Mitchelstown Cave

Mitchelstown Cave is just off the main road between Cahir and Mitchelstown. Discovered in 1833, the Cave has been a tourist attraction for a tiny part of the millions of years it has been in existence. Created by the action of water on limestone, it is entered through a steep and narrow stairway. In many ways, this is the best introduction possible. The closeness of the entry passage accentuates the grandeur of the main cavern, when it opens out in front of you.

The river that created the Cave is long gone and the exit for the water is yet to be found. However, its absence allows us to marvel at the stalagmites and stalactites and ponder on the unmitigated insignificance of humankind. Our guide, Aoife, pointed us to tiny little stalactites of barely a metre in length. Water continued dripping down them as they journeyed towards the stalagmite which they would eventually join. This uncomprehending work will eventually lead to huge calcite columns like the nine metre high ‘Tower of Babel’ which has been millions of years in the making. It is impossible not to be humbled by the thought that these delicate growths will be finished when human beings are long gone from the planet.

At one point Aoife turned off all the lights and plunged the group into a darkness so total, that my senses railed against the complete lack of stimulation. We were informed that many events take place in the main cavern. Quite how its owner got their harp down for a performance, is an itch that I would like to scratch.

Nature started the Mitchelstown Cave without us and will continue without any need for our observation or commentary. Visit them while you can.

Out of the Ashes of Brexit

Greek culture gave us the legend of the Phoenix, which was resurrected from the ashes of its predecessor. This symbol of renewal came to my mind this morning, as I read article after article on the chaos surrounding Brexit. On the one hand, with the exception of the SNP, no politician has the slightest idea of what they’re doing. On the other hand this chasm that is yawning wide in our democratic process can lead to the birth of a new politics and possibly new parties.

I do not include the SNP in these thoughts, because they are the only ones with a clear platform for the future. Nicola Sturgeon is already in Brussels, being met by the people who will decide what will happen to the xenophobic imbeciles who genuinely thought that ‘two world wars and one World Cup’ was an intellectually robust analysis of Europe in the 21st-century.

The plight of the Labour Party has piqued my interest. Jeremy Corbyn has been attacked in a carefully planned manner, which has surely been prepared since he won a handsome mandate from the members of the Labour Party. I do not recognise those who oppose him as ‘Labour’ people in any meaningful sense of the term. They are in the wrong party. They do not hold as dear, any of the ideals for which the founders of the Labour Party stood. As the fires of dissent consume the Party, I hope that it is reborn, with Corbyn again at the helm. With a final crushing defeat delivered to them, I hope that the traitors to an ideal of social justice, finally take their exit and join their friends in any other right of centre party they choose.

A reinvigorated left of centre English party can then pursue a distinct course and give back hope to millions of people who do not have any current alternatives for their beliefs. Brexit is not the end. It can be the beginning of a new and happier post-imperial England. Or you can all move to Scotland 😉

SNP = the New Labour?

The Labour Party to which I refer is not the Red Tories of Anthony WMD Blair. No, I have not suddenly analysed Scotland’s largest party and decided they have become unionist timeservers and self-hating lickspittles. The reality is somewhat different and much more interesting.

When I moved to Scotland in 1992, I was swiftly informed that the SNP were the ‘Tartan Tories’. Well: who could like a party with such a pejorative nickname? As it turned out: twenty years later, 50% of the population would have no difficulty in identifying themselves as such. When I joined the Party seven years ago, it was one tenth the size it is now. From where did all these people come? Like myself, they made the small, but psychologically important journey from the ranks of the party of Keir Hardie and Dennis Skinner, to rejoin their friends who had arrived by other routes.

Fifty years of failing to protect the poor of Scotland gave most of us who were lifelong socialists, more than enough evidence that it was time for a change. It was not that we had backed the wrong horse, more that our trusty proletarian steed had metamorphosed into the kraken of free enterprise, whilst we had been feeding it principled sugar lumps.

So here we all are: supporting the party that we have taken over, in the hope that it allows us a socialist alternative in the near future. All I know is that: post-independence, there will be an exhilarating time in Scottish politics where there is a tabula rasa. The Caledonian slate will be wiped clean and we will have a once in three centuries chance to decide how many limbs our body politic should have.

Whilst the levers of true power are worked remotely from offices in the Palace of Westminster, there is no point in trying to ascertain which of the Titanic’s deckchairs are posh or proletarian. A discussion about the political soul of the SNP will only become relevant when we have driven a stake through the putrefying heart of the unionist political machine. That will be a conversation for a different and much happier day.

Both Votes SNP

It has been interesting to watch the tactics of the press, in the last few months. Even the dogs in the street know that the SNP are going to win May 5th and possibly win big. What is a Unionist media baron to do in the face of the oncoming juggernaut? The answer seems to be: confuse the voter. In Scotland we have two votes: one to elect an MSP in our local constituency and one to elect a list candidate. It is a type of proportional representation, which supposedly allows parties who would not normally get enough votes in a constituency system to be given List candidates in some proportion to the percentage of votes cast for them.

Under the first past the post system used in Westminster, we have the offensive absurdity of a party ruling over us all, when 63.2% of the population voted against them. This gets worse, if you look at the fact that 34% of the population did not bother to vote. This means that 24.3% of the adult population of the United Kingdom voted for the Tories. Democracy, my pert pink bahookey.

At least the benighted electors of Jockistan have been allowed a slightly more sensible system, although it is still not my favourite. I do not like D’Hondt system, because it provokes confusion – and confusion is the only friend of the Unionist losers.The pro-Westminster press, for which read everybody but the National, are full of commentary on who deserves the List vote of the electors. This is merely sowing weeds on our Caledonian cloth of gold.

The tactic is quite understandable: confuse enough voters to give their List vote to another candidate, in the hope that enough SNP candidates on the List fail to be elected and the SNP are hobbled by the lack of a majority. In this case I urge all the friends of Independence to concentrate support on the one-party who unequivocally want Scotland to be independent and who are able to do something about it.

It cannot he said enough times: the only question for any politically inclined Scot is the question of independence. It does not matter what your political persuasion might be: whilst Westminster pulls the strings on the Caledonian puppet, all other discussions are moot.

Bowling on the NHS?

Following on the from my blog about the Hampden Bowling Club and their pre-eminent position as custodians of the world’s most important square of grass, I am keen to open a second front in defence of one of the triumvirate of great Scottish games that have been given to the world. To many, bowls is a merely a sport. A game which can be played, in order that a moderate amount of exercise may be taken. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where an egregious error is being committed. Many things weaved into the fabric of human society, have unintended consequences. We may think we can predict the outcome of anything that any human does, but we are incorrect.

I feel that we are missing a trick, in our keenness to ensure that people remain healthy and happy for as long as they are alive. The answer lies not in pills and potions, but in bowls and club pavilions. If there was a thread running through my observations of the start of the bowls season, it was a golden skein of simple happiness. At Hampden on that shining Saturday, friends greeted one another with pure warmth and laughter ran through the clubhouse, as the first tea and buns of the season was celebrated.

Note that I have not mentioned the game itself, for it is the gregarious nature of the club itself which underpins the beautiful benefits of the lawn game. It was clear that many members had been looking forward to this day for some time. 2015 had seemed to have provided nothing but rain, in the minds of us all. It was clear that many of the fifty-five members and their guests were there to imbibe the milk of human kindness. Their bodies were now unable to cope with the gentle demands of a reasonable sport, but they were bowlers all the same. Bowls gave them a reason to get up in the morning. It gave them a plan for the week. It gave them someone to talk to, in a life that infirmity and the death of loved ones had rendered solitary.

If I was in the Scottish Government, instead of prescriptions for people who were on the edge of giving up on life, I would pay the membership fees to their local bowling club. If I was a GP, the condition would be that my patients took their medicine at least three times a week. The minute the sun was over the clubhouse roof, I would be telling them to get out of the house and parked on a bench by the green. There, they could soak up the rays and engage in banter with their new pals in the community. The financial injection would save many clubs from closure and bring warmth to the lives of those, for whom a free prescription will never cure what ails them.

Who is More Socialist?

 

I am delighted to be living in a time when politics has become sexy again. This applies to Scotland, where we have a clear goal, based on pure principles. Although the first independence referendum was lost, hope is high when half the population of Scotland harbour an increasingly strong desire for self-determination. What then are we to make of the shenanigans in Europe over which political bloc the SNP can join?

Yesterday, the SNP asked to join the Socialist Group in the European Parliament. So far, so ordinary. The vote was passed in favour of the SNP, by 32 votes to 29. This is where reality veers off into the bushes and heads for the home where the ludicrous people live. I am guessing that few of us knew that parties already within the bloc have the right of veto on new entrants.

Up stepped three Lords from the Labour Party’s Council of Europe delegation to veto the inclusion of the representatives of the people of Scotland. Let us pause to understand the full ramifications. Three of the unelected members of an institutionally corrupt level of the British democratic process (stop laughing at the back) decided that a party which refuses, as a point of principle, to nominate people to an intentionally undemocratic chamber, was less socialist then they were.

In 1973, the satirist Tom Lehrer said that satire died, the moment Henry Kissinger was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What would Tom say at this moment? A party which is dedicated to increasing the freedom of five million people and taking back some of the wealth the people created was refused entry to a social democratic grouping by a party that is now so far removed from its founding principles that a giraffe would dislocate its neck trying to see where Labour were going.

In the coming election, I hope that people who still maintain a race memory of what the Labour Party was when I was a child, finally admit that the party of the people is now led by Nicola Sturgeon. The Palm has passed to a new generation and that generation has joined the SNP.

Govan Heritage

On 7th August 1912, the Burgh of Govan was taken over by the City of Glasgow. Although it had been in existence in legend, since the sixth century, it had only been a burgh since 1864. Along with Partick and Pollokshaws, Govan disappeared into the gaping maw of the Dear Green Place.

Last Wednesday, I took a wander through a neighbourhood which surfaces in the consciousness of many non-Glaswegians, primarily as Sir Alex Ferguson’s birthplace. Yet, as one person pointed out to Sir John Ure Primrose, in the Burgh’s losing battle for independence, maybe Govan should have taken over Glasgow. Such was the concern then that the upstart Glasgow was getting ahead of itself.

In the intervening century, Govan has been submerged by the tsunami of the industrial history of the West of Scotland. It has been unfairly lumped with Glasgow, when it has stories of its own, in spades. The Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s show Glasgow and Govan meeting in a thin ribbon of development along the Paisley Road. The area south of Cessnock Dock on the Govan Road is still fairly blank. Govan was clearly its own urban centre that did not need the embrace of its younger, but faster growing sibling.

Look northwest on the old maps and you see that Govan is thriving. The shipbuilding yards are spreading, Govan Old Church sits enjoying its second millennium and Water Row looks down on the Govan Ferry bringing thousands of workers to their business. The freight railway line runs through the streets until it is welcomed into the Fairfield Works. The silk factory is still there, waiting to be swallowed up by a later expansion of Fairfields. That much of this story is unknown to most people, is a problem that is being enthusiastically addressed.

Govanites are proud of their Burgh and have been making strenuous efforts to spread the word. I strongly recommend that you take a wee afternoon trip to improve your mind. Why don’t you start at the Underground Station, which is in the throes of an impressive redevelopment? Head west until you reach the church of St Constantine: the Old Parish Church, wherein lies some of the most impressive grave monuments in Britain. Volunteers, of a decidedly cheery and welcoming nature are there to help you with any questions, although there is more than enough information to be read by the independent visitor. Once you have had your fill of Celtic and Viking history, gird your loins for the 300 meter trot down the road to the Fairfield Heritage Centre, housed in the offices of the Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard.

There is clearly a secret production line somewhere in Harmony Row, churning out cheerful and welcoming Govanites in the still of the night. Yet again, you are looked after like a pet pig, by the volunteers who have dedicated their afternoons to explaining the history of shipbuilding in Govan. I finished my sojourn with a trip to admire the statues in Elder Park: in particular of John Elder himself, cuddling his compound engine. His engineering excellence gave Govan a maritime advantage, that the world took many decades to best.

My journey ended in the Elder Park Library: a fine building from the drawing board of John James Burnet. It was opened in 1903 by Andrew Carnegie even though it wasn’t a Carnegie Library. Yum Yums were the prize, as I returned to the Underground although, in my experience the No. 13 Cafe across from Greggs is definitely a place for the less time constrained flâneur.

http://www.fairfieldgovan.co.uk/heritage/

http://www.spt.co.uk/subway/modernisation/modernisation-at-govan/

http://www.thegovanstones.org.uk

http://www.clydewaterfront.com/clyde-heritage/govan/elder-park

http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/libraries/your-local-library/elder-park-library/Pages/home.aspx

PPI and the Sting in the New Labour Tail

The spectre of schools falling down, with the potential for killing children, is truly chilling. The media failing to report this in any manner that fulfils the solemn duty of the journalist is truly shameful.

The narrative is very straightforward. More than ten years ago, the Labour Party in Scotland were instrumental in pushing forward a new type of financing for public buildings. In essence, the Labour Party forced councils to proceed with infrastructure projects through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). This wacky version of voodoo economics has led us to our two pronged current crisis.

The first problem was identified early on: PFI kept project costs off the books whilst the projects were being built. Over the following decades the councils would be obliged to continue paying the contractors, with the bill being absurdly more expensive than if the councils had been allowed to finance the projects in their own way. So, we find that Fife Council built schools with the capital value of £103.9 million. Thanks to PFI, the schools will cost five £412 million over the next 20 years. It beggars belief that any sentient being could have thought that this was a wizard wheeze.

The second problem has surfaced with vengeance in the past week. Not to put too fine a point on it, it now seems that projects were completed with no obvious oversight during construction, leading us to the closure of Edinburgh’s dangerous PFI schools. Wings over Scotland has done its typically sterling job of collecting the media reports, which have failed to mention that the only fingerprints on this national disgrace come from the hands of the soon to be dead Labour Party.

This story is going to have a very long tail and that tail will have a sting like a scorpion who has been mainlining hydrochloric acid.

Read the WoS piece:

One day we’d like to be surprised

Are We a Democracy?

Human beings are curious things. They combine supreme intelligence with bovine stupidity. They can maintain mutually opposing views whilst appearing unconcerned or even embarrassed. It goes without saying that we live in a democracy, whilst some of the criteria for making such an assertion would tell us that we are totally wrong. Consider the three levels of governance at the top of the United Kingdom, to see what I mean.

In pole position in our much vaunted democracy is the Queen. Placed in a structurally bigoted appointment, she looks down on us and must secretly laugh at the absurdity of her position. As the richest Social Security scrounger of them all, the sole requirement for becoming the number one kiddie in the country, was be the child of a monarch. When daddy died, she had to promise to rule over us and be a good Protestant. It’s the second bit that really burns my bacon. If she were suddenly to become a papist she would be removed from her throne. So: two epic fails in our testing ground for democracy.

On the second, but still quite rarefied level, we have the upper house. Chosen by the Queen, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the House of Lords is stuffed with hundreds of the unelected. They will never have to undergo the indignity of seeking the approval of the electorate. The 1911 Parliament Act stated its intention to ‘substitute for the House of Lords as it presently exists a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis’.

Of the third level, it is true that we get a chance to decide our democratic fate. Once every five years. For about 20 minutes. In this I include the walk to and from Bankhead Primary School to choose the Member of Parliament who will represent me for half a decade. So – my democratic contribution to the government of the United Kingdom is 10 seconds per decade.

Maybe we need to sit down and discuss democracy in the light of the constitutional requirements of the UK. Unfortunately, even though the Constitution is regularly mentioned on political programmes I am, as yet, unable to procure a copy of this vital, but rarely seen document. So, here we sit, with an invisible constitution which is alluded to whenever the status quo is challenged. We have two levels of government which are legally closed off to 99.99% of the population, yet we are apparently a democracy.

I call shenanigans.

King Pyrrhus of Giffnock

In the 3rd century BC, King Pyrrhus took part in a bloody and draining war against the Romans. After one battle, during which he lost all of his commanders and friends, he is reputed to have remarked ‘one more victory like this and we are lost’. As King James of Giffnock moves smoothly towards his new position as head of the minor royal House of SLAB, it is useful to remember the principles behind the story of that Greek aristocrat from Epirus.

What Pyrrhus realised is that some victories are gained at such cost, that it would have been better not to have had the battle at all. The Referendum is Labour’s Pyrrhic Victory. They won and they crowed, yet though the new cockerel is about to take his place on a diminishing dunghill, the days ahead are dark indeed.

The winning was achieved through an unholy alliance of all those who despise every principle Labour members used to hold dear. For that alone, the Labour Party will pay at their next battle in May. Led by the King of Giffnock, the now tattered and shrunken army will attempt to take on a rejuvenated and principled electorate, who actually have principles for which to fight. Here’s to the 52% and rising!