Tuesday 21 May 2024

Klopp's Last Sunday



Grand Departure

It was a warm May day and Jurgen Klopp's final game as the manager of Liverpool. It has been a crazy eight and a half years since he arrived at Anfield. I had loaded an app that allowed me to watch his flight into Liverpool on an October day in 2015. It followed the sacking of Brendan Rodgers, who had always flattered to deceive. Klopp's plane was to land at John Lennon Airport but the app showed that he continued to head for Anfield where the plane dropped in altitude and looped around the ground before heading back to the airport. A gesture that told me he was genuine, someone who would be a fan as well as a coach and manager. In his 491 games in charge, he has won a higher percentage of games, 60.9% than anyone else including Kenny Dalglish, Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly. His teams also scored the most goals per game (2.1) than any other manager. These statistics mattered less than the sheer joy of watching his teams terrify their opponents with pace and pressing. 

I had gone to Gregor's to watch the game on Sky,  I have steadfastly refused to buy anything owned or part owned by Rupert Murdoch, it is the prize exhibit in my boycott portfolio. Before the game, we went to Mugdock Park, it was overflowing with hundreds of visitors and we found the last space in the overflow car park. Emily was playing in her band, we found seats in the parkland adjacent to the bandstand and baked slowly in the summer heat until it was time to retreat to the TV. 

As a spectacle, Liverpool's 2-0 win over Wolves was not that exciting. It was the send-off afterwards that captured the mood of the players and the fans told you that this was the end of an amazing feelgood era, Klopp doesn't do special and he spent the hour after the game cuddling players, and their families, the staff and members of the crowd whom he passed. The caption on his T-shirt 'I will never walk alone', matched the occasion and was a mark of the man. Almost as good as the name of the Chinese takeaway cafe next to Anfield -'Wok On'. 

It had been a long watch so Gregor and I went for a walk in the nearby countryside on a sparkling evening. After spending time watching the red squirrels play in the massive pine trees we charged through long grass and an oak forest to find the splendid Dualt Spout, a waterfall that is a hidden gem screened from the public by the absence of any paths. The only downside is that I am picking ticks off my lower body two days later. A Gusto meal and rhubarb crumble at 9pm completed the day. It was still light as I arrived home at 10:30pm.




Mugdock Pond

Spot the red squirrel

Dualt Spout

Saturday 18 May 2024

Ben Oss & Beinn Dubhchraig

 

Waterfalls below Beinn Dubhchraig

Friday, 17 May 2024

Ascent:       1156 metres
Distance:    24 kilometres
Time:          6 hours 51 minutes

Beinn Dubhcraig.   978m.     2hrs 29 mins
Ben Oss                1029m.     3hrs. 58mins 


I had planned to climb Ben Lui on what promised to be another rare sunny day. First, I had to visit the Medical Centre for some stitches to be removed so the start was later than I would have wished. I also needed to acquire some hill fitness and noticed whilst waiting for the nurse that the Met Office forecast was for fresh easterly winds on the hills. If I began the walk from Dalrigh and climbed Beinn Dubhchraig and Ben Oss first, the wind would help on the 450-metre slog up Ben Lui. On five previous outings, I have always climbed the four hills together but I was no longer collecting Munros,  Beinn a' Cleibh, the undistinguished outlier to Ben Lui, could be forgotten. It is either a long out and back from Ben Lui or requires a descent to Glen Lochy and the uncertainty of hitching a lift back to Tyndrum, hitching is not as easy as it used to be.

Leaving Dalrigh and finding the right path always seems like a bit of a lottery. I did well initially helped by OSmaps online, I found the quickest route to the bridge over the river St Fillan and walked alongside the railway line before crossing it and coming to a junction of paths. I stopped to look at the map, the more obvious track headed south alongside the Allt Gleann Auchreoch, I thought this may be a better route than that I had followed previously along a boggy forest path. A walker behind me had no such doubts and went the other way and, as I discovered later in the day, he had thought of telling me that the route to Dubhchraig was the lower path which had a bridge over the river. I was walking well up the track but after a mile, I realised this was a far longer way and that I should drop down to cross the river and ascend what looked like an easy grassy slope between the plantation and the native Caledonian forest.

I dropped 40 metres to the river which was a raging torrent. It took ten minutes to find a possible crossing point that required a leap across a deep chasm, my nerves and shoes held. After climbing up the bank, the grassy glade turned out to be deep grass engulfed in boggy moss that made every step twice the effort. It took 45 minutes to cover a mile before I spotted the real path on the other side of the Allt Coire Dubhchraig. It was boggy but knew the way to the summit. I relaxed and enjoyed the climb as the path meandered its way to the summit ridge. I had probably lost 40 minutes by not taking this path from the railway line. The final half kilometre to the summit was a steady climb. It was approaching 1pm as I reached the bulky but untidy cairn. I took a few photos, rebuilt the top of the cairn in my usual style and had some food whilst a raven circled above checking for morsels. 

It is a fairly steep descent of 180 metres to Bealach Buidhe, a ptarmigan croaked at me as I passed. The path towards Ben Oss is level for a few hundred metres until a cairn from where a steep path climbs towards the 941-metre northern top. I began the climb as I saw someone begin the descent and we met about halfway up. The young woman from Biggar was at that stage of her Munro round that has taken hold of your life. So many adventures had and so many more to come, and like most young female hillwalkers she was also into outdoor swimming. She had just returned from a trip to Knoydart, and I envied her for the times ahead. As I neared the top of the climb I met a teacher from Edinburgh who was on his 137th Munro, we had another longish chat. He was about to head to Gairloch to supervise some of his school pupils and was hoping to walk the Glen Affric Munros. 

I had lost another 25 minutes in conversations but enjoyed meeting younger people who were captivated by Scottish hillwalking. The conditions were perfect and the ramble along to Ben Oss was a treat. I finished my lunch and contemplated the timings to reach Ben Lui. It was almost 3 pm and would be approaching 4:30 pm before I reached Ben Lui. I wanted to be down to listen to Dead Ringers on the radio on the way home. I continued down to Creag Dubh a' Bhealaich, but twisted my right knee on the descent. Whilst there was no apparent problem on the less steep slopes I began to wonder whether the rocky twisting descent of Ben Lui would inflame it. I am conscious that injuries at my age take weeks not days to recover and this is the prime walking season. I glanced down Coire Laoigh and spotted an obvious descent route from near the bealach. Ben Lui could wait. I took my time on the steep descent in the company of dozens of frogs and reached the Coire floor with no further knee damage.  There was the trace of a path down the west bank, a 3-kilometre walk to the track that serves Ben Lui. The conditions were benign with a cooling breeze to keep any sweat at bay.

I reached the track from Ben Lui by climbing up 70 metres, a walker was a hundred metres behind me. As we approached Connonish, I held a gate open for him as he approached and we struck up a conversation. He had been the person who had thought of telling me the route to Dubhchraig in the morning. He had managed Ben Lui and had obviously been moving well. We walked together for the 5 kilometres back to Dalrigh. He originally came from Sheffield, allowing us to talk animately about Sheffield pubs, Sheffield Wednesday, and even the mercurial  Sheffield United midfielder, Tony Currie. We had both been to Liverpool University although he was about ten years younger which prompted more stories about Liverpool, although I never got around to telling him about making a film with Billie Whitelaw. We had started to talk about hill walking, he lived in Edinburgh for many years and knew the Scottish Hills intimately and had taken to walking the Borders Hills as the sustainable alternative to going to the far north.

Without any prompting from me, he exploded with indignation about the North Coast 500 and how it had despoiled hill walking in the far north as accommodation was now either non-existent or too expensive, hotels and restaurants were full of tourists and laybyes were clogged with camper vans. We could have done a podcast on the subject. He had also walked the GR20 in Corsica and had worked for BT with colleagues whom I knew. We could probably have done a weekly podcast on places, people, mountains, football teams and big walks that we both had experienced. 

The final 5 kilometres had flown by. We were back in time so I could listen to the news as well as Dead Ringers. After a bath and a beer, I managed to stay awake for Have I Got News for You and to load my photos onto the computer. It had been a good day and sleep was calling until a cramp in my leg postponed it for a few minutes.

River St Fillan at the start of the walk

Rerouting from Gleann Auchreoch

Beinn Dubhchraig  looking towards Ben More and Stob Binnein

Ben Oss and Ben Lui from Dubhchraig

Ben Lui from Ben Oss

Ben Lui from Creag Dhubh

Looking up Coire Laoigh




Monday 29 April 2024

Brutal Politics

Humza Yousaf Resignation Speech

The sixth Scottish First Minister resigned today, just a week short of the twenty-fifth anniversary of its inauguration. Humza Yousaf had only been the First Minister for 13 months following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon. What will happen next is down to the lottery of Scottish politics. Of the six first ministers, four have achieved office following the resignation (3) or death of the first ministers who had been leaders of the largest party following the Scottish Government elections. It is political parties, not the electorate that will have chosen our first ministers on five out of seven occasions when Humza Yousaf's successor is announced. 

After twenty-five years the Scottish Parliament has lost a great deal of respect following the shenanigans of recent years. Nicola Sturgeon's resignation had a whiff of corruption about it. The progress towards net zero was tardy, there was internal disagreement about her policy on gender recognition and her husband, who had been the SNP chief executive for 13 years, had been alleged to have embezzled SNP funds. These issues diverted attention away from the other factors leading to her resignation- the poor performance of NHS Scotland, declining education standards, ferry contracts that have grossly exceeded cost and completion schedules, mistakes in the care homes during the Covid pandemic and poor economic performance. Alex Salmond had resigned after failing to win the independence referendum in 2014. After allegations of sexual misconduct, he resigned from the SNP but won an appeal against the charges largely because the investigation of the allegations had been compromised by the senior civil servants having had prior knowledge of Salmond's activities. The second first minister, Henry Mcleish,  had also resigned following an expenses scandal over the subletting of his local office building. 

Even compared to the record of Westminster Prime Ministers of recent years, it is not a propitious record. I have some sympathy for Humza Yousaf, he had inherited a government in the doldrums with a dearth of experience in his cabinet following the decision of John Swinney to step down as deputy first minister and other ministers opting to resign. He appeared to have good values and certainly more empathy for his colleagues than his two predecessors who took no prisoners and operated more in a presidential than collegiate manner. This has been one of the reasons that the Scottish Parliament has never achieved the ambition of being a forum for constructive debate and collaboration. 

The new Holyrood building had been designed to encourage less confrontational behaviour and the proportional representation voting system was adopted in the knowledge that it would require partnership agreements between parties to form a government. Increasing the number of MSPs to 129 from the originally proposed 100 added cost and resulted in 56 MSPs elected on regional lists and having no local constituency. to represent. This cohort of MSPs has possibly contributed to the tetchy debates. So has the constant refrain from the SNP-led governments from 2007 that Westminster restricts its ability to make decisions. It adds to the belief that the Scottish Government is a less important government than Westminster. This was reinforced by Alex Salmond's defection to Westminster after he resigned as first minister of Scotland.

Humza Yousaf had served under two first ministers who were autocratic and kept decision-making close with a limited coterie of advisers. It reflected their personalities, they were centralisers and intolerant of being challenged. Humza was despatching a couple of policies that were at variance with reality (net zero) and public opinion (gender recognition). Salmond and Sturgeon had been securing partnership agreements. Humza Yousaf had to defend previous decisions that were not of his making. His decision to terminate the Bute House agreement with the Green Party was probably necessary but adopting the autocratic tendency of his predecessors to deliver the message was a mistake. They would not have ceded their power, they would have found ways of securing support by conceding on some issues before ditching their partners.  Humza was breaking up not making agreements, he was scuppered by the inoperable legacies of his predecessors.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain


The Cobbler from Narnain Boulders

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Ascent:      1365 metres
Distance:   18 kilometres
Time:         5 hours 29 minutes

Beinn Ime         1011m      2hrs 25mins
Beinn Narnain    926m.      3hrs 36mins

One of the very few clear and sunny days of the year was forecast and I needed some hills to climb. The perpetual rain over recent months has made it easy to find excuses to avoid outdoor exercise and I have never been a gym user. I needed something to test me but not too strenuous. I decided to climb the two Arrochar Munros - Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain. My first visit to these hills was on my way to work on 5 May 1989, It was near the start of my first Munro round when I was running marathons so speed and stamina were not a problem. It took three and a half hours and I made a midday meeting in Glasgow with a Financial Times journalist writing a piece on Strathclyde Regional Council. He lived in the Lake District and was disappointed that he could not have joined me in the Arrochar Alps.

I checked my other outings on these hills but they all involved the Cobbler, Beinn Luibhean and/or Ben Vane so they provided no guide to the time taken. Walk Highlands said it was a 6 -7 hour walk but even in recent years I have managed to save an hour or so on these times. I figured that I should aim for 5 hours and pay for 5 hours of parking at the Succoth car park that charges £1 an hour. I thought it would stop any dawdling. I had decided to climb Beinn Narnain first but the path to Narnain was barely evident and seemed to climb erratically up the bed of a watercourse with heavy tree coverage. (more later) The good path from the car park was heading for the Bealach a' Mhaim between the Cobbler and Beinn Ime. It was well made with a steady gradient with a long series of switchbacks, so I decided to take this more used path.  

The skies were a cobalt blue and there was not a whiff of wind although it was still nippy as I started out.  A  dozen cars were already parked, these are the nearest Munros to Glasgow other than Ben Lomond so others were taking advantage of the day. Eventually, the path emerges from the plantations by the side of the Allt a'Bhalachan just below a mini hydro scheme. The path is perfect, crossing small burns and leading to the Narnain Boulders. They were a shelter for climbers during the great depression and probably witnessed some raucous nights. After a brief pause to examine the boulders, I continued to the bealach where another older walker was sitting comfortably on a large rock admiring the views. He had gone as far as he could and intended to relive his days on the hills by taking photos and chatting with the passing traffic.

The path from here undercuts Beinn Narnain and the young woman whom I had been slowly catching stopped to decide which hill to climb, she chose Beinn Narnain. I continued on the path to Beinn Ime which had been massively upgraded since my last visit. Although it was a 400-metre climb it was at a walkable gradient and apart from briefly stopping to talk to a young woman and then a couple of men, all walking on their own, I emerged to the impressive summit with excellent views in all directions although it was slightly hazier than it would have been an hour earlier. I had walked in a T-shirt and thin pullover and that was enough to sit and take a drink and some food in the late morning sunshine. Photos were taken before I set off on the descent passing another 5 people climbing Beinn Ime. 

I had read that the better path up Beinn Narnain was from near the bealach, an extra 500 metres along the path than the old and boggy path that took a more direct line. I took this and found a well-constructed staircase that eventually joined the old path about 150 metres below the summit. I then took a path to the west that was less direct and had some scrambling but gave excellent views down Loch Long. I was pleased to see a well-built trig point of local stone but aping the shape of the large concrete O.S.bollards. 

I had to decide which way to descend, down the direct route over the Spearhead, which is the recommended ascent route, or back to the bealach and down my ascent path. I chose the former thinking it would be quicker and aware that I had only paid for 5 hours parking. Never have I been so wrong. It is an exciting exit down the gulley below the Spearhead with some snow patches making it even more so. There is then a scrambling section before a flattish ridge to Cruach nam Miseag. 

Thereafter there are a couple of kilometres of a never-ending twisting and turning descent down rocky gulleys and slopes with occasional sections of steps. It never allows you to settle into a rhythm but the views of Ben Lomond and Loch Long are impressive. At the end of this section, I met a walker beginning his ascent, I felt sorry for him but wanting to be encouraging I told him it was a better route to ascend than come down and the views at the summit were perfect. He was the 7th man I had passed today, there had been 8 women, and all but three couples were walking alone,  it typifies the balance of people you meet on the hills nowadays. 

I was looking forward to the last kilometre which looked like a straight path on the map but it was a fight down a watercourse alongside boggy ground covered in intrusive tree cover, it proved the slowest kilometre of the day and the descent had taken almost 2 hours. I emerged near the main road absolutely wiped out. A grandmother was accompanying a young child on a bike and when she asked how the walk had been I said great apart from the descent which was amongst the worst I can remember.

Cobbler and Narnain Boulders

Beinn Ime from the bealach

Beinn Ime summit

Beinn Narnain and Cobbler from Beinn Ime

Beinn Luibhean and Beinn an Lochan from Beinn Ime

Beinn Narnain Trig point

Loch Long from Narnain

The Spearhead and scramble down

Ben Lomond, Arrochar and Loch Long

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Today: a Tory wannabe self explodes

Mishal Hussain 
Mike Tomlinson 

I was travelling to Arrochar for some mountain exercise and, as on most days, I was listening to the Today programme. Over the fifty-plus years that I have listened to the programme, there have always been some pairings of presenters who bring the best out of each other and either keep the interviewee honest or provide the listener with evidence that the respondent is evasive, dishonest, patronising and probably not to be trusted. Today was probably the very best example of the latter type of interview.

Leaving aside Jack De Manio and his clock, they were never synchronised, the pairings that worked for me in the past were Brian Redhead and John Timpson, Peter Hobday and Sue MacGregor, and John Humphries and James Naughtie. Today, Mishal Hussain and Justin Webb are my favourite pairing. Nick Robinson and Amol Rojan are good but just a little too full of themselves to extract the best or worst out of their guests. 

Today we had the announcement that Parliament had finally managed to secure its Rwanda Agreement. Possibly the worst legislation apart from George Osborne's Austerity Measures, HS2 and Brexit since this government began its journey to oblivion. Needless to say, the PM and his senior ministers had all gone fly away so the Today Programme was left with Mike Tomlinson, a newby minister anxious to make a name for himself. Mishal Hussain had the dubious pleasure of skewering this immensely patronising, dishonest and evasive minister responsible for illegal immigration. 

She is always polite, well-prepared, incisive, articulate and calm but can disassemble folk like Tomlinson with her withering questions. Tomlinson fought back by feigning respectfulness and friendliness that became so obsequious that I was shouting at the car radio and hoping that Mishal would land a knock-out punch. No need, Mishal is cleverer than that she let him ramble and repeat and patronise her so much that all the listeners could form their own opinions. Job done.

Friday 12 April 2024

Gaza, a stain on international diplomacy

Gaza City

Like many others, I have been dumbfounded by the horrific devastation of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force. It is not just the 33,000 and growing number of deaths, a third of them children, but the total wrecking of a city of 2.3 million people. Almost all the infrastructure, hospitals, education facilities and housing have been destroyed in a total war against mainly innocent citizens. 57% of all buildings have been destroyed across the whole of the strip, and 75% in Gaza City.

At the end of the Second World War, two decisions were taken to prevent future genocides. Creating the State of Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people and establishing the United Nations as an organisation that could bring together all nations to secure peace and tackle issues of health and poverty. Fast forward 75 years, and these institutions are failing catastrophically to fulfil these missions.

As a teenager and student, I was captivated by the kibbutz in Israel, where the communities worked as collectives and young people from all over the world were welcomed to participate in these ventures. A concept that stirred the imagination and made Israel seem a model for the world to follow. I was influenced by our excellent GP who went to Israel with his family and explained his decision to my parents. Things have changed.  As I watch the Israeli Defence Force spokespeople and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, defend their indefensible actions, I despair. Their arguments are made with confidence and brashness that defies any sense of humanity. As Jeremy Bowen, the experienced BBC Middle East correspondent says, "Journalists are .. denied access to a war when the parties fighting it have something to hide". The restriction on food and fuel supplies for what is now a prison  camp  for homeless families on derelict land. Its ever presencehas generated a reaction against the Israeli State amongst its strongest allies. 

The response of the USA, the UK and other Western democracies to the killing of volunteer aid workers from these countries was a belated recognition that Israel had gone too far. The calls for a ceasefire have been amplified by the 7 aid workers killed on 4 April by an Israeli airstrike. Its impact seems to have been far greater than the deaths of 33,000 Palestinians. Goodwill amongst formerly supportive Western Nations is no longer assured. 

Understandably, questions are being asked why the USA has allowed the export of $573m of weapons since October 7.  This excludes all the under-the-radar export of bombs in contracts that are less than $100m. The USA has also sold 330 fighter aircraft, 28 transporter planes and 124 helicopters to Israel. The UK appears to have a relatively small number of weapon exports, £42m in 2022, but again there is uncertainty whether this captures all of the smaller contracts. France, Germany, and Italy have provided 68 trainer aircraft and helicopters.

Significantly, over a thousand UK lawyers, including Lord Sumption, a well-respected Conservative Law Lord, have signed a petition to the UK government recognising the risk of genocide and calling for a permanent ceasefire, sanctions, the cancellation of a bilateral trade agreement and the suspension of the sale of weapons. Similar concerns have been expressed by international lawyers.  

Normally, in circumstances when the United Nations declares a contravention of international humanitarian law, there is a reflex response from democratic nations to boycott imports from the said state. There has been no such reaction to the declaration in Gaza although there is strong evidence that this would have an impact. Russia and South Africa are endowed with a richness of natural resources that inoculated them from the intended effects of a boycott. Israel's dependence on imports with weapons critical to its continued action in Gaza, may thwart Netanyahu's genocidal tendencies and avert the continuation of the destruction of Gaza and its citizens. If not the International Criminal Court at the Hague considering arrest warrants for war crimes may have a salutary effect on the war cabinet. Israel must understand that goodwill is a finite resource and it has expired amongst the general public as well as many of its former allies. Even Uncle Joe Biden is apoplectic.

Satellite Images of Destroyed Buildings, Source: University of Oregon.

October 2023
April 2024




Monday 1 April 2024

This Time No Mistakes

Will Hutton's article in yesterday's Observer outlining his book on How to Remake Britain, which will be published in 10 days, exposes the catastrophic period of economic decline, austerity, growing inequality, and the cost of living crisis. He catalogues the mistakes made in post-war Britain with a relentless zeal. He also provides a chink of optimism for the future, this has always been an essential part of his character. 

"The level of our national debt has climbed alarmingly over the past quarter of a century, with no compensating increase in public assets..... Similarly, more than 20 years of imports of goods and services exceeding exports has meant our international debts have climbed by £1.5tn so that our balance sheet – positive for centuries as a result of empire and as a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution – is now dangerously negative. Fifty companies that could have been in the FTSE 100 were sold abroad between 1997 and 2017; we are running out of assets to sell. At the same time almost every metric on the economic and social dashboard – whether social mobility or the number of new companies launching on the London stock market – is flashing amber or red."

It is undoubtedly his most significant book since The State We're In, which was a precursor to the arrival of the Blair government in 1997. He has no compunction in pointing to Margaret Thatcher's government as the instigator of the collapse. Nor does he hold back from criticising the "rightwing nexus of libertarian tax-cutters and immigration-phobes, who put those aims above the rule of law and respect for human rights. They are unfit to govern."

"Rightwing ideological maxims, initiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and continued by her imitators, have led to a sequence of policy disasters – monetarism, wholesale financial deregulation, austerity and then Brexit. Far from launching a renaissance, Thatcher was the author of a pernicious decline. The doctrine is that the private “I” is morally superior to anything public, that the state’s “coercive” proclivities must be reined in to promote a “free” market, that regulation and taxation stifle enterprise, that unless ferociously means-tested and minimalist, welfare creates a huge underclass of undeserving “shirkers”, and that good public services follow from a successful economy rather than being integral to it." 

"In the 1980s, monetarism did not contain inflation as billed, but rather prompted mass unemployment, hollowed out much of our productive economy – manufacturing employment nearly halved in a decade – and eviscerated public investment. The areas so scarred by the experience would, 30 years later, vote for Brexit. Financial deregulation led to the fastest rise in private indebtedness in our history, propelling illusory economic growth buoyed not by investment and innovation but by a flood of credit. It could only end in tears."

He does not flinch from castigating Blair and Brown as lukewarm followers of fashion. Even Blair has admitted he was far too cautious in investing in public services during his first period of office. After all, Gordon Brown was his ever-so-prudent Chancellor who determined that fiscal stability meant there was no room for renationalisation of the yet-to-be fully privatised railways.

"Britain’s liberal left cannot absolve itself of blame. If Conservatism has over-emphasised the “I”, the left has not yet found an electorally attractive way of making the case for “We” – or, better still, blending it with the “I” to create a political philosophy and attractive policies that flow from it, that would appeal to the majority. My proposition is that the “We” should be built on fusing an ethic of socialism grounded in profound human attachment to fellowship, mutuality and co-operation with the ethic of progressive liberalism....,. Essentially, individuals and society are in a constant iterative relationship. Individuals shape society, society shapes individuals, and each and everyone has an obligation to make the social whole as strong as possible."

He argues that Keynes' economic revolution and Beveridge's welfare state illustrate how progressive liberalism allied with socialism can be a powerful elixir for positive change. This is How to Remake Britain.

"Progressive liberalism and an ethic of socialism are not incompatible value systems: they are complementary. Progressive liberalism leans into the individualism that propels capitalism while accepting social obligations; an ethic of socialism leans into the foundation of a social contract and infrastructure of justice that underpins the sinews of a good society."

His starting point is to raise public investment decisively and so “crowd in” private investment radically to lift productivity and real wages. He focuses on three musts:
  • closing the disgraceful gap in productivity, infrastructure and economic performance between London and the regions; 
  • a commitment to achieve net zero by 2050 given the alarming rise in global temperatures; and 
  • lifting research and development spending dramatically. 
He argues that it will require public borrowing for such investment to rise by at least 1% of GDP, or between £25bn– £30bn, with fiscal rules not determined solely by accounting, goals. He believes that the financial markets will be reassured if they know that the government investment is strategic and thought through. 

"Shibboleths about taxation need to be put to one side. Taxation represents the “we”, and as long as the demands on all sections of society are reasonable – involving at present a greater contribution by the wealthy, whose assets in relation to GDP have doubled since 1980 – there is no evidence that tax receipts at today’s level or even marginally higher will damage growth."

The missing link in Hutton's argument is the need for a comprehensive recasting of the British Constitution. He does argue for stronger accountability with the House of Lords democratised and an enforcement of ethical standards. What he fails to advocate is a root and branch reform of our constitution and he is silent on the importance of localism.

In the halcyon days of the UK being in the vanguard of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, much of the need and motivation for radical change, innovation and delivery occurred at the local level. It was not a top-down series of Eureka moments from the government. It was tackling poverty, poor health, education and communications at the local level that nurtured the ideas, technology and collaboration between the municipalities, local entrepreneurs and inventive minds. This is what generated the revolutions in public health, transport, power supply, and manufacturing industries. There was a sharing of these inventions and ideas across and between localities. Government of the localities, by the localities, for the localities would ensure that 'This Time No Mistake' is not just another titular mantra destined for failure.

The evolution of new ideas seldom starts at the government level, they lack the detailed knowledge of problems or the experience to make things happen. It is the recognition and promotion of our regions, cities and councils' right to take back control of identifying needs and finding solutions that are the missing link in Hutton's analysis. If this is not recognised as we head towards the general election, even his optimism may lead to 'This Time More Mistakes' as the wannabe panjandrums and spads trade their WhatsApp messages with gay abandon.


Monday 25 March 2024

Sunday 24 March 2024

Sunday Morning on the wee Ben

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich

Loch Venachar and Ben Ledi

Ben Lomond capped in snow

Ben Ledi

The sky was a perfect blue but it was brutally cold and tomorrow would have been Aileen's birthday. I needed to avoid any Sunday Morning Blues.* For the first time in a week, I was on a foray up the wee Ben (Gullipen). No need to say how impressive it was, the photos do that. 

The Highland Cattle that graze on the track were absent so no nervousness about dodging between the horns of the heaving beasts as I was slipping and sliding on the descent down the muddy track from a month of rain. Compared to Sunday mornings of 50 years ago after a night at the student's union, today would not be a lost Sunday. What a way to start the day!

*Pentangle had summed up Sunday mornings in the late 1960s perfectly. "Sunday sunny morning, noises outside my head, creeping into consciousness, leave me to stay in bed, god, I wish that I was dead." And Sundays were dead, no sport, no shops, no transport and few entertainments. Lots of reasons to spend Saturday nights innoculating ourselves from Sundays. 


 

Tuesday 19 March 2024

The Crow Trap


It's that time of the year when the fifty or so crows nest in the half-dozen ash trees along the burn at the side of the house. They spend early March partnering up and building nests, there appear to be more crows than ever this year and the windy conditions have made construction difficult as the fragile trees sway wickedly and branches snap.

It was lunchtime and it sounded like someone was banging about upstairs or on the roof, I went to look but the sounds had stopped and there was certainly no one around. I had some lunch whilst watching the 1 o'clock news when a phone call made me mute the TV. The sounds had started again and came from the wood-burning flue pipe near the ceiling. It must be a bird, the sounds were like the beating of wings. It had already descended down the 6-inch twin-walled flue pipe through a couple of bends in the attic and the bedroom. I could tell from the sound of wings flapping on the side that it was a bigger bird than a chaffinch, robin or a great tit and assumed it must be a thrush or a blackbird. I opened the wood burner to create a draft and hopefully encourage the bird to take the plunge but it was either stuck or not wanting to drop into the unknown. I decided to try later.

I spent the afternoon in the garden with a friend who came to visit with her young children. It was almost 6pm when I returned to the room and from the sounds I knew that the bird had made it halfway down the flue but I could not entice it any further by tapping on the side. I decided to watch Aftersun, the award-winning 2022 film that my daughter had been involved in commissioning. It lasted 1 hour and 41 minutes during which the trapped bird was slowly descending the flue pipe and arriving at a holding position above the stove. I now figured that the bird must be the size of a jackdaw or a magpie. I paused the film, unless I disassembled the firebrick linings of the stove the bird would not survive and decompose in the flue. A YouTube video was useful and after 15 minutes of tricky manipulation I had all the fire linings out but the torch showed that there was a bar across the bottom of the flue and the bird had stopped moving. I closed the door in the room, left the door of the stove open and opened the window so that if the bird managed to extricate itself there was an escape route to the rain-washed world outside. 

The film was restarted and every so often the bird would make another attempt, I aimed the torch at the stove and this prompted more movement. The tension in the room matched the tension in the film as Paul Mercat and Frankie Corio act out the emotional anguish of estranged father and daughter. It was after 11pm before the film was finished and the credits read. I decided that I could do no more to release the bird so put in a small dish of water and some blueberries, just in case, before closing the door on the stove, the window and the room door and retiring to bed. 

At 3:30am I was awakened by the wind and went downstairs for a glass of water. I looked in the room to see if anything had happened. It had, there was a large crow trapped in the glass-fronted stove. I opened the window and having seen the size of the crow's beak, put on the fire gauntlets to lift out the bird. I opened the stove to grab the bird but no such luck, the crow was out and crashing from one end of the room to another, swishing past my head every couple of seconds, this was Hitchcockian. 

After it finally found a perch on the curtain rail I escaped to the kitchen and dining room in the hope that the bird would find the open window. It didn't, so I opened the patio doors of the dining area, the wind and rain were making whoopee. I stood at the back of the kitchen area in the dark and put the lights on by the patio doors. I opened the door to the other room and after a few minutes, the crow came crashing out, felt the cool air from outside and disappeared into the night. The sense of satisfaction and relief was immense, I could clear up in the morning.

Crow Trap top door


Thursday 14 March 2024

The Incorrigible Michael Gove

Gloria Gaynor's greatest hit?

Listening to the Today Programme this morning, I was surprised that even the assertive presenter Amol Rajan was flummoxed by the apparently reasonable and emollient phrases of Michael Gove. It was a live example of Gove’s innate ability to convince his colleagues and wider audiences, even the sceptics. He is the political version of the number 42.

 

It is becoming a common trope of journalists and commentators to rank the past five prime ministers, all of whom would be in the relegation zone of post-war prime ministers. They were seduced by Gove’s calm reasoning and they gave him various cabinet portfolios to play with. The exception was Liz Truss, Gove had endorsed Rishi Sunak, and Truss didn’t take prisoners.  Since May 2010, Gove has spent more years in the cabinet than any other MP. He is the master of survival. He had probably figured that Truss would not last long and sure enough, after 49 days of trashing the country, she was terminated. He would probably like to think the damage done in the days he wasn’t in office would prove that his sage guidance to the cabinet during his 14 years would be his enduring legacy, the halcyon days of the Cam-Sun governments.

 

Gove was resurrected and appointed Sunak’s Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations. He is the true Svengali of the Tory party, able to sweet talk other members of the party into taking what he presents as a modern reformist agenda and for others to take the fall when the policies fail to deliver. He managed to inveigle his way into key cabinet positions with four prime ministers and in the process managed to damage public services in a way that will take many decades to repair. Of course, he would never accept this. He averts any responsibility by referring to the failure of others or events dear boy and just occasionally gives a grovelling apology to prove that he is human and can make mistakes. 

 

His duplicity is legendary, it is in his DNA. Witness his betrayal of Boris Johnson on two occasions, although that could be construed as good judgment, but on both occasions it was after the damage had been done. Most recently during the Covid Inquiry, he criticised his government by saying that he thought the lockdown was far too late and that “we are fucking up as a government...and the whole situation is worse than you think”. At the same time, he was responsible as Minister for the cabinet office for setting up the PPE fast track for Ministers' friends and we know what damage that did. 


Whilst Education Minister in 2010, he abandoned the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ initiative which had been set up by the previous Labour Government and over 600 state schools lost out on capital building projects that were ready to roll so he could create Academies.  He scrapped the social housing regulator leaving tenants no longer protected. He played the key role in arguing for the UK to leave the European Union, ditching his friend David Cameron in the process and providing the intellectual heft for Boris Johnson to jump aboard the Brexit Express. So began the four years of Parliamentary chaos over Brexit. This also led to three prime ministers resigning whilst getting Brexit wrong. 


But Michael Gove had this enormous ability to survive when all others drop by the wayside. He has a tendency to appeal to the Conservative Party as a reformer and someone in touch with the zeitgeist. He is one nation, two nation, right-wing, progressive, zero carbon, or whatever other faction makes sense at any given time. His claim to be a reformer contradicts his underlying philosophical beliefs that people must be free to make money but that there must be redemption for lesser mortals. They have always been key values of the Conservative Party. 


Even watching him run, with the gait of an errant pony, could not better illustrate his tendency to wander. When we come to revisit the wasted years when the UK lost respect and influence, the five Prime Ministers will be in the dock. Johnson or Truss will be nominated as the worst Prime Minister and Gove will be a latter day Rasputin. 

 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Democracies at a Turning Point

Canon Kenyon Wright delivering the call for devolution

2024 will be a significant year of elections, as well as the UK parliamentary elections, the United States, Russia, India and France also go to the polls. The campaigning will generate a razzamatazz of promises, as well as the trashing of opponents by tribalist politics that has been supercharged by social media. 

In the UK, the chaos of Brexit, the flawed response to the COVID pandemic, the failure to respond to scandals such as Grenfell Tower and Post Office Horizon IT and the sheer hypocrisy of the government's migration and asylum policies means that there is little to be cheerful about. The perpetual damage of long austerity and the rowing back on climate change policies have created a sense of despair among large sections of the electorate. Like other self-appointed big-ticket democracies, the UK no longer provides the gold standard of government that it likes to claim.  

2024 also marks 25 years of the Scottish Parliament but the next election for the Scottish Parliament is two years away. Freed from the alternative truths peddled during elections, Scotland has the opportunity to be more reflective and inclusive about how it should reset the governance of Scotland and create a more inclusive constitution that restores some trust in its democratic processes. It is time to acknowledge that Holyrood is not the only player in the democratic governance of Scotland.

The Scottish Government has delivered some significant improvements for the people of Scotland, for example, the creation of National Parks, the Outdoor Access Code, the banning of tobacco in public places, free prescription charges, and free travel for young people. But devolution's undeniable, negative feature has been a weakening of local democracy through the centralisation of power, functions and services. Despite a significant tranche of devolved powers from Westminster, not all of which have been exploited, there has been more enthusiasm by Holyrood for drawing up powers and funding streams from councils. This in turn has impacted adversely on the funding and further devolution of powers to local communities.

Is this what devolution was to be all about – creating an excessively centralised state? The Scottish Government has 111 quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental bodies). They are non-democratic bodies responsible for many public services, inspection agencies and advisory bodies. In recent years as the Scottish Government has reduced the share of public services that were locally accountable to democratically elected councils from 42% of the Scottish GDP to 29%, the ability to set local priorities and coordinate local services effectively has been vastly diminished.

It is time for Scotland to wake up from its drive to be the least democratic nation in Europe and to reset how it is governed. There is little evidence that the Scottish Parliament can be trusted with this task. It will require the collective will of civic society to reboot our democratic institutions in the way that the Scottish Constitutional Convention achieved in the 1990s. This led to the creation of a Scottish Parliament that, over the past 25 years, has grown too big for its boots. Simply suggesting the devolution of more functions and powers to be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood is the mantra of a failing state. Whilst in England there are several initiatives and dialogues taking place to devolve more powers to the regions and councils and this seems likely to take place after the next general election, there has been no such inclination in Scotland.

It is time to utilise the tools of conviviality to redesign the governance of Scotland to engage the wider knowledge and experience of Scottish citizens. Their understanding of local conditions along with their vision and ambitions are the tools to enrich the social, economic and environmental fabric of Scotland. To create a written constitution that embraces an inclusive network of democratic bodies at the national, local and community levels should be the goal of a properly functioning democracy. Unfortunately, there has been little debate in Scotland on the next stage of creating a modern, inclusive, devolved governance within Scotland.