Scottish Labour has been routed.

No shocker in this house that Labour is not forming the new administration – and from the tenor of today’s broadsheet reports, no surprise to political commentators either. Though they are surprised that ‘wee Eck’ has pulled off a majority government for the SNP.
Should any of us be surprised that he’s managed to do that?
Let’s face it, the SNP present (after being in government for 4+ years) as a ‘competent Scottish Labour Party’. Their policies are Labour (or left-leaning) policies – always popular with a democratic socialist voting populace. They were remarkably silent on the independence referendum question (it’s not much of a goer for them – ironically). The LibDem/Conservative vote collapsed just as anticipated. And Scottish Labour managed a spectacular car crash of a campaign with a lame duck as leader.
It’s partly the politics of the personality. Salmond, the punchy wee Scottish bauchle, standing up to the English Goliaths. And Gray-by-name-Gray-by-nature Iain – running a lack-lustre bumbling and defensively negative campaign. Who would you trust? Who best represents your vision of yourself? ‘Fraid wee Eck is ‘it’. Our representation of ourselves. The man (and mind that word, ‘man’) who reflects to us a vision of what we Scots have always best identified with: the plucky underdog fighting the good fight against the big yins, telling us what a great bunch of folk we really are and how we can do it for ourselves, be leaders of men…
It’s also partly the consequence of a coalition in Westminster which results in the destruction of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. ‘Their’ votes going to any party as long as it wasn’t Scottish Labour.
And it’s partly that the electorate are tired of a Scottish Labour Party which is run like a rotten burgh. Scottish Labour politicians (across the piece – both local and parliamentary) who have lost (if they ever had it) any sense of what it was they came into politics to do. The stench of arrogant establishment entitlement defining who they are.
I was brought up with the West of Scotland Labour hegemony of ‘conservative’ trade unionist men carving up political positions based on preservation of their personal power and protection of their cultural and religious interests. I suppose that’s what all politicos exist to do. But it becomes a double-edged sword. Spend too long ‘in power’ then you lose the political fire that fueled your desire to get there in the first place. You lose your ‘edge’. You risk complacency. You also find, increasingly, that crony-ism doesn’t deliver the best candidates – so you end up with a dearth of quality…and the inward-looking promotion of only those who see things your way results in a catastrophic failure of the intellect and of idea-generation.
A West of Scotland Labour male politician… you’ll get my drift. All men – no doubt initially well-intentioned – who just come across as 3rd rate; tied to the old pre-Holyrood Scotland; unable to argue without shouting and defaming; misogynistic (McAveety’s resignation over the ‘dusky maiden’ remark speaks volumes). Ah what’s the point?
Scottish people take themselves seriously. The SNP take Scottish people seriously. Or at the very least they sound as if the respect the Scottish electorate. The quality of their representatives mirrors Labour’s. No better or worse. But think about what message our Labour so-called ‘big-hitters’ send when they refuse (or scorn) the opportunity to stand as candidates in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Not for them the mickey mouse Scottish Parliament. They’re big boys who want to play with the other big boys in Westminster. Where the real power is.

And that’s the rub. Whilst the SNP take the Scottish Parliament seriously – and by extension, they take the idea of Scotland and Scottishness, seriously – they will shit all over Scottish Labour.
The real test for Salmond will be: Independence Referendum.
He really doesn’t want to run it, does he?
On current figures, he knows he’ll lose – and politicians don’t like to lose, especially when what’s being voted on is the reason for your party existing in the first place. He’s avoided running it so far – with a host of excuses. So desperate was he to hold on to power.
In the end, politicians, regardless of hue, are all the same. Nobody likes to lose power – and I rather imagine that he’d lose what position he has if he lead an unsuccessful Independence campaign.
As it stands, in the near future Salmond is onto a winning formula: blame the unionist Westminster parties for the cuts which he will have to impose; exploit the fact that Labour don’t have any alternative to offer and play up the ‘plucky Scots’ card…
As a Labour Party member – I’m off to slouch despondently in some dark corner…

House call

It’s unusual now – a house call. But I called, yesterday morning, having avoided hospital and threats to call ambulances in the middle of the night. And the woman said she’d arrange a house call.

So I was sleeping when he arrived in the afternoon.
I opened my eyes to a gentle, accented ‘Mrs Stew-ard…Mrs Stew-ard’…
And there he was. To my eyes, shockingly young and shockingly in my room. I momentarily forgot where I was – what he was there for – even how to use my tongue. I stuttered awake. And then felt embarrassed and wrong-footed that some stranger had wakened me. Aware that I must smell sour and sick after a night spent writhing and sweating and pained.
But he seemed aware of that and handled it well. Apologising. Naming himself. Giving me time to find my wits.
A strange intimacy follows. Words. Examinations. Explanations. Some doctors are better than others at this forced intrusion into a stranger’s privacy and space. Some are brusque and almost seemed embarrassed by their proximity to another human being. But he was good. Ease-ful. Extraordinary on reflection.
He confirmed that yes, I’d most likely had another attack. A nurse would take blood. Could I manage to the clinic? Amylase levels would likely be almost normal by now – but maybe liver enzymes would still show some elevations. The figures would be useful. I could take the prescription pain relief he would leave.
He sat back and smiled and asked about the photo on my bed-side table. The kids. For once all together and smiling out at whoever looked. I explained. He told me about his brothers and sisters. Eleven of them. Mostly older. I asked where they were and he explained they were in Islamabad. But that they were Pashtun Afghans – who had fled to Pakistan a long time ago.
I was aware of an internal pause. A moment of deliberation within me. Was that a racist response? That internal fleeting question: what is the right response to that declaration of nationality? Is there a ‘right’ response? Should there be a need for one?
I said: ‘That must be very difficult for you – for your family – to be exiled from your country.’
He nodded vehemently.
‘Very. It is very difficult. My Mother and Father are getting older now and accept that they will die in exile. My younger brother and sisters have not seen Afghanistan. But they feel they are not at home in Islamabad.’
‘Of course, they have had education and freedoms. But it is not the same.’
I asked what his own plans were. He spoke at length about how he wanted to eventually serve his own people. Ensure they received medical care and attention. His Father was not supportive of that. He was an educated man who wanted better for his son than to return to a country in the middle of such upheaval. He explained that his Father had been lucky. He had money. Relatives in Pakistan. An opportunity to start again. That he had fallen out with certain people at home about the way things had to be. I assumed they may have fled during the Russian occupation – but I am not sure it wasn’t afterwards, when the country stumbled further into medieval religion.
I was mindful of the gulf of age and culture and religion between us. There were things that I could not comprehend: the need to uproot; to escape; to live away from what you felt was home.
I imagined that to say you were Afghani involved a leap of faith that the UK listener would not jump to prejudiced assumptions. I said as much and he smiled. I indicated sympathy that any person should feel restraint when talking of their nationality.
He then said: ‘Of course, he is dead now. Or they say he is.’ Initially puzzling me – as I knew Bin Laden was not Afghan. But I understood.
Osama. His briny sacrilegious grave.
I mentioned I had studied Islam. We talked about fundamentalism. Of how – any colour or hue – it is ‘the enemy’ of life itself. From the Christian Crusades to Osama to Westport Baptist Church. All the same.
I quoted Blaise Pascal: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully than when they do it from religious conviction.

And he quoted from the Koran. I wish I had asked for the citation. But it was the forgiving Koran. The Koran of tolerance. The Koran that I recognised.
We talked about the thousands in Pakistan and in Afghanistan who had been killed by terrorist bombings. Conservatively estimated at 30,000 since 9/11 in Pakistan alone. Bombings and warnings a daily occurrence. Of how the biggest victims were Muslims. That ordinary Muslims had suffered – and continue to suffer a double blow: they were vilified by the Christian West but murdered by Islamic terrorists.
We did not put the world to rights. But in that hour or so that he spent here I was humbled.
And reminded that – for all the world’s divisions – we are all human. Sharing the same ability to bleed; to feel emotion; to cry; to suffer; to love. We are loyal to our families. Want to protect. We feel fear. We suffer. And experience joy.
We wished one another well. The differences between us could not – on the face of it – be greater: a late 20’s Muslim man from a country scape-goated by the West and a 40+ athiest, mother of five. But it is our similarities which will remain my abiding memory.

wonderful may day…

What a gorgeous day. Just a few ingredients: good friends; family; sunshine; bbq trays; and charcoaled sausages and burgers… mix with big jugs of pims, pear cider and lager for the lads…

The paddling pool saw lots of kiddie fun. The petanque was dusted down – and competition got heated. Sun cream was forgotten and now we’ve all got a bit of red staining shoulders and noses…
And the only reason we’re in now: the midges had started to bite. Though I think we are all shattered – 8 hours in the sun.
We had so much fun we even forgot the mobile phone cameras…