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In a way it is a shame that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not live to see the result of next year’s Scottish referendum on Independence. That is because if the vote is for Independence, it was Thatcher who set the wheels in motion for the destruction of the United Kingdom. When I first came to Canada in 1997 people would ask me if Scotland was an independent country. I had to explain that it was more like a US state or a Canadian province and even had it’s own legal system - with juries of 15 rather than 12. But the big difference was that despite having its own laws and administration, it had no legislature and it laws were made in London; rather like Alberta or Montana being run direct from Ottawa or Washington. Scotland effectively had a colonial administration run by the Scottish Office. Since the First World War the Scottish Office had basically been run on a consensus basis by Scotland’s political elite. The London government left the Jocks to run their own internal affairs . The Scots elite were reckoned to be a little more in touch with the social and economic aspirations of ordinary Scots than a cabinet plucked from the playing fields of Eton. But Thatcher was a revolutionary and she exposed the Scottish Office for what it was – a colonial administration. The prime example of this was the flat tax for local government services – better known as the Poll Tax. Anyone with respect for the spirit of democracy would not have drafted in English MPs to swamp Scottish opposition in the House of Commons to a tax system which only affected Scots. But that’s what happened. When the Scots complained, the English voters who had elected the English MPs who voted through the tax into existence reckoned it was just another example of “Jock Whingeing” and paid no attention. So, the tax remained - until it was imposed on England. It was then found to be a bad thing and steps were taken. There was also in Scotland a feeling that, along with that of northern England, the industrial base of the region was being sacrificed to sate the economic demands of voters in Thatcher’s electoral heartland in South East England. Colonies always feel their interests are subordinated to those of the Mother Country. Scotland’s dependence on heavy industry probably owed much to the Old Scottish Office Consensus allowing the likes of Clyde shipyard owner Lord Lithgow to sabotage efforts to create economic diversity in the country and then move their business to Korea anyway. Thatcher’s solutions seemed un-feelingly brutal and the sudden withdrawal of government support for heavy industry, when competitors in Europe and the rest of the world were still subsidizing their traditional heavy industries, perhaps a little short-sighted. It came as news to many in Scotland that there had ever been an economic boom during the Thatcher years. Though the fact that folk in London could sell a pokey flat there and use the proceeds buy a Scottish island should have been clue. The British Labour Party tapped into Scottish dissatisfaction with the political home truths Thatcher had exposed and, believing the Scottish vote would be key in turning the Tories out of power, included a Scottish regional legislature  in its 1997 election platform. When the Tories were kicked out by a landslide and the Scots’ vote turned out not to be so important, the political wings of the proposed assembly were seemingly clipped by the new Blair government. Thatcher always liked Tony Blair more than John Major who had ousted her as prime minister. Which pretty much brings us to the 2014 Independence Referendum. Only time will tell now if Thatcher’s Legacy will the destruction of the United Kingdom.

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OK, I’m going to risk the wrath of the old soldiers, the really old soldiers, and proclaim that I don’t believe the Germans ever dubbed the Highland regiments during the First World War either The Ladies from the Hell or the Devils in Skirts. I haven’t been able to find anyone who has come up a German source for this claim. Maybe, perhaps, a snivelling German prisoner trying to curry favour with his kilted captors sold them a pup along the lines of Ladies from Hell; but I doubt even that. Soldiers just don’t give their opponents respectful nicknames. The tenacious teenage Germans who opposed the three Scottish infantry divisions in northwest Europe after D-Day were dubbed “Those Bloody Para Boys” which may or may not have been intended as a grudging compliment. Previous attempts to debunk the Devils in Skirts legend have led to an outraged backlash from Second World War veterans of the Highland regiments. I can't say why that would be. While I was quizzing folk who I thought might know where the Ladies from Hell story might have originated, someone said they also doubted if the 51st Highland Division really topped a First World War German list of “Most to be Feared” units. As two other Scottish divisions, the 9th and 15th, had excellent records, I think my informant might have a point. Veterans don’t always know best. Those who dared to suggest the Scots Guards had massacred civilians in Malaya in 1948 were shouted down and ridiculed. And yet the High Court in London ruled recently that there was plenty of evidence that the massacre at Batang Kali did take place. All too often the reported response from veterans to less than glowing eulogies to the Scottish soldier is knee-jerk. Those who insist on re-writing history tend to miss out on the chance to learn from past experience.

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I was listening recently to the BBC World Service and heard presenter Razia Iqbal pretty much asking a Scottish piper why he played an instrument that so many people found objectionable. The item was about another piper who had been made sick by some fungus or something which had sprouted up inside his instrument. So, Ms Iqbal’s question had little to do with the story. It was more of an ignorant piece of editorial commentary on pipes and piping. I will retract my accusation of ignorance when I hear Ms Iqbal ask a ballet dancer or an opera singer why they do what they do. I’ve always found during my excursions to the Home Counties that folks whose families have lived there for generations do not tend to ridicule those who reside north of Watford.

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It would appear that the Royal Regiment of Scotland is trying to distance itself from the old Scottish regiments. Up until recently the battalions proudly gave precedence to the pre-2006 units which formed it. The Black Watch, for instance, became The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. But now precedence is to be given to the 3rd Battalion designation and “Black Watch” is to take a back seat in the name. Once again to use the example of the Black Watch, the unit is to be referred to in everyday usage as 3Scots. New recruits are invited to express a preference for which battalion they’d like to join, based on family or regional affiliations, but the days when, say, a Fife man would probably end up in the Black Watch, are apparently long past. Recruits are sent to whichever battalion can prove it needs them most. I also understand that officers who don’t want to damage their career prospects are expected to toe the line when it comes to ditching the old historic affiliations. It is understandable that the new super regiment wants to create its own identity and traditions. Service in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Iraq, has meant that most of the battalions already have combat histories. And the Scots receive very little sympathy from the other British infantry regiments which long resented that the old Scottish battalions retained their historic identities when they were being amalgamated again and again and forced to shed their identities. The creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland recognised some realities when it came to recruiting. Particularly in the Highland regiments, many of the soldiers were not from the recruiting area assigned to the unit. That said, many were following their grandfathers and great-grandfathers into the regiment of their choice. All I’m suggesting is that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water as the Royal Regiment of Scotland strives to create its own identity.

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I see the Ministry of Defence is claiming that firing radioactive shells into the Solway Firth isn’t the same thing as dumping radioactive waste off Scotland’s coast. If the depleted uranium shells, used for their armour-piercing capabilities, were counted in radio active waste, the British Government would be in breach of international law. But the government’s lawyers advised that the shells weren’t being “dumped”, they were being “placed” in water. The shells go into the sea after they’ve gone through the targets at Dundrennan. An estimated 30 tonnes of depleted uranium has been fired into the sea. Sadly, the Ministry of Defence has a record of being somewhat disingenuous when comes to munitions in the sea off Scotland. I remember silver-coloured waxy lumps of something nasty washing up on Kintyre beaches almost 20 years ago. After a few minutes exposed to air, the lumps burst into an intense unquenchable flame. The government said they were Second World flares. Actually, they were the phosphorous cores of incendiary bombs. Some of the captains of the ships contracted at the end of the Second World War to dump them in the Atlantic west of Ireland had decided instead put them overboard just out of sight of land. When a new fibre optic cable was laid to Northern Ireland, the old boxes of incendiary bombs were broken open and their potentially fatal contents were released. I was disappointed that most of the Scottish media bought into the flare story – flares sound far less dangerous than incendiary bombs.

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