party’s conference in Perth that he intended to “invest to build public services for the 21st century” with “public capital and sometimes with private capital”.

He also promised to build or modernise 100 schools under Public Private Partnerships (PPP) over the next four years.

We’ll work together to sort out how we give people the maximum return for every one of their pounds we are spending

Jack McConnell
First Minister

His commitment sends out a clear message to the trade unions that he will not be deterred from using PPPs to boost public services.

Mr McConnell’s message was delivered just hours after Scottish Labour narrowly escaped a union-led defeat of a policy document which advocates use of private finance. (Sat 23 Feb 2002)

 

PPP/PFI arrangements tie in both parties for decades and it’s not just a case of paying off the initial investment but interest on the investment was added for all the years of the contract, naturally. PPP also meant oversight of public developments were transferred into private hands including scrutiny of standards of construction and bearing in mind profits and rewards for shareholders are always central to private capital institutions that should have raised concerns.

Of course many criticised the policy at the time, fearing for the quality of these PPP schools, but a spokesman for the Scottish Executive insisted:

“PPP is delivering real results for teachers and pupils and they do represent value for money.”

Who was that spokesman? Please get in touch and explain your definition of value for money.

The savings promised by PPP  schemes were illusionary. Edinburgh’s schools are merely the latest evidence that in the end PPPs cost the public purse dear. As well as hidden expenses buried within contracts companies involved in PPPs have not infrequently  been linked to offshore tax havens – for tax efficiency I think is the appropriate technical term.

Why don’t public bodies just borrow to build? You may well ask. I believe there is a limit on local authority borrowing but PPP has shown it was not a suitable alternative although similar schemes are still being undertaken. 

Introduced into the UK by the Tories in 1992 as Private Finance Initiative the scheme was meant to reduce public borrowing and was enthusiastically seized upon by incoming Labour governments starting under the reign of Tony Blair. Despite outrageous claims promoting their benefits PFI/PPP were soon costing tax payers eye-watering amounts to maintain as budgets took on lives of their own and contracts were shown to be not so much written up as stitched up.

mcconnell - Copy

With many PPP project costs spiralling out of control authorities found it a whole lot harder to get out of them than make them in the first place; they had not noticed they had signed away their souls (our souls) to the devil. Anyone guilty of such misuse of public monies should be instantly sacked or jailed. They were not and will not be, of course.

PPP has been adopted world-wide and produced a legacy of unfulfilled contracts which have drained community resources. This is especially despicable in developing countries where promises of improvements to infrastructure fail to materialise at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable.

As the PPP revolution became tarnished as tawdry profiteering other schemes have been set up in a cash and grab culture affecting public services and cash flows. Look no further than what’s happening with the NHS (in England and Wales at least) whereby this valuable asset is seen as ripe for plucking by businesses with an eye on a quick- and long-lasting buck. Contracting out is a massive con and it only requires a cursory glance at former government ministers who have taken up positions on boards of health-related companies to see how much self-serving and unscrupulous greed is at the heart of the UK government.

sky bridge

Twenty years ago was when many of us in Scotland had our eyes opened to this muddying of the roles separating private and public where public services and assets were concerned. In 1995 the Skye bridge was built through a funding arrangement with a North American company. Under the name Skye Bridge Ltd it financed and controlled the bridge which meant it charged people to cross – huge crippling tolls that hammered locals and local businesses who had little choice once the ferry was removed; the most expensive bridge crossing in Europe it was claimed with charges equivalent to £5.70 a mile. Well organised protests led to frequent attendances before the Dingwall sheriff who imposed fines and a few prison sentences in an attempt to damp down resistance. In 2007 under huge pressure from public opinion the Labour-Liberal administration at Holyrood was forced to end this unfair tax on bridge users and the bridge was purchased from Sky Bridge Ltd for £27 million. Given that the initial cost of its construction was a modest £15 million this amount looks steep but then the private financiers were enjoying a cash bonanza from crossing charges to the tune of £33.3 million – that is £33.3 million plus £27 million – and that’s what we know. Not a bad return given their operating costs were estimated at £3.5 million.

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New Craigs Hospital .

Former Labour health minister Susan Deacon (partner of BBC’s John Boothman) proudly opened a new psychiatric hospital in Inverness in 2000. It cost £14 million. That is £14 million for starters. In fact you and me and just about everyone in the UK, except the mega rich who salt away their cash, ended up paying an eye-watering £106 million for this modest building and the contract agreed by the Scottish Executive had handed over the land it stood on to the financiers until the 22nd century unless NHS Highland coughed up to buy them out. Who could possibly have agreed a contract like that?

I would love to hear Susan Deacon’s opinion on how this was value-for-money for taxpayers.

In 2008 alarm bells rang out when 3i Infrastructure Ltd, registered in Jersey, became a major shareholder in planned refurbishment of schools in the Highlands. As the Herald explained at the time, before we all became experts on the practice, off-shore registered companies pay no UK tax on profits – so – whatever they earned from this school project they would not be contributing to- er, schools and education in this country in quite the way the rest of us do through being taxed at source. As long as we are all clear on that I’ll carry on.

Inverness Airport was another Highland PPP financed project. Agreed in 1998 as a £9.6 million deal it promised a new terminal at no cost to the public purse initially. In this arrangement the private financiers, Inverness Air Terminal, were paid £3.50 for every passenger travelling through the airport. Within six years the cost of the project had been met BUT the contract was not due to end until 2024 – I’ll leave you to calculate how much the remaining contract could have earned them?

Amidst huge criticism Scottish Executive ministers decided to buy back the lease from IAT for what is thought to have been £36 million – and all for a project that was to cost £9.6 million. It was good news for IAT, however, who recouped their initial investment plus £36 million.

You would have thought someone at Labour HQ might have twigged. Ach well, there’s public money to get them out of a jam so what did it matter?

PPP mcconnell

Which brings me back to Edinburgh’s great schools initiative involving Equion, Miller, Bank of Scotland and Quayle Munro. Step up then Edinburgh Labour Council leader Rev Ewan Aitken:

“We have been on a tremendous journey over the past few years and today marks an important milestone for our Smart Schools initiative…

Over the past three years as I’ve visited our new schools, the one thing that strikes you as soon as you walk through the doors is how the pupils, parents and staff have great pride in their new surroundings.”

Sometimes pride is short-lived, Rev.

“This is not just an investment in bricks and mortar but an investment in the future of Edinburgh’s pupils, both current and in generations to come.” he continued.

I suppose future is a moveable feast.

broon

Gordon Brown backed PPP

In old London town in 2002 there was an internal Labour Party spat going on between Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling and then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone ,who objected to proposed PPP funding of improvements to London transport. It did not take long before the London Underground venture was being described as “one of the great scandals of the decade” – join the queue.

“Dismissing advice from experts and ignoring mounting problems over the contracts Chancellor Gordon Brown insisted they were pushed through because he did not want London Underground to be responsible for the much needed upgrade of the system.” 

darling

“Earlier this month Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, effectively blocked a fresh legal challenge from Mr Livingstone by indemnifying the consortia against any effect of any court action.

Under the PPP deal, Mr Darling is due to hand over London Underground to Mr Livingstone’s Transport for London (Tfl) body. But Mr Darling has said he will not do this if any court action was going ahead.

Just before Christmas, Mr Darling told MPs that the start-up costs for PPP, including such items as legal fees, had been around £500 million – a figure that was widely condemned by PPP opponents.

imgres

Mr Darling said today: “I welcome the news that London Underground has completed the deal with Tube Lines.

“This is good news for Londoners, at long last marking the start of the biggest improvement programme the Tube has ever seen.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: “PPP is a monument to the stubbornness of Gordon Brown who is the only supporter of the part-privatisation of the Tube.”

(Telegraph 31 Dec 2002)

Labour MP Margaret Hodge talked to the Independent about her party’s dalliance with PPP.

The Labour MP acknowledged that many of the worst PFI and PPP cases were negotiated by the Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, saying:

“I’m afraid we got it wrong. I was a supporter at the time but I have completely gone off the whole concept. We got seduced by PFI.” (Margaret Hodge MP 2014)

And of particular interest post-Panama Papers:

She added that it was especially “scandalous” that many of the funds that are buying up the contracts are based in tax havens. One of the early arguments in favour of PFIs was that taxpayers would benefit from contractors’ profits due to the corporation taxes they would pay. “But now the profits are going offshore and to shareholders,” she said.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-how-private-firms-make-quick-killing-from-pfi-9488351.html

PFI/PPP was another Tory policy Labour couldn’t adopt quickly enough. Building projects made them look like they were doing something – they were – and soon we were all paying for the madness that allowed private investment companies to name a number and get contractors to agree to add on several 000s to boost guaranteed colossal profits before sailing off into the sunset to we know where – some of them at least.

young

Have lessons been learned? Aberdeen Labour-led administration recently signed up to a misbegotten and hugely unpopular Marischal Square (not a square lest you imagine it is) project. It’s complicated so I have copied this description of the scheme from Aberdeen City Council’s website:

The preferred bid as approved at Council was with Muse Developments Limited and AVIVA Investors Realm Commercial Assets LP (Aviva). The overall agreement is made up of a number of parts and separate contracts between the parties. This is a commercial agreement between the Council and other parties and the full details of the scheme are commercially sensitive. However, the general basis of the agreement can be described as follows:-

ACC sold the site (excluding Provost Skene’s House) to Aviva (December 2014).The council has received £1million up front with the balance of £9million payable at completion in two years time

ACC entered into a lease with Aviva for the site, and will pay a rental from the completion of the development for a 35 year period

The Council’s annual rental payment realises a capital sum to undertake the development

Muse is obliged to build the scheme for Aviva to create a range of development space and in turn an income stream to the council

Muse are contracted to identify and tie in a Hotel operator. This is in place with the Hotel element trading as a Marriot Residence Inn

Muse are contracted to let the office, restaurant and additional space within the development on behalf of the Council

The capital sum above pays for the construction costs to build the development, the purchase price paid for the land, a profit account to be shared between the three parties, and a contingency fund to cover vacant periods and other costs. Further monies are set-aside for upgrading works to Provost Skene’s House and public realm works within and outwith the scheme

After the 35 year lease period the Council can choose to buy the development in its entirety (including the land) for £1

The council is liable for the annual rental and will carry the risk should the hotel and development not realise the income projected. The projected income on a fully let scheme is however significantly above the rental payment £100m Cancellation Fee for the ACC/Muse contract.

7.1 How is the £100m penalty/termination cost of cancellation of the contract, as mentioned by Willie Young, calculated?

7.2 Why have we not seen the contract yet Willie Young is able to tweet and disclose details of the contract. Has ACC/Muse authorised him to disclose?

7.3 Is the £100m penalty contingent upon the ownership of the land resting with ACC (i.e. prior to being transferred to Muse)?

There is no penalty or cancellation clause in the contract however as the council has previously stated there would be a loss in income of approximately £100million if the project were not to proceed. In addition, the Council would almost certainly have to pay damages arising from breach of contract. As is standard practice in the public sector such contracts are commercially sensitive and are not published.

7.4 Under planning legislation, ACC can cancel the contract. What is the cost of contract cancellation and how is it calculated? [Loss of profit should not be included.]
The transaction is a commercial transaction. The Council is not aware of any such planning legislation that could allow the cancellation of the contract.

Calculation of the £100m Profit

8.1 How does ACC calculate the claimed £100m profit? Is this £100m profit contingent on a minimum level of occupancy?

The Council will receive £10 million for the site – £1million now and a further £9 million on completion in two years, an equal share of the development profit, the difference between the lease cost to Aviva and the income generated by the development for 35 years and the value of the development in 35 years’ time. Money is also available for works to upgrade Provost Skene’s House, Broad Street and create the gardens and other public areas within the scheme. In all this benefit could be worth more than £100 million.

8.2 Why has the public not been alerted to the potential liability, rather, only the upside (which is not described as potential)?

The project was fully presented to the committee when a decision was made to appoint Muse as preferred bidder. This is a commercial contract. The council or any other organisation would not normally alert any other parties to the liabilities on any transaction. The council has always stated, since the decision was made to appoint Muse that the commercial agreement would include a head lease over the development site.

8.3 Has ACC assumed any value of the Marischal Square buildings as at 2050 when calculating Jenny Laing’s claim of a £100m profit over 35 years? [1]

In assessing bids of this nature it is normal to account for some degree of value in the site at the end of the lease. This would normally be site value or by comparison the value of other similarly aged buildings.

1 “Not only is it right in terms of bringing a much needed hotel and leisure facilities to our city centre it is right in terms of looking after the public purse by raising £100m over 35 years.” Jenny Laing, Evening Express, 5 February 2015

It’s all been done in the best possible taste and it’s all so out-in-the-open. Maybe.

I hope Edinburgh can patch up its schools quickly. Someone will have to bear that financial burden and I wonder who that someone might be? And those old Victorian schools? well most of them are still standing.

_89153569_councilleader

Councillor Andrew Burns (Labour) Edinburgh City Council

Oh, and here’s a handy wee list of who was behind public spending in the relevant years between 1999 and 2007.

Scottish Executive as it was then:
1999 -2003 Labour under Donald Dewar; Henry McLeish; Jack McConnell.
2003 – 2007 Labour under McConnell.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12766277.School_PPP_scheme_a__apos_catastrophe_apos__for_pupils/
http://www.european-services-strategy.org.uk/ppp-database/ppp-equity-database/appendix-4-terminated-uk-ppp-projects.pdf
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12767627.Offshore_firm_to_make_tax_free_millions_from_Scottish_schools/

April 4, 2015

The most dangerous woman in Britain and the forger’s pen: Nicola Sturgeon and the Zinoviev Letter

Well, well we have scarcely seen the back of scaremongering stories in the press, along with all those patronising noises about Scotland an equal partner in the Union, when a TV debate among party leaders fuels a further onslaught of dirty tricks.

Cheering from the sidelines is the Labour Party – see how its desperate members attach themselves to their new-found allies in the conservative Telegraph and Daily Mail, quashing any doubts that they are Red Tories.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of historians among us that the Labour Party has been the victim of similar political smears not least when they were damned by association of being too socialist and likely to open the door to communism in Great Britain. Oh how times have changed.

Labour had formed a minority government in 1923 under Ramsay MacDonald despite polling far fewer votes than the Tories (take note Murphy). It attempted to govern with support of the Liberals but they would not back its socialist measures, other than a council housing programme, and in 1924 another election was called.

With exquisite timing up popped a letter shortly before polling day. Not any letter but one said to have been written by Grigory Zinoviev, the Soviet head of the communist international. It urged close ties between the Soviet Union and Britain; this was shortly after the Russian Revolution and the political right used it prove their case that the Red hoards were about to invade or get their comrades in this country to do their dirty work for them and spread their foreign ideologies of communism and socialism through the shires and cities of Britain, or England as it was known then.

It was leaked to The Mail which did its duty and published it. The clear intention of its publication was to damage support for the Labour Party in the election, for MacDonald when in power had recognised the Soviet government and was negotiating repayment of Tsarist debt from it and the release of a fresh loan which horrified the British establishment.

Zinoviev

Zinoviev immediately denied the letter came from him. He pointed out basic errors which backed his claim and soon suspicion fell on agents and officers from MI5. Later inquiries seemed to indicate involvement of White Russians, monarchists living in Berlin in collusion with the Intelligence services. Any doubts there might have been over the letter’s authenticity was secondary to the desire of the innately conservative civil servants of Whitehall and the foreign office from where it was leaked to its value as black propaganda to damage the Labour Party and influence the election outcome.

The spectre of another socialist government, one that might actually begin to shift the social certainties in Britain went down like a lead balloon with the ultra-conservative British establishment.

MacDonald was in no doubt the letter was a political conspiracy. Subsequent investigations led to involvement of Stewart Menzies, later head of MI6, and fellow Etonian Desmond Morton, also involved in Intelligence and arch enemy of the Soviets.

The Labour Party was then still fairly new and very different from its current rightwing persona. It was regarded as a threat to the stability of the United Kingdom and the establishment’s megaphone of the press was happy to collude with publishing hysterical headlines, similar to those that now define the British press’ attacks on Scotland, the SNP and its leftwing agenda for it believed then the Labour Party was a danger to the stability of Britain, or rather the establishment’s narrow, self-interests.

MacDonald

Down the decades there is a similar reaction from the press and the corridors of Whitehall and the security services to any form of social and political upheaval and it sees plenty social and political upheaval it sees emerging from an SNP government. Shock that the independence referendum was merely the opening round and not the end of Scottish ambitions and the realisation that major changes to the political landscape of Scotland are just beginning -with a huge wave of support for the SNP and the Scottish Greens and the SSP has had a laxative effect on the establishment and their lackeys.

By the way the Zinoviev forgery did not lose the Labour Party votes though it did lose it the election when a whopping number of Liberals shifted their votes to their natural allies the Tories from Red-dread thereby wiping out the Liberals for decades until they crawled back into bed with their pals in 2010.

The attacks on Nicola Sturgeon so hot on the heels of her acclaimed success in the leaders’ debate is no coincidence and only the start of a combined strategy by the forces of conservatism – Tory, Labour and Libdem, to demonise her, ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’.

The gloves are off and as in 1924 the truth is irrelevant and only headlines and their impact matter in this fight. We have just seen how quick the British press is to repeat lies meant to damage a reputation and oh, so reluctant to check the authenticity of outrageous claims making them no better today than they were in 1924.

As for Miliband his unseemly rush to add credibility to this obvious forgery in an effort to shift attention from his ineffectual and unpopular leadership confirms the general opinion of him as a pathetic and unprincipled man.

March 8, 2015

‘Brilliant stuff from Davie Hamilton’ : The Labour Party in Scotland and the wee lassie of politics

https://www.youtube.com/embed/JttnYYcIVfA “>

In the week of International Women’s Day we got a stark reminder that women have not yet won the battle to be judged the equals of men in the minds of too many men, and shamefully a number of  women. Few had heard of the bullish Labour MP David Hamilton before he took to the stage at a special one day conference of the Labour Party in Scotland on Saturday. This swaggering individual is pretty well known now not to say notorious. I don’t know what else he said other than that outrageous sexist jibe at the First Minister because I wasn’t watching but I couldn’t avoid the firestorm his words caused on social media and there was Youtube to catch up on his moment. (I understand the Labour Party in Scotland pulled the video in an attempt to bury bad news but life on social media and with the wonders of modern science concealing what’s been said is no longer as  simple as that.) ian gray Now I don’t have problems with political attacks on fellow politicians, and Nicola Sturgeon must be scrutinised in her role as First Minister but that was not what Hamilton was up to. He was out to win over his audience, to ingratiate himself with his comrades who were lapping up his rhetoric as he sought to take the First Minister down a peg or two. Oh yes, they were up for that. And he did it in the way that came most naturally to him – he condemned her for being a woman doing a man’s job. His audience of Labour Party members loved it. Oh how they laughed – he’d got to the essence of Nicola Sturgeon’s weakness – she was a wummin – wait – wait – not even a wummin but – what’s even less regarded than a woman – a wee lassie. Nicola Sturgeon was a nothing but a wee lassie dressing up – hence the tin hat (worn by men, real men – usually ‘heroes’) to act out a role that should have been done by a bloke. tweet for hamilton Oh how his audience lapped it up. What’s not to like? The First Minister was being ATTACKED – put down, sneered at not for her political beliefs or record but the sheer basis of her gender. Nicola Sturgeon too photogenic, too friendly, too popular was getting her character – for thinking she could make it in a big man’s world. It is the easiest thing in the world to label men such as the bluff Hamilton as Neanderthals. It’s not really appropriate for Neanderthals were of their time – Hamilton and his type are relics, or should be, of a past age. Their ability to offer a coherent political analysis of opponents is negligible and so they try to conceal their lack of intellect with humour. Well Hamilton succeeded. We know where he stands on women in politics, and we can surmise from that, women in other ‘male’ spheres of influence. labour support If there was anything even more depressing than the sexist display on stage at the Labour conference it was the reaction of many of its top Scottish political figures who couldn’t get to twitter quick enough to share with the world the ecstasy of the moment as they ejaculated excitedly in praise of Hamilton and his misogynist outburst. That rush of adrenalin was only matched by the later stampede to their twitter pages to delete their support for Hamilton’s mysoginist outburst. That only happened when it was pointed out by their political opponents how outrageous his remarks were. Until then these guys, the same ones who approved the thick wee woman political broadcast during the referendum debate and the pink lady bus, were unaware there was anything amiss with demeaning women – och, can’t you take a joke?  Remember that? You will if you were part of the women’s movements from, well – as far back as you like but let’s stick with the 1970s. Picture the scene – Aberdeen during the miners’ strike and a group of miners went around the country looking for help when the Tory government was intent on starving them back to work. In Aberdeen there was a strong Women’s Liberation group and members, all just getting by themselves, bought groceries and donated cash to help the miners’ families. When handing it over the all-male contingent looked at each other and laughed conspiratorially – they didn’t believe in women’s lib they said. A bit non-plussed the food and money were, nevertheless, handed over and accepted, albeit with a few sniggers, but it was perplexing how anyone in a struggle during the 1970s could still think in that way – that women anywhere were a subclass of human. suffragette Hamilton, a former miner, was expressing this same bankrupt view of woman over 30 years later. It is ignorance and stupidity and prejudice all rolled into one unedifying performance. And yet even more disturbing was the reaction of women in the audience. Labour Party women laughing their silly heads off at this man’s comments. Reminds me of the Eric Bogle song about the silly women who stay on with abusive drunken husbands – who but a silly woman – he returns home, tanked upslapwhere’s my tea?kickthe boys didn’t win the day so I’ll take out my frustration on you punch. (Dovetails nicely with Jim Murphy’s demand that alcohol be allowed to be drunk again at football matches. I’ll bet quite a few women were terrified by that announcement.) Disappointingly there are women who are complicit with the demeaning behaviour of sexist dinosaurs. We saw that in the audience on Saturday. blair mcdougal The trades union movement was steeped in sexism. Attitudes and practice that prevented women getting equal pay and conditions with men for over a century. Hamilton proved they are still very much with us now and his audience of Labour Party men and women exposed themselves as a hindrance to the efforts of women to be taken seriously in work, any type of work. I suspect International Women’s Day will have given rise to quite a number of winked asides based on the idea of women getting above themselves. Now we know this is the official position of the Labour Party in Scotland. Lassies get back into the kitchen and get my tea on the table and you can forget about International Women’s Day.

hist_uk_20_suffra_car_suffragettes_fun_1875PS Brother Hamilton has just been elevated or whatever the term is – by the Queen. Another man of the people happy to join the elite of the British Establishment by accepting a knighthood – and what has he done to deserve one? You may well ask.

March 17, 2013

Let’s nail the lie about the LibDems

Let’s nail the lie. LibDems tell us how they are a moderating influence over what otherwise would be the excesses of the Conservatives in government.

This is pure fantasy.

The LibDems far from protecting us from merciless Tory policies have enabled them.

Without the LibDems the Tories would not be imposing their austerity measures on us.

Let us not forget how eager the LibDems were at the prospect of getting into government at Westminster in 2010. They couldn’t wait to dump their election promises to park their bums on the ministerial limos’ leather seats and so we are faced with the present programme of callous attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in this country.

The LibDems want us to see them as the good guys in this relationship. They are not.

The LibDems are responsible for every savage cut to services and every welfare attack on the vulnerable. The LibDems are as culpable for the bedroom tax as any shire Tory; as responsible for the immense pressure imposed on the mentally ill by those Atos assessments for disability benefits.

Far from doing favours for the electorate LibDems have shown themselves to be consummate hypocrites.

The years of the Blair and Brown governments saw an increase in inequality in the UK. In real terms the poor were being pushed further back into poverty while the incomes of the wealthiest rose incrementally. It surprised some that this should occur under Labour governments and the LibDems condemned Labour for its ideological move to the right. You might assume that while in government the LibDems would use their manifesto platform to halt social and economic inequality.

So what happened once the LibDems took over the limousines of power? Inequality has increased still further. Now the UK stands comes in at number 4 in the inequality stakes in the developed world and their tenure is not finished. We can be sure that however bleak things looks now they are going to get a whole lot bleaker.

And this is entirely due to the LibDems. Remember the LibDems are the yes lobby fodder of this coalition government.

9

Could it have been different? It looked for a time after the 2010 election that the LibDems might join Labour in coalition. As we know Alistair Darling promised the country savage cuts to sort out the economy and the LibDems might argue that Labour’s promises to cut harder and deeper than the Tories led to them turning to the Tories as the least Draconian option. Let’s not go there. We are where we are.

We have had three years of LibDem duplicity, denials, excuses, obfuscation.

LibDems the enabler party. LibDems have enabled the Tories to do whatever they like and Clegg and co are happy to take on that role. Manifesto promises. Promises shromises.

Pledge dodger Clegg turned up at the LibDem conference in Dundee where he criticised Salmond for giving out mixed messages on independence.

He should know about mixed messages. That is precisely what you get from LibDems.

But Clegg likes to pontificate. He turns up in Scotland to issue a warning that we should not believe anything the SNP says. Well no – not everything but some things we can and we are able to judge their policies here in Scotland (unlike Clegg we don’t have to rely on briefings to know what is going on.)

We can do the same with the LibDems in power at Westminster.

And what do we discover when we look at the record of Clegg and co in government? Broken promises from a dodgy manifesto which reveals that Clegg and his apparatchiks will go to any lengths to stay in power, to enjoy riding the limos for as long as possible.

It is not Scotland’s oil say the LibDems but it could be Shetland’s and Orkney’s demonstrating that when it comes to pronouncements LibDems will say anything, absolutely anything, because as we know the LibDems don’t join up the dots when it comes to principles or policies.

Clegg also warns the Scottish people that it will be very difficult for a Scottish government to run its offshore oil industry ‘on its own’. This is inane drivel. Just words.

7

It would have been very difficult for the Tories to form a government ‘on its own’. In the event it didn’t need to – it had Tories by another name, LibDems, to do that with them.

Mixed-message Clegg and his mouthpieces promise Scotland will become a land of milk and honey if only we vote No.

They would have us believe Scotland will miraculously flourish if we stay part of the Union. Doesn’t matter that the evidence points otherwise.

Willie Rennie promise us pie in the sky in the sweet by and by but last time this was promised to Scotland – for returning a No vote in the devolution referendum of 1979  -did we get our pie? Did we hell. We got war, the poll tax, greater unemployment, the steady transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, a sharp decline in industrial output, a reduction of affordable homes, the blatant transfer of wealth to London and the southeast.

When was Scotland ever at the centre of Westminster’s planning for infrastructure, for economic development?

The answer is never. And if you think Thatcher was indifferent to Scotland’s economy and culture wait until a coalition of the Tories or Labour in cahoots with their obliging little helpers the LibDems stop crowing in the event of a No return in the referendum. Prepare to be shocked.

If you are thinking we have devolved government so what’s all this talk about Westminster – remember what LibDem leader in Scotland Willie Rennie said last week, ‘The bedroom tax is tough, but it is central to the welfare reforms.’ That’s right – ‘central to the welfare reforms’ – welfare and reform being key words but if you imagine reform always leads to an improvement in welfare think again. This is reform in terms of restructuring on economic grounds and this is being said by the ‘Scottish’ LibDems so don’t get fooled that a label makes them different from any other brand of LibDem up and down the country.

Remember this when you vote no. You might not be poor. You might not be disabled. Lucky you. Don’t turn your back on those who are.

The LibDems are looking to influence what happens in Scotland if the referendum comes back negative so prepare yourself for a stream of easy promises.

Promises shromises. In 2010 they promised:

“Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket. A fair chance for every child. A fair future, creating jobs by making Britain greener. A fair deal for you from politicians.”

Vroom, vroom – that’s Clegg being chauffeured in his limo into Downing Street. Rip – that’s him tearing up the LibDems’ manifesto promises -taxes, VAT, tuition fees, bankers’ bonuses, cutting rail fares, blah blah only words. They didn’t have to mean what they promised. Well they didn’t.

Where is the UK economy going? Who knows, least of all the organ grinder Chancellor Osborne and his monkey Alexander. Under their guardianship the UK has lost its triple A status. This means we can expect far harsher measures to come, imposed by LibDems and Tories in their desperate attempt to prevent the economy spiralling into freefall. All their bluster that an independent Scotland would suffer because of its inevitable loss of the Triple A has been quietly forgotten by our flexible friends. Now Danny Alexander tells us that credit ratings aren’t ‘the be all and end all’ Just words. They don’t believe them why should we?

3

Despite being hoist by his own petard Alexander insists it will always be worse for an independent Scotland – that Scotland has ‘no track record’ (of major debt) so will find it difficult to borrow to pay back debt. You can’t say that the LibDems don’t have a track record – in not meaning what they say, in promising anything to capture votes, of slithering this way and that to keep in with their coalition colleagues, whoever they are, for the LibDems are not fussy who they share power with – they just love it. Those limos.

Last week with breathtaking hypocrisy Nick Clegg accused Salmond of sending out mixed messages – over independence. Mixed messages are precisely what you get from LibDems who still like to claim the moral high ground. He warned the Scottish people that it will be very difficult for a Scottish government run its offshore oil industry ‘on its own’. You might think, well at least we wouldn’t have Osborne and Alexander. Then again, according to the LibDems, it is not Scotland’s oil at all but it could be Shetland’s and Orkney’s revealing again that they will say anything, absolutely anything because as we know the LibDems don’t join up the dots when it comes to principles or policies.

I don’t think Clegg knows much about Scotland. I doubt it’s high on the agenda ‘back home’. Certainly hasn’t been in the past. That doesn’t stop him from issuing a warning that we can’t believe anything the SNP say. Well no – not everything but some things we can and other things we see with our own eyes. And anyway independence is not just about the SNP. There are nationalists who don’t vote SNP. We know what’s going on in Scotland unlike Clegg. What we can also see is that other track record of the LibDems – broken pledges and their dodgy manifesto.

We should all remember the words of The Times reporter, Louis Heren when referring to politicians, ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’

I suppose some politicians believe the lies they tell us. Doesn’t mean we have to.

The LibDems are a moderating influence? The evidence tells us otherwise. The LibDems are responsible, along with the Tories, for this determined shift in the economic balance so that the greater share of profits goes to capitalists at the expense of Britain’s working families and pensioners. Irrespective of their bluster LibDems are the facilitators of austerity Britain.

February 10, 2013

What have they done to Downies Village?

The coast off Downies near Aberdeen What we do with the past tells us much about our present.   The past can be a place we wish to return, seeing the present as nothing but a moment in a downhill race to mediocrity and degeneration.   In the world of architecture and community, or claimed community, this finds its doleful and reactionary expression in the nostalgia of Prince Charles and his acolytes who wish to return to a world where everyone knows their place and architecture expresses fixity by mimicking forms from the days of pre-modernism.   The dream is of neat and ordered villages and small towns with residents abiding by the moral strictures of those who know best.  DSC02449 However, as much as we might deride the nonsense pedalled by the Prince he does make the valid point that the metaphorical and literal bulldozers of developers should not be allowed untrammelled right to build whatever and wherever they like.  DSC02423 On a recent visit to the village of Downies I was astonished to find that in the midst of this historic fishing township there had appeared a housing development which would not be out of place on the heights of Westhill.   Downies is not a planned village.   It is unlike the “model” villages which were promoted by progressive and paternalistic landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries.   No neat grid or geometric layout sits above these cliffs at Portlethen.   Prince Charles’ dream of order is confounded by the lack of a clear and obvious pattern (at least to this observer).   Cottages go off the road at either side, with asymmetric position and irregular gardens.   Prince Charles’ Poundbury it is not, although one can well imagine the new houses at Downies fitting into a Poundbury landscape with attempts at regularity within the compound of the “scheme” Its break with the feeling of community is emphasised in the developer’s own description: The development is served by a private mono blocked access road with a central court yard area.   Is this the developer attempting to create a closed community around its own square, separate and distinct from the picturesque locals?   Whatever it is the spirit of the enclosure is at odds with the openness of all else around.          DSC02426 It is not that there are many houses going up at Old Portlethen, five are in progress; rather it is the proportions relative to the existing properties and the sympathy for the landscape, the sense of place, and the present householders which is in question.   Where older houses gradually follow the line of the increasingly steep slope towards the cliff- edge the new buildings, in their bulk and their height show little care or appreciation for the historic site.   From what can be seen at the moment, February 2013, the houses seem architecturally unexceptionable.   Dull perhaps, “aspirational” even, well able to be lived in and no doubt will provide comfortable homes for those who can afford them.   The developer says: they are A select development of 5 homes in the picturesque village of Downies with some breathtaking views of the North East coastline.   Of course what it omits to say that the monster 5 bedroomed house called Isla is parked directly in front of an older, but not original, property called Bayview.   I suspect that a bay view is now wishful thinking but the owner has the comfort of knowing that the behemoth Isla has the advantage of being fitted porcelanosa tiles in its striking main bathroom.    DSC02436   But this is not the point.   The point is is there a place for these beached monsters in a village typified by low level housing following the contours of the land, and which crucially gives us some sense of the way our ancestors lived?   Please note I am not saying that Downies of today is and should be the village in which the fishermen and their families lived, not only would such a desire be unattainable it would also be unwanted, imposing as it would poor sanitary conditions and no electricity upon residents.  One of the joys of the older buildings in Downies is that, with additions here and there of kitchens and bathrooms they have managed to improve the living conditions without losing a sense of the old, much improved from the derelict village Peter Anson found in the early 20th century.   This incremental growth and improvement was organic, not keeping the village in locked in timeless aspic yet still maintaining historical continuities. DSC02428   As can be seen from the photographs this is not the case with the present development.   We can hardly criticise the developer for doing what developers do that is making the most of market potential.     There was no practical reason why a developer could not have followed the style of the single storey cottages but financially it presumably makes more sense to go for bigger is better.  We might just as well wail over investment bankers’ lack of probity or cats eating birds.     No, the real problem is that permission was given to the project.   We must ask what were the planners thinking of? – although thinking is perhaps too strong a term here.  DSC02431   The Director of Infrastructure Services at Aberdeenshire Council, wrote that the new properties were quite acceptable as they were no more than, an amendment in design to what has previously been approved.   He also stated there was no conflict between the traditional forms and the developer’s proposals, rather they new builds were said to respect the character of the old and were worthy addition to the village and would, in his words, integrate successfully.   Of course by integration what the planning officer means is the technicalities of building regulations and local plans.   When the Scottish Government Reporter approved the plan he said that the houses would unite the village’s historic core with its outlying elements.     Downies I defy anybody now visiting the site to show how the houses have brought such a unity.   There appears to be a confusion of terms here: there might be similarity with outlying elements but unity?   At the more meaningful level of historic continuities and community feeling planners have little to say.   They deal with bureaucratic regulations not the experienced lives of residents.    DSC02446 Speak to the folk who live in Downies and you come away with the feeling not that they want to remain a closed community rather they tell you that it’s a respect for the history of the area that they want to preserve; a respect for the generations who, perched above the North Sea, carved out a precarious living and managed to establish an identity through the lives they lived and the village they inhabited.   Just as respect is given to structures such as Skara Brae so also should it be allowed villages like Downies.   Sadly, and short of demolition, it looks as if this is another battle for historical integrity which has been lost.   All who put the rubber stamp to this travesty of planning should be ashamed of their actions.    DSC02458           Contribution by Textor