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The Scottish National Party was the third largest in the House of Commons. If you get your news from the BBC, you might think the third party is the Social Democrats. The SNP won greater than 50% more seats at the last General Election. The argument goes that as no-one outside Scotland can vote for the SNP, there is no point giving the party air time on the British stage. In Canada, the leader of the pro-separatist Bloc Quebecois was invited to take part in the leaders' debates, even though no-one outside Quebec could vote for his party. That meant that Canadians could see not only where the Bloc was coming from but where the other party leaders stood in relation to it. In Canada there was a national election. The broadcasters in the United Kingdom are treating the General Election as an English Election and only the leaders of the two main parties south of the border merit debate time. There is much nonsense spoken and written about Scotland at the moment  and the chance to nail some of the lies on a United Kingdom stage is being lost. Something is not right. 

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I was a little miffed at a suggestion in a history of the Royal Flying Corps that life in the trenches during the First World War offered an improvement in quality of life for the numerous slum dwellers who found themselves sent to the front line. A bit patronizing, I thought. But I think the author got the idea from a classic novel about the war in the air called Winged Victory. The point made by a fictional pilot in the book was that he couldn’t see what motivated the downtrodden slum dwellers to fight for a country that treated them so badly. Good question. The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 resulted in a flood of volunteers to fight in South Africa. But the authorities were appalled by how many of them had to be rejected because they were in such poor physical condition, rotten teeth being a particular worry (a quick survey of the newspapers for 1900 and 1901 shows that on several occasions as many as 50% of Edinburgh volunteers were rejected on medical grounds). The school dinner programme came just in time to beef up the boys who would be sent for slaughter 1914-18. And the Land Fit for Heroes promised to the survivors by Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to materialise. The children of the warriors of the First World War were a little smarter and less trusting when the second round broke out in 1939. It was clear the status quo would not be acceptable after the war was won. It is only recently that the Establishment has dared to start taking away what they successfully fought for 1939-45. Mind you, British veterans of the fighting 1939-45 are becoming scarce on the ground. 

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In the crime shows on television a lot of suspects seem to know exactly what they were doing on a specific day when questioned, even though the it was weeks earlier.  I have trouble now remembering what I was doing this time last week. But I do know what I was doing around sunset on 13th of July 1985 – I was jumping up and down giving a statue of the Duke of Sutherland the V-sign. There were hundreds of us hoping up and down gesticulating at the statue on the ridge above Golspie that night. The reason I know the date was the Runrig concert at Golspie co-incided with Live Aid. The legendary Gaelic rockers were belting out a lively song about the Highland Clearances named Dance Called America. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a bouncy lively tune. The crowd knew what it had to do. They turned pretty much spontaneously turned their backs to the band on stage, which could easily have been mistaken for a hay trailer, and clearly demonstrated that they knew who the statue on the column on the ridge was and the contribution he and his family had made to The Clearances. It was a memorable but moment – obviously. Oh, the reason I remember it must have been the day of Live Aid was that a blanket was carried around the crowd to collect donations.

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We had a spate of people who died after becoming trapped inside clothing donation bins here in Canada. The bins, like good modern post boxes, have a moving shelf in the opening to stop people reaching in and helping themselves to the contents. Obviously, when it comes to these large clothing donation bins there must be a way around this security feature. But there's also obviously a risk of being trapped. Cue the professional advocates for the poor and their demands that the security feature should be removed. The thing that struck me was that no-one mentioned the fact that those who became trapped were stealing. Worse than that, they were stealing from the poor. I can't say "fellow poor" because I've noticed that some folk engaged in similar activities are driving trucks. I don't like to see anyone dying trapped in a steel box, but is making stealing from the poor easier really the best solution?

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One Tuesday a month I go to a talk put on by the local university and involving students working on their PhDs. Recently the presentation was about fentanyl deaths in prison. The student was more mature than most, in both senses of the word, and had been a prison guard before going to university. I'd turned up early and so had an older guy. The three of us got talking. The older guy suggested that fentanyl deaths in the prison was an excellent example of self-culling among some of the less sympathetic members of society. I can't remember what the former prison warder replied but he handled the quip well and was no bleeding heart. The PhD student invited questions at the end of his talk and I kept expecting that older guy to make his self-culling crack again. But he remained silent. But by then it was obvious that most of the audience for the talk were in fact out-and-out bleeding hearts. And there a few who are so intolerant and closed minded than the bleeding hearts. I'm sure the old guy wasn't the only one who wondered whether the fentanyl deaths in jail should worry society too much. It would have been an interesting discussion. But it was never going to happen. Postcript - I was foolish enough a few weeks later in the same room to question a statement that anyone who had reservations about the tactics of Extinction Rebellion activists  should be regarded as an example of "road rage culture". I should have known better. 

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There is at least one programme on the BBC World Service that I'm tempted to switch off if it's being presented by a certain reporter. But I'm not going to name him or her. And here's why:- Although I know the programme is almost certain to be dross, I don't know whose fault that is. At first I simply blamed the reporter. But then I got to thinking. Maybe what I was encountering was a chicken and egg scenario. Maybe she, or he, had been unlucky and had been lumbered in the early days with a couple of hopeless assignments. These got him, or her, branded a loser and all the really hopeless stories. So, maybe when the production team know they have a lemon on their hands, they call in this presenter in the knowledge that he or she will get the blame. We also have a possible chicken and egg thing here in Canada; only it could be the audience's fault in this case rather than the production team's. The programme in question treats its listeners like morons. It makes the BBC Radio One hourly news bulletins look like Radio Four's Today programme. Then one day there was programme involving a lot of audience participation - and they were nearly all morons.  The question is did the progamme's production team read their audience perfectly? Or had they succeded in driving away any listeners who had more than one brain cell and nearly all the listeners now are morons. 

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When I worked at the Inverness Courier I had two colleagues there who had spent most of the Second World War as guests of the Third Reich after being captured in France while serving with the 4th Cameron Highlanders in 1940. Inverness Town Councillors decided that it would be an excellent idea if the town was twinned with St. Valery en Caux where my two colleagues and much of the rest of the 51st Highland Division had been captured. But excellent for whom? My two pals at the Courier hadn't thought much of the population of the French seaside town back in 1940. They claimed that many of the French couldn't do enough for the Germans, including taking the Nazis to places where the British were trying to hide in an attempt to avoid capture. The pair, and I suspect they were correct, thought the twinning had more to do with trips to France at the ratepayers expense for Inverness councillors than any affection felt by veterans for the seaside resort. I'm sure some French patriots did try to help the men of the 51st get away, just not enough of them to justify warm comfy feelings towards the town from the men who were to lose five of what in times of peace should have been among the best years of their lives.

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I’ve commented a couple of times on people who in reality spoke with Scottish accents being portrayed on television or in film as speaking with English accents. Judge Lord Mansfield and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spring immediately to mind. Watching the excellent Hornblower TV series, excellent at least compared to the hamfisted Sharpe series, I would never have guessed that the hero’s mentor and supporter Captain Edward Pellow was a Cornishman. The usually excellent Robert Lindsay gives no hint that Pellow, who really existed before being immoratalised in CS Forester’s naval fiction, had once been an ordinary jack tar and throughout his life had a discernible Cornish accent. I would have thought these facts make the character more interesting.  So, it’s not just Scots who are being written out of history by the acting profession, it’s the working classes too. 

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I hear there is a campaign for the British Government to compensate Kenyans pushed off their farms in the 1920s and 1930s to make way for white-run tea plantations. I wonder how far back the British would consider making financial redress for past wrongs. I can't help thinking there must be many Irish and Scots who were forced into industrial slums after being forcibly kicked off their farms. And the use of British troops, in both countries, points to official government support for the evictions. Of course, in most instances, those evictions were a long time ago. But some families have never recovered and the tragedy triggered continues down the generations. I also notice that the Archbishop of Canterbury has public apologised for the Armristsar Massace in India in 1919. Words are cheap. The role of the Church of England in the killing of the protestors should be assessed and compensation in line with its culpability paid to the families there that never got over the loss of some many breadwinners and potential breadwinners. 

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That arch Little Englander Matt Damon of the BBC World Service has been at it again. Actually, I know his name is Dan Damon, but I thought I would echo his cavalier attitude to names. His announcement that a Scottish barrister had successfully challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnstone's shut down of Parliament seemed a odd. Scotland's legal system has advocates rather than barristers. But, of course, a Scot qualifying for the English Bar would indeed eventually become a barrister. So I checked. Joanna Cherry is an advocate and not a barrister. Would Damon describe a rabbi as a priest?  I think not. A few days earlier I heard one of his colleagues on the World Service express surprise that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, could stand next to Johnston and be so rude about Bouncing Boris. He seemed genuinely shocked that a mere Irishman would behave this way to his obvious superior. If this reflects, as I suspect it does, the attitude of the English Establishment to the government of the Republic, then no wonder Varadkar and his people are being so unhelpful when it comes to Brexit. 

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I was disappointed to see that the Inverness Courier is still being credited by many as breaking the story of the Loch Ness Monster in May 1933. It pains me as a former chief reporter of that august journal but I am a sworn servant of The Truth. The fact is that the Courier's rival, the Northern Chronicle, carried a story about the sighting of a large unidentified creature in the loch in August 1930. The stories are very similar and that should be no surprise as the same part-time freelance journalist, Alex Campbell, was responsible for both. The difference, perhaps, was that the Courier story was printed on a particularly slow news weekend in Britain and several Fleet Street newspapers picked it up. The rest is history. What the Courier did do was brand the creature a "Monster". Campbell described it in his report as either, I can't remember which, "a creature" or perhaps "a beast". The then editor and owner of the Courier, Dr Evan Barron, changed it to "Monster". In fact as far back as the mid-1800s the Courier had been reporting sightings of strange creatures in the loch, often thought to be associated with the Highland tales of Water Horses or, if you prefer, Kelpies. I own the typewriter used for the original Courier story, and if you believe that you probably have also seen the Monster. 

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I recently watched a very good, excellent in fact, film about the war in Afghanistan. The first thing that struck me was how realistic the opening scenes featuring  the Danish patrol at the centre of the plot were. It turned out this shouldn't have been a surprise because many of the cast had served with the Danish Army in Afghanistan. The second thing was how probable the plot was. Basically, the politicians back home want a war in which nobody gets hurt and, with the assistance of a cringing military hierarchy, hang the lead character out to dry. Courageous Restraint gone mad. Sound familiar? I suspect that almost anyone who served in Afghanistan would join the film audience in rooting for the lead character. And be thankful that same thing hadn't happened to them. 

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A little historical footnote. Many more years ago than I care to acknowledge I was sent to the Mitchell Library by the Glasgow Herald to find out what its leader articles had said about important world events during its 200 year history. I was given a list of events and told to feel to free to harvest anything else I spotted that might also be of interest. It’s a long time ago and what I’d found it said about the treaty that made Hong Kong part of the British Empire in 1842 was not included in the book marking the paper's bi-centenary. So, I’m relying on my memory and quite possibly paraphrasing. But the Herald opined that it was hard put to see what the British gained by acquiring “this miserable little island in the mouth of the Canton”.  It speculated that the British had been outfoxed during treaty negotiations by the wily Chinese. I’m maybe not surprised that the Herald decided not to repeat that misreading of events. 

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I picked up an interesting video tape about the Korean War recently. What made it interesting was that it was produced by a Canadian war veterans group. So, it was a little less gung-ho and a little more humane than many military history video tapes. The group is called The War Amps, the "Amps" being short for "Amputees" and was set up as a charity to support men who had lost limps as a result of combat. The organisation's remit was later expanded to include children who needed prosthetic limbs. It also produced a series of videos explaining to later generations of Canadians just what the original amputees had been involved in. Most of the videos are pretty good.

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I have a soft-spot for the Gloster Gladiator fighter bi-plane. The Gladiator was replaced by the Hurricane and Spitfire but did see some combat during the Second World War, most notably in Norway and Malta. So, not one of the world's greatest fighter planes. But it has a special place for me because I regularly used to win balsa wood rubber band powered models of it while I was at Primary School. I can't remember what I won the models for and my guess is that the school didn't really explain. Decades later I found a prize certificate from the Scottish Milk Marketing Board informing me that I'd won third place in one of its national competitions. I remembered the guy from the board presenting it to me but thought at the time that the whole class had come third and I had been selected at random to take it from the certificate from him. The school was not big on prizes. But once in a while there was a prize table put out and some kids were invited to select something from it. I always chose the balsa Gladiator. My dad would build them and we would take it to the park at Stathaven where the model seldom survived more than a half-dozen flights. Hmm, I suppose a promised "favourite planes". Stay tuned.

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Decades ago I was lumbered with editing a weekly paper's sports pages. These pages often rely on match reports submitted by one of the teams involved, most often the home side. You won't be surprised to learn that the quality of the reports submitted varied a lot. Some, quite frankly, were terrible.  But if the paper wanted to have coverage of all matches in the area, they all had to used. In a somewhat perfect world every match report would be the same length. But in a big scoring game the last thing that's needed is a line such as "And then we scored six more goals taking United's total tally to 22"  to avoid exceeding the word limit. So, some editing was required. Often the worst written match reports were the toughest to edit because they barely made even sense as originally submitted and it wasn't always possible to get a hold of the contributor to clarify matters. I had one contributor who was especially awful and could not be safely edited. I also had a couple of contributors who were excellent and their copy a joy to edit. This really bad contributor was talking to one of the excellent ones. The awful one announced that his contributions were so good they were never edited. The better writer was frequently edited, because she safely could be, and naturally entertained hurt feelings because the implication was that her contributions were regarded as of inferior quality. I can't remember how I got out of that one, but I'm pretty sure I didn't tell her that the other contributor was one of the worst we had. 

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There can be no denying that the Vietnam War was traumatic for both the military and society as a whole in the United States of America. The same is true of the Second Boer War 1899 to 1902 and Great Britain. The British Army did not do well in South Africa, either in the set battles or during the anti-guerrilla campaign which dragged on for almost two years after the capitals of the two Boer republics were captured. The war led to a lot of soul searching and reform for the British Army. The same is true for the Vietnam War. Both conflicts led to strong domestic anti-war campaigns. Future British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was a determined and vocal opponent of the 1899-1902 war. The outcomes of the two wars were pretty much the same. Not long after the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, the Communist North swept into the South and re-united the country under its rule. The British appeared to get what they wanted when the guerrillas finally surrendered in 1902. But the Union of South Africa created from joining the British colonies with the two former Boer republics resulted in a state dominated by the supposed losing side. Two very similar conflicts 65 years apart. 

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So, the Iranians have retaliated following the seizure of one their oil tankers off Gibraltar by the Royal Marines. And where were was the US Navy when Iranians intercepted a British-flagged oil tanker in Omani waters? We heard a British frigate advising the tanker not to stop for the Iranians and trying to warn off the boarders. But for some reason, the Iranians paid no attention. There are some who would say that the boarding  of the Stena Impero was an act of piracy. The United States has a large military presence in the Persian Gulf but watched this piracy unfold. The reason given for the boarding of the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar was that it was suspected of carrying contraband oil to Syria in defiance of European Union sanctions. Pull the other one. Does anyone even remember the EU sanctions? It was a pathetic attempt to curry favour with the Americans as they pile the pressure on Iran for reasons of their own which has back-fired and exposed British military impotency on the world stage. I bet the Iranians wouldn't have risked an international incident if they thought there were a couple of armed Royal Marines on board this and every other British tanker in the Persian Gulf and bullets might fly. But how did the Iranians know the Americans would not intervene? They know their history and they know their United States and how it treats those who think they are its allies.  

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It looks as though Britain is set to become even more of an American poodle. Why else would the Royal Marines be sent to board an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar? Well, a word of warning: don’t expect the Americans to raise a finger to help if that provokes an unpleasant retaliation from the Iranians. Here in Canada we made the mistake of detaining a Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the United States. The argument that Canada was bound to do this due to its international legal obligations have cut little ice with the Chinese. They have effectively halted imports of Canadian canola and meat; are holding two Canadian citizens hostage; and upped the sentence for a Canadian citizen convicted of drug trafficking to death. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau foolishly expected President Donald Trump at the last G20 meeting  to ask the Chinese to cool it. The Chinese gleefully reported Trump had done nothing of the sort. What Trump has done is to say Meng will make a great bargaining chip, once she is deported to the USA, in his own trade talks with the Chinese; thus making a nonsense of Trudeau's claim that he cannot free Meng because this is purely a matter of international criminal justice. Meng is wanted for bank fraud, namely falsely claiming her company does not do business with Iran. Britons, pay heed and take warning.And let's not go into America's record when it comes to securing deportations using perjured evidence.

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I wish folk like the BBC would stop referring to every old lady who worked as a postal clerk at Bletchley Park during the Second World War as a “former spy”. Talk about stretching the facts beyond breaking point. Yes, Bletchley Park was home to a very successful British radio signals interception operation, often called Enigma, but I’m not sure “spy” is a good description. To me, a spy is someone who gathers information inside enemy territory, or perhaps on neutral territory. In much the same way, members of MI5 counter-intelligence are not really spies either.  Nor were the truly brave women who served with the Special Operations Executive in occupied territory, unless they gathered intelligence in addition to their mission to organize resistance work such as sabotage. And MI6 was keen to keep its intelligence operations completely separate from the activities of the SOE. It has even been suggested that MI6 betrayed SOE operatives to help their agents within the Gestapo ingratiate themselves with their German masters. “Spy” is often lazy journalistic shorthand and sometimes even hyperbole. Let’s call a spy a spy and the others what they were. 

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