The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming…


© The Mirisch Corporation / United Artists


For what they’re worth, here are my thoughts on the attempted murder of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th – a crime which involved the use of the deadly nerve agent Novichok, which the British government blamed on its counterpart in Moscow, and which has dominated the British news for the last fortnight.


Was it carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin?

I’m inclined to think ‘probably’, but I’m still waiting on the absolute proof that clinches it.  Novichok was developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s and I suppose it’s conceivable that a quantity of it was procured by some private individual with an axe to grind against Skripal, who in Russia in 2006 was convicted of betraying undercover Russian agents to MI6.


And I suppose George Galloway has a point – there’s half-a-dozen words I never expected to write, seeing as I usually consider Galloway to be a festering furuncle of fedora-wearing foolishness – when he argued that, had he wanted to, Putin could easily have had both victims killed earlier; and it was illogical to attempt their murder on British soil now and run the risk of damaging Russia’s reputation just before it hosted the World Cup.


© The Belfast Telegraph


Galloway’s rebuttal makes sense…  But I can still imagine Putin giving orders to take Skripal out in Britain.  After all, he has past form in this sort of thing.  And there are additional reasons that are unflattering for the current UK government.  Putin probably regards modern-day Britain with such disdain that he figures it doesn’t matter if the British point an accusing finger at him.  Estranged from Europe post-Brexit vote, and with a gibbering half-wit (and Putin admirer) in the White House, Britain 2018 is an international Johnny No Mates.  Who cares what it says or thinks?  Also, vast quantities of Russian money are swilling around London these days in things like real estate and shell companies.  Such money talks, especially in an economy as fragile as Brexit Britain’s.  The beleaguered Theresa May might symbolically expel a few Russian diplomats, but she isn’t going to do anything really drastic, like freeze the London assets of Russian oligarchs.


A portion of that Russian money has even ended up funding May’s own Conservative party – declared donations of £826,100 since July 2016 and some £3,000,000 since 2010.  Laughably, Lubin Chernukhin, Russian banker and wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, once paid £160,000 at a Tory funding auction for the privilege of playing a game of tennis with Boris Johnson.  I’ll repeat that.  Somebody paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson.  I’d find it more intellectually and aesthetically stimulating to stand a piss-stained old mattress on its end and spend half-a-hour lobbing tennis balls at that.


© Anita Aguilar / From


Is Jeremy Corbin a Putin apologist?

No.  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has described the attempted murder of the Skripals as ‘appalling’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘horrific’ and demanded that the Russian authorities be ‘held to account on the basis of the evidence’.  He’s called out Putin’s Russia for ‘authoritarianism’, ‘abuse of human rights’ and ‘political and economic corruption’ too.  But Corbyn also, reasonably enough, asked for patience until conclusive proof incriminating the Putin regime had been amassed: “To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”


Obviously, Corbyn’s comments were never going to be fairly reported by Britain’s mostly right-wing mainstream media, who’ve been searching for a way to put the boot into him ever since his party performed better than expected in last year’s general election.  CORBYN IS UNWORTHY TO BE PRIME MINISTER thundered the headline above a March 16th editorial in the increasingly unhinged Daily Telegraph, for instance.  The Telegraph, though, is apparently happy to countenance as prime minister Ms. Chernukhin’s flaxen-haired tennis partner.


That said, I think Corbyn’s suggestion the other day that the Russians be sent a sample of the nerve agent “so that they can say categorically one way or the other” if it’s theirs was a bit glaikit.


Is there a BBC conspiracy to smear Jeremy Corbyn?

For a time, the Skripal affair was almost overshadowed by the row over ‘Hatgate’.  This erupted when the BBC news programme Newsnight took it upon itself to discuss Corbyn’s cautious approach against a studio backdrop that had projected onto it a mocked-up picture of the Labour Party leader standing before the Kremlin and wearing some suspiciously Russian-like headgear.  Enraged left-wingers like columnist Owen Jones accused the BBC of trying to make Corbyn look like a ‘Kremlin stooge’, though the BBC has strenuously denied that this was the case.  So: is this proof that the Beeb is the tool of the right-wing establishment, out to discredit and silence the left?




Well, I think the Newsnight backdrop picture was stupid and irresponsible, but it hardly means the BBC is a cesspit of Breitbart-esque right-wing evil.  What I think has happened in the last few years is that the BBC’s news coverage has become rudderless and susceptible to drifting with certain tides – i.e. the narratives emanating from Britain’s right-wing press.  The newspaper reviews shown on the BBC in the mornings, for instance, lead to the airing of a lot of right-wing gunk because such gunk is on the front pages of the right-wing tabloids.  With the press setting the tone, no wonder its hostility towards Corbyn gets absorbed into the BBC news gestalt.  So the Sun and the Daily Mail call him a Putin-worshipping lickspittle and the BBC unwittingly echoes the accusation.


Which is all a bit crap, considering how the BBC is a public service paid for by citizens whose beliefs cover a political spectrum, left-wing as well as centre and right-wing.  The left end of that spectrum should be getting better value for its money.


How soon will this blow over?

It’ll blow over surprisingly fast, I suspect.  With all that Russian dough in London, I’d be surprised if Theresa May’s government doesn’t try as soon as possible to draw a line and get back to business as usual with Big Bad Vlad and his oligarchs.  Plus, with the British economy likely to be in a perilous state post-Brexit, I’m sure there’ll be pressure on them to let bygones be bygones and start signing some trade deals with Russia.  (After all, look at Britain’s recent eagerness to do business with a regime as oppressive, warmongering, terrorism-exporting and generally hideous as Saudi Arabia.)


And while we’re on the topic…


Is Putin running our elections now?

Well, I’m sure Putin is delighted to see Trump pooping all over the White House like one of the Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels, and Brexit consigning Britain’s reputation, influence and dignity to the bin; and when he can, he’s happy to stick an oar in to help both processes along.  But I think it’s a mistake to blame everything on him.  And it’s also a mistake, by the way, to make too much of the recent revelations about the data-mining / Facebook-pilfering company Cambridge Analytica and its dodgy roles in the Trump election campaign and the Leave EU referendum campaign.


It must be comforting for American and British liberals to have bogeymen like Putin and Cambridge Analytica to blame for their countries’ woes.  But those bogeymen shouldn’t be allowed to obscure an unpalatable truth.  Even without their baleful influence, an awful lot of people would have voted for Trump and Brexit anyway.  Liberals in the US and UK need to come to terms with that unhappy fact – and then figure out what they’re going to do about it.


© Getty Images / From


Caledonian culture war


© Channel Four Films / PolyGram Pictures


Many people may be puzzled by the title of this blog-entry.  After all, if you’re to believe the pronouncements of certain Scottish Labour Party heavyweights of yesteryear, there isn’t any culture in Scotland to have a war over.


George Galloway, one-time Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead and Glasgow Kelvin and now widely-known as a preening, egotistical jackanapes, once declared that no such thing as Scottish culture existed.  Supporting him in this assertion was George Robertson, former Labour MP for Hamilton South, former Secretary of State for Defence and now known by the socialistic, man-of-the-people title of Lord Robertson of Port Ellon, KT, GCMG, PC, FRSA, FRSE.  Comparing the campaign for Scottish independence unfavourably with similar campaigns in Flanders and Catalonia, he said that unlike the Flemish and Catalans the Scots have “no language or culture or any of that.”


Despite George and George applying their mighty intellects to the matter of Scottish culture and ascertaining once and for all that the very notion of it is as ridiculous and chimerical as the Loch Ness Monster, a few people have not yet seen reason.  For example, the Scottish National Party, which forms the current Scottish Government.  And Jackie Kay, the current Makar – i.e. Scottish poet laureate – for another.


Recently the SNP / Scottish government launched a scheme whereby the parents of every baby born in Scotland receive a ‘baby box’, a collection of items handy for those taking care of a bairn during its first few months of life: a blanket, bedding, play and changing mats, a towel, fleece, reusable nappy, sponge, thermometer and so on.  The boxes these come in can also double as cribs.  The idea originated in Finland, where the boxes / cribs are believed to have contributed to a fall in the number of cot deaths.


What has raised the ire of many a commentator – mostly, it must be said, of the same unionist / pro-British / anti-Scottish independence mindset as Messrs Galloway and Robertson – is the decision to include within these baby boxes a poem written by Kay called Welcome Wee One.


The poem begins, “O ma darlin wee one / At last you are here in the wurld / And wi’ aa your wisdom / Your een bricht as the stars…


That’s right.  The poem isn’t written in proper standard English, but in Scots – the Scottish dialect of English that some misguided souls believe to be a separate language, to constitute a separate Scottish linguistic culture.  No wonder people who agree with the two Georges are having seizures of rage just now.  The Scottish government is propagating Scottish culture, something that doesn’t, shouldn’t, can’t exist!


Okay, enough of the sarcasm.  From now on, I’m writing seriously.


Among the many tweeters and posters expressing their scorn at Kay’s poem was Ian Smart, self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’, who dismissed her as “a woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel.”  A reader posting below a report on the baby boxes in the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, brought up the fact that Kay is of what used to be called ‘mixed parentage’ to question her right to pen the poem in the first place: “…Jackie Kay has produced Welcome Wee One in what is supposed to be local dialect…  according to her Wiki entry her father was Nigerian.  I wonder what she’s like at Igbo?”


© The Guardian


As far as this baby box / Welcome Wee One stushie is concerned, I find myself agreeing with the Scottish journalist Kenny Farquharson.  Writing in the Times a few days ago, he claimed the antipathy towards the poem and the Scottish government’s distribution of it in the baby boxes was down to the ‘Scottish cringe’.  This cringe is the commonly-held belief that any manifestation of Scottishness in Scottish people is something to be embarrassed by, something you need to shed and disown in order to get on in life.


In an article headlined SPEAK UP FOR SCOTTISHNESS AND BAN THE CRINGE, he observed how the cringe’s “symptoms were easy to spot: an involuntary shudder at the sound of a glottal stop; an onset of the vapours when confronted by a fluttering saltire; a pursing of the lips at any manifestation of Scottish working class culture.”


However, many Times readers didn’t share his opinion.  The comments thread below his article was soon ablaze with Farquharson-bashing (“really just a closet nationalist…” “he seems to have a chip on both shoulders…”) and with further Kay-bashing (“fake, rubbish art…” “the great majority of the recipients of the baby box will take one look at the poem and assign it to the recycle bin…”), Scots-language-bashing (“no one, in 21st century Scotland, would ever express themselves in this way…”), and Scottish-government-bashing (“the box and the poem are intent on branding babies Scottish the moment they gulp their first breath…”  “As a government, they are totally incompetent…”)  No wonder that a few days later Farquharson tweeted, “Have to say, I’m fair ferfochan at some of the responses to my Scottish cringe column.”  (‘Ferfochan’ is a northeast Scottish word meaning ‘tired’ or ‘troubled’.)


Well, I think the baby boxes are a good idea in any society that claims to be civilised and anyone railing against them is showing himself or herself up as a Grade-A mean-spirited numpty.  The people complaining about them containing a poem written in Scots seem ignorant of the fact that since the medieval era of Dunbar and Henryson, through Robert Burns to the present day, an awful lot of Scottish poetry has been written in Scots.  So what’s the big deal about this poem being written in it?


© The Herald


Regarding the argument that the Scottish government is playing identity politics, trying to ‘brand’ youngsters as Scottish so that, somehow, they’ll be more likely to vote for Scottish independence from the UK when they’re adults – I suspect that if the baby boxes had contained some Union-Jack-waving verse by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, the right-wing readers of the Times and Telegraph would have expressed less indignation.  It seems we’re now in the midst of a culture war, Scottish culture being aligned with the SNP and the Scottish independence movement at one end of the battlefield, and British culture aligned with unionism and the status quo at the other end.


Oh, and in response to one of Farquharson’s detractors at the Times – I’ve just spent the past fortnight in the Scottish Borders and I’ve heard plenty of people speak ‘in this way’.  (Although the word ‘een’, for ‘eyes’, does seem obsolete now.)


What I find astonishing about this is that Farquharson himself is a Unionist and often writes scathingly about the Scottish government and its long-term policy of achieving Scottish independence.  But the moment he attempts to show some reasonableness and writes favourably about a policy by that government, he’s torn apart by people who are supposedly on his own side.  (I should declare an interest here – I knew Kenny Farquharson, slightly, for a year or two when we were students at Aberdeen University in the early 1980s.  I don’t much agree with his politics, but I found him to be a decent bloke back then, full of Dundonian congeniality, and I’m sure he continues to be that way now.)




With all this yelling about the SNP / Scottish government using Scottish culture to play identity politics and further their agenda, you’d expect them to have established the post of Makar too.  After all, giving Scotland its own poet laureate is another way of separating it from the United Kingdom, which has long had its own national poet laureate.  But in fact the post was created by the previous regime at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition – Unionist politicians to a man and woman.


And if you’re going to employ a Makar for Scotland and not have them write a short ode of welcome to its new-born citizens – why employ one at all?




(c) United Artists


I’ve spent the past few hours following Twitter-feeds and live-updates on various newspaper websites as folk report and react to the results of the 2015 UK general election.  In particular, I’ve been following the misfortunes of the Scottish Labour Party’s Members of Parliament.  Or ex-Members of Parliament as they nearly all are now.


It’s been payback-time for Scottish Labour after last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, when they campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron’s Conservative Party and blustered, threatened, whined and wheedled that it was far better for Scotland to be ruled by a right-wing Cameron government in London than to have a fully-independent parliament in Edinburgh pursuing its own policies that were more palatable to Scotland’s generally left-of-centre sensibilities.  Thanks to their referendum-campaign behaviour, the chancers, troughers, numpties and neds that made up Scottish Labour’s Westminster contingent have now been stuffed by the Scottish National Party.  Stuffed utterly.


In fact, this morning, counting those weary old Scottish Labour hacks as, one by one, they’ve been shown the door by their constituents, I’ve sounded a bit like the Count in Sesame Street.


“One…  Two….  Three…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Four…  Five…  Six…  Dougie Alexander…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!   Eight…  Nine…  Ten…   Jim Murphy…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twelve…  Thirteen…  Fourteen…  Ian Davison…   Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Sixteen…  Seventeen…  Eighteen…  Margaret Curran…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twenty…  Twenty-one…”  And so on and so forth, all the way to 40.


(c) Children’s Television Workshop


The SNP would’ve probably claimed all 41 of the Scottish Labour MPs’ scalps if it hadn’t been for Ian Murray hanging on in Edinburgh South.  Presumably this was due to a reaction against some ill-advised comments that his SNP opponent, Neil Hay, made on Twitter.  Hay’s comments were reported in a somewhat out-of-context manner by the Unionist-friendly media, but they were still pretty unpleasant and ignorant for an aspiring MP to make.


At least Dougie Alexander and Jim Murphy managed to make magnanimous and dignified speeches as they accepted defeat.  If their party had struck a similarly humble and non-belligerent tone at the start of the election campaign – as opposed to peddling their usual sense-of-entitlement / we-have-a-God-given-right-to-rule-Scotland-forever guff – they mightn’t be so deep in the ordure now.


Let’s hope this marks the end of the reign of the Scottish Labour leadership’s devious, unscrupulous and unashamedly-Blairite spin doctor, John McTernan.  He seemed to think he could win back Scottish voters by having his party’s MPs associate the SNP with the Tories in every sentence they uttered; and by banging on about lifting the alcohol ban at Scottish football matches; and by making lots of nice-sounding promises that were meaningless because they related to things Westminster no longer has authority over in Scotland – they’ve been devolved to Edinburgh and won’t be relevant until the Scottish election takes place next year.  Actually, McTernan’s strategies were based on the supposition that all Scottish people are as thick as mince.


The fact that Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy started the election campaign by claiming a vote for the SNP would allow the Tories back into power, and ended it by begging Tory voters in his constituency to vote Labour in order to keep the SNP out, said it all.


Elsewhere, it looks like Cameron will form the next UK government because he’s won enough Westminster seats in England and Wales.  (He’s also won one seat in Scotland because, cringe, horror, his single Scottish MP David Mundell has managed to survive as representative for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale — which, cringe, horror, is where I’m from.)  This will either be a purely Conservative administration or one with the support of some minor and sufficiently right-wing party like the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.  Scottish Labour’s warnings that voting for the SNP rather than for them would allow Cameron back into Number 10 were unfounded.  Cameron would probably have retained power even if Labour had won all 59 constituencies in Scotland.


Incidentally, I felt great schadenfreude at the sight of George Galloway, the former Respect MP for Bradford West, losing the constituency by more 10,000 votes.  The photos of George’s face at the count suggested someone had just done a very large shit in his fedora hat, which he hadn’t noticed until he plopped it on over his head.  I once admired Galloway for his principled opposition to Blair, Bush and the Iraq War.  But since then, he’s been such a narcissistic and self-important nincompoop – especially during the Scottish referendum campaign – that I’m delighted to see him collect his P45.


And meanwhile, I love the smell of napalmed Liberal Democrat MPs in the morning.  At the moment, with 83 seats still to be declared across the whole of the United Kingdom, they’ve managed to hold on to just eight of them.  Certainly proof of the old saying that “you reap what you sow.”


But I was a little sad when old Charlie Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, got pushed out (again by the SNP).  Although he’s had his share of personal problems in recent years, he’s always struck me as being an intelligent and principled sort.  If he’d quit the Liberal Democrats and become an independent in 2010, after the party decided to do their deal with the devil and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives – something Kennedy clearly wasn’t happy about – I suspect he’d still be an MP this morning.


George, where did it all go right?


At the beginning of this week, George Galloway was sworn into Britain’s parliament as newly-elected MP for Bradford West.  The Scottish politician known as Gorgeous George, who was thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003 for his opposition to British involvement in the invasion of Iraq, and who then formed the anti-Iraq-War and anti-Afghanistan-War Respect Party, won the Bradford West constituency in a by-election on March 30th.  This was a major embarrassment for the Labour Party and its current leader, Ed Miliband, for whom victory at Bradford West had been universally forecast.


Galloway reacted to his victory with characteristic humility, describing it as merely ‘the most sensational victory in British political history’.  He also drew inspiration from the recent Arab Spring, calling the result a ‘Bradford Spring’ – as if giving Ed Miliband a bloody nose was somehow on par with chasing Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Colonel Gaddafi out of power in Northern Africa.


Like (I suspect) many people with my political leanings, I have mixed feelings about George Galloway.  In 2005, I greatly admired him for taking on the US Senate during their Oil for Food hearings and sledge-hammering them with some home truths about what their government had been up to in Iraq.  His performance is here in all its blistering glory:


After that, however, it all seemed to go wrong for old George.  He got a job hosting a current-affairs programme on Press TV, the dodgy London-based news channel run by the Iranian government.  His claim that a homosexual put to death in Iran had been executed for committing sex crimes rather than for his homosexuality was condemned by respected gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.  He also started writing a column for that dismal cap-in-hand Scottish tabloid the Daily Record.  If this was an attempt to heighten his profile in his native land, it failed, for his attempt to win a seat in the Scottish parliament in the 2011 Scottish elections saw him get just 3.3% of the votes in Glasgow.


Of course, George’s biggest miscalculation during this period was to become a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006.  The results were excruciating and he left the show with his credibility in shreds.  Six years on, some TV viewers are still traumatised by gruesome scenes like the one where George – by then not so gorgeous – donned a leotard and pratted about with transgendering pop singer Pete Burns, or the one where he pretended to be a cat and supped cream off actress Rula Lenska’s lap.  On the grounds of good taste, I won’t provide links to those sights in this blog.


Well, okay, actually, I will.  Here’s one:  And here’s the other:


But like the cat that he pretended to be on Celebrity Big Brother, George obviously has more than one life and now he is back in parliament.  Will he prove a major annoyance to those bland, privileged suits who run Britain’s three main political parties these days?  Hopefully.  Will he finally blow this second chance that fate has given him, and end up making an arse of himself again?  Probably.


In the meantime, here is an account of some comments that George recently made to the Big Issue magazine.  His explanation of why he has always been a big hit with the ladies will either have you chuckling, or chucking up.  I think my reaction was a combination of both.