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Friday, 28 February 2014

Can We Trust Scottish State - On Child Guardians?

There are two images which regularly haunt me, one of them since 1993 and the other since 2007. The first is the picture of wee James Bulger, walking through the shopping centre in Bootle, clutching the hand of one of the boys who would eventually kill him. The second is the picture of Baby P, as he gazes with those beautiful eyes, into the camera. The thought of what those bairns must have suffered, the terror they must have experienced before their short lives were ended, has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. At the time James Bulger was abducted and killed, I wrote a twice weekly column for the local newspaper, the Perthshire Advertiser and had to write something about the Bulger case that week. As I sat in front of the computer, I found it impossible to put anything down in writing; my mind was so numb with the horror of what had happened and for a while could not even see the screen. The kind of society we had spawned and the fact that twenty adults admitted seeing James Bulger in tears as he was being led away, and did not intervene, made me want to rage at somebody, anybody - but at whom?

The two cases were profoundly different, with Thompson and Venables, the killers of James Bulger, being little more than bairns themselves. But there was nothing could be said in mitigation for the two despicable creatures who subjected Baby P to months of systematic torture before his tiny frame could take no more. I found myself thinking, nay, hoping they would get sorted out inside. It is at times like that, that I sometimes wonder, even momentarily,  if I am wrong to be opposed to capital punishment. As a father, grandfather and great grandfather, my wife Kay and I have had countless hours of enjoyment with our family when they were children and cannot for the life of me understand the mentality of those who abuse and even kill children. Both cases happened in England but we have had similar cases in Scotland, in Dundee, Inverness and elsewhere.

Fortunately cases like these are very rare in the UK, let alone Scotland, and in the majority of some of the worst cases, it was not that the authorities could have done little or nothing to stop what happened - as in the case of James Bulger - but that the authorities were in regular contact with the family of the child who died - as in the case of Baby P. It is in light of the fact that the authorities carry some responsibility for failing to do their job, that we should view the decision of the Scottish Government to appoint a Guardian for every child and young person in Scotland up to the age of 18 years. Failure to do their job has in most cases, been accompanied by complete denial on the part of the authorities, to take any responsibility, to the point of committing perjury and spending tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers' money in court expenses, attempting to defend the indefensible. Countless families have had their lives destroyed through the NHS, social work departments and the government, using every and all means at their disposal, including court action, to shift the blame on to the individuals and families they have failed.

There has been opposition to the measures being introduced, although despite voicing opposition not a single MSP actually voted against the measure in the Scottish parliament, but no one has even mentioned the problems which will inevitably arise when some "Guardian" somewhere, gets it wrong and makes a false accusation. Any one who thinks it won't happen may want to acquaint themselves with the details of the cases in Orkney, Western Isles, Borders and Ayrshire twice, where several families at the same time, were falsely accused by the authorities. To those cases, all of which had substantial publicity, must be added the individual families who were threatened, had their children taken into care after false allegations and who, for various reasons, did not have their cases highlighted by the media. I can speak from bitter experience, as someone who was falsely accused, whose case had widespread publicity and as a consequence, has been contacted by several of those families over the past fifteen years or so, families who have been desperate for help to fight the injustices heaped on them by the establishment.

I have asked myself countless times, how those adults who saw James Bulger, obviously distressed, but did nothing to intervene. I can only imagine the thoughts that must have gone through their minds since the incident, but it is not difficult to understand why they might have decided not to get involved, particularly if they were men. We have created an environment in our society, as far as children are concerned, which is obsessed with child safety and most men will now think twice before even speaking to a child they don't know, far less approach one who is crying or obviously distressed. The fear of paedophiles lurking around every corner and the "danger stranger" mindset of so many in society, fuelled by a media only too pleased frequently to create totally unjustified suspicion, has fostered the notion that "something" must be done to prevent anything bad happening to any child - ever. We could be forgiven for imagining that child abuse is widespread, that authority must keep an eye on every family in the country, as EVERY child is in danger of being abused - by someone, usually close to them. One so-called "expert" involved in my own case opined on TV, "There is a great deal of abuse out there that has still to be discovered". If it still has to be discovered, how does he know how much abuse is "out there"? Such obvious questions must never be asked in any discussion about abuse because "everybody" knows it is rampant.

So, just how widespread is abuse in Scotland? Between 2001/2 and 2010/11, a ten year period, there were 61 children under the age of 16, who were victims of homicide; of those 20 were aged 1 or less, 15 aged between 1 and 5 and 26 between 5 to 15. The figures also showed that 49% were killed by a member of the family, which was the case in 15 of the deaths of the 20 under 1 year old in that 10 year period. As of June 30th 2010 there were 1,037,839 young people aged 18 or under. In 2012 there were 2,706 children on the child protection register, which means either they had been victims of abuse or neglect or, there was a strong likelihood they would be victims. Although that was an increase of 32% on the figure in the year 2000, it represents 0.026% of young people under the age of 18. One child who is the victim of neglect or abuse is one too many but the figures hardly suggest our young people are under constant threat.

The figures can throw up some contradictory findings. For example, in September 2013, the NSPCC published a report that claimed 9000 Scots children in primary schools were victims of abuse and neglect and if that was true, why were they not the subject of a referral to the child protection register? The answer is that they may well have been because in 2010/11 there were 33,710 referrals to the Children's Reporter on care and protection grounds but just over 2,500 on the child protection register. On the face of it, even now, it would seem there are far more referrals than are justified, in terms of the level of actual abuse and neglect being suffered. When the same legislation was introduced in the Isle of Man, the number of referrals are said to have increased by over 500% and the system imploded. Part of the problem is the definitions of abuse and neglect have changed considerably over time and while smacking one's own children is still legal, it is definitely unacceptable to large sections of society. Physical neglect is classed as abuse, but failure to provide the basics for a child's development can be caused by poverty as can "Non-organic failure to thrive" which is another form of abuse. That is reflected throughout the lives of Scotland's under-privileged as life expectancy figures confirm.

The problems associated with the sheer numbers involved will not be long in coming to the fore and where on earth are they going to find enough Guardians to "guard" over 1 million young people? But my concern is how the establishment will react when they get it wrong. It is a gross insult to every decent family in the country but more than that, it is a massive increase in state centralisation and control and, once it has been established, the state will do whatever it takes to ensure they hold on to it. I found to my cost that the establishment does not like to be challenged and in my case, they were prepared to destroy the lives of 22 people - my immediate family - rather than admit they had made a mistake. Even more sinister, and not widely known in Scotland, is the fact that the authorities have immunity from third party duty of care. In other words, when a social work department, the NHS or any other branch of the government system damages a third party, such as a parent who has been falsely accused, they are immune from being held accountable. I discovered they could trash my name as much as they liked, say whatever they wanted, which they did, and I had no recourse to law although I battled for over a decade to get them into court.

When I challenged the social work department, the NHS and the so-called experts brought in to defend their actions, I was referred by Kenny McAskill to the decision of the House of Lords in 2005, which stated, "Child abuse is a serious social problem and health care professionals (HCPs) play a vital role in combating the risk...it is best attacked by relieving HCPs of legal proceedings...Uncompensated innocent parents pay the price but that is a necessary price.." That atrocious decision allows social workers, psychiatrists, expert witnesses and anyone else involved, which in my case included a Scottish Cabinet Minister, to lie with impunity to defend themselves. They lied from start to finish, destroyed original notes and fabricated others, something I highlighted in my book "Unbreakable Bonds" in which I named every single person involved.

Kenneth Roy reviewed the book in the Scottish Review and he wrote, "The psychiatric treatment of.... is only part of the story. The greater part, which impinges on the wider public interest, is the continuing failure of various publicly accountable bodies to acknowledge that a serious error was made in this case. No one who reads the extracts from official correspondence and records republished in Mr Fairlie's book can fail to be impressed by the closing of ranks and protection of vested interests, month after month, year after year, which would have demoralised most people out of sheer dejection. It is remarkable how few, confronted by such pain, expressed any fellow feeling. The absence of humanity is perhaps the book's most striking feature." I have absolutely no doubt that when the false accusations begin to appear, as inevitably they will, that scenario will be repeated. With the abolition of corroboration it is even more likely. Can we trust the Scottish state? On past experience, I very much doubt it.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Are Scots The Most Venal People On Earth - Or Is It Just Our Politicians?

One of the most depressing features of the campaign for independence, is the almost total lack of any principles associated with it. Clinton coined the phrase, "It's the economy stupid" but he was referring to a political campaign involving political parties seeking to form the next government of the United States of America. The referendum is not about the election of any particular party, although we could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP was the only party that mattered and the entire independence campaign was about the election of the SNP. That is the fault of the media in part, as from the outset, there was a determined effort by the SNP to emphasise the distinction between it and the Yes Campaign. Unfortunately, as the campaign has continued, the differences have become blurred - quite deliberately much of the time - and laziness on the part of large sections of the media, has ensured that as far as the public is concerned, there is little or no difference between the two. That may now suit the SNP as it has increased its party workers, however inadvertently, by a considerable margin.

The referendum campaign is about the future independence of the Scottish nation and the question to be asked, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" could not make that any plainer. I pointed out in a previous blog, that the figure of £500, as the figure needed to bribe Scots to vote for independence, seems to have appeared out of thin air as no one knows why it should be £500 and not £400 or £600. The fact that any figure, of any size, should be put on the political freedom of the country, is demeaning enough, but to set the figure at such a paltry level, is surely a measure of how little self-respect many Scots have. The natural reaction to such a comment, that will come from many Scots, will no doubt be, "It is all very well for someone who doesn't need the money or is quite comfortably set up in life, but £500 could make an enormous difference to a great many Scots and should not be lightly dismissed as being of no importance."

That is no doubt true and the evidence is in the food banks which fed over 50,000 families last month alone, an abomination in a country as rich as ours, but you would find it almost impossible to find any argument coming from any of our political leaders which did not mention money. The leaders of the SNP have said time and again, they do not want independence for its own sake, then follow up with a litany of how much better off we could all be if only they had the freedom to control tax and spending. On the other hand, the No side, with a string of Westminster politicians in their wake, claim to be able to put a price on everything if we vote Yes, making it perfectly plain they know the value of nothing. The traditional arguments against independence, included the charge that the country was "too poor" that "our standard of living would fall" that "without English subsidies etc, etc..." Public reaction in Scotland, together with a greater awareness of how insulting they were being, caused Westminster politicians to change their tune slightly, and Cameron was one of the first to admit Scotland could "make a success of independence."

We could be forgiven for supposing that this would mean, that by being a "success" we would at least, be able to maintain our current standard of living without relying on some imaginary largesse from our Southern neighbours. We would be wrong, because, although Westminster politicians have been less inclined to speak openly about English subsidies, the London dominated media and English commentators, still speak disparagingly about Scots' ability to finance our current life style. Since the day the campaign started in earnest, we have been subjected to a daily list of the items we could not afford or which would increase in price, if we become independent. The first casualty was oil, which suddenly began to disappear at a much greater rate of knots than it had only the day before, but Cameron has now cut the feet from his own side's argument by announcing there could be another £200 billion to come out of the North Sea - but only if the UK control the exploitation. They are so used to insulting us and being condescending, they are now no longer even aware of when they are behaving in such a manner. Then, despite the fact Scotland has been subjected to a much higher rate of defense cuts in the past decade, than other parts of the UK, we were told we would be left without an adequate defense force after independence because we simply could not afford one. So bereft of adequate defense were we liable to be, and so open to likely terrorist activities, that the government of the rUK would probably have to bomb our airports - just to keep us safe.

Last week, Gordon Brown announced we would lose £200 million from our pensions after independence; that coming from the man who completely destroyed the UK pension industry as Chancellor in his very first budget, is surely the height of irony. He then proceeded to create the conditions which allowed UK banks to almost destroy the country.Why he feels in any way qualified to offer Scots any advice is surely a mystery. Unfortunately, the latest ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday, would seem to confirm the view that the economy is still the most important issue which will determine the outcome of the referendum but when every item is given a price but never a value, that is hardly surprising. That was underlined when the argument was advanced that Scotland's universities needed independence to thrive; not because of any perceived threat to the development of ideas or the undermining of their world status, but because of a lack of funding under the Union. Of course funding is important if world class research is to continue, but is the history of Scottish commitment to learning and education and the spread of ideas, going back to the 15th century, the part played by Scottish thinkers in the Enlightenment, not even more important in the debate about how that history and educational commitment can be continued and spread even further?

To be fair to the SNP and the Yes Campaign, much has been said about creating a "fairer Scotland" but how much faith can be placed in that promise, when a major plank in the economic platform is to reduce corporation tax to 15% or to set it at a level at least 3% lower than that of the rUK? The Scottish Government's fondness for centralisation, as evidenced by the abolition of local control of police and fire services, together with the appointment of a guardian for every child and young person up to the age of 18, in Scotland, is more likely to lead to bureaucratic intransigence when and if their authority is questioned, than it will lead to any kind of fairness. The Greens and Scottish Socialists both have political platforms which commit to a re-distribution of wealth and overall "fairness" but both struggle to have their voices heard in the main debate, therefore the Scottish electorate is persuaded to believe the only relevant players in the campaign, are the Unionists on the one hand and the SNP on the other.

The main blame for making the whole campaign nothing more principled than a public auction, must lie with the Unionists. It is their responsibility for presenting nothing but daily scares of how much independence will cost, how much we will lose or how little we contribute to the United Kingdom, as "evidence" of our total inability, alone of every and any other country in the world, to be an independent nation state. The SNP and the Yes Campaign must take responsibility for allowing themselves to be repeatedly cornered into untenable positions, by pretending independence will change nothing. If we intend to change nothing, why bother with independence? The Scots themselves must take responsibility for allowing themselves to be treated as if a few quid here or there, is sufficient for them to give every impression of not having a principled bone in their bodies. Are we such an unprincipled and spineless lot, that the promise of £500 is sufficient to swing tens of thousands of votes either way? Was the figure of £500 or even the whole survey, just a figment of some clever pollster's imagination? If it was, he/she knew his/her audience well enough to get away with it.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

For Gods's Sake - Stop Treating Scots Electorate Like Fools

Whatever mixed messages may have come from the Unionists over the past week or so, rather than be confused by them, Scots should take heart because Cameron, Osborne, Davidson, Balls and Alexander may have done us all a great big favour. It may have helped to lift the scales from the eyes of the "dinnae kens" the "I need more informations" the "fearties" and the "canny be botherds". The referendum on Scotland's future is only a few months away and Scots cannot afford to "no ken" or "no be bothered". Those who claim to need more information must be walking about with a bag over their heads or in some kind of dwam, because the one thing this campaign has had is a plethora of information. Unfortunately, much of it has been out and out dross, a mixture of assertions, propaganda, half truths and out and out lies. Cameron et al, particularly Osborne, has now annoyed Scots, to the extent that many of the "dinnae kens" are on the point of saying "Get stuffed, we are tired of being treated like some kind of nuisance that has to be tolerated for the sake of appearances."

More than four years ago I was active on the Tartan Army Message Board (TAMB) because I had written something in a Scottish Newspaper, which annoyed some cybernats, who decided to trash my name. Most of them had never heard of me and only a handful had a clue of my past history in the SNP, but I had said the SNP's adoption of the euro (they were still in favour of the euro at that time) was wrong. I only joined the site because my name was being trashed, but took the opportunity to develop the arguments about the currency, predicting it would be one of the most important issues if we ever had a referendum on independence. Unfortunately, the SNP's handling of it has been about as hamfisted as it could have been, pretending first of all, that what they were proposing was the same as the arrangement Ireland had in the 1920's, then that the other 62 currency arrangements throughout the world were all the same and this would just be another one. None of that was true and their duplicity has now come back to bite them - hard.

The SNP and the Yes Campaign have gone to such lengths to insist that the demand for independence is not about identity, that I can only conclude that some focus group has said something along the lines of, "We musn't stress differences. That wouldn't be nice and might offend somebody" Thus the party mantra has been, "This is not about identity, the Scots don't have one. Forget this nonsense about haggis and Burns suppers, the kilt, Gaelic and the heedrum hodrum stuff. So what if we can't pronounce the names of our mountains and glens, we must stress inclusiveness, so, Scottishness is out" As one American election guru, brought in to advise the campaign, is reputed to have advised, "Independence is too harsh a word and shouldn't be used" And hey presto, it wasn't until recently. Unfortunately, it is one thing to claim to pursue independence but it is quite another to actually want it. When Salmond, and now Sturgeon, threatened to refuse to pay Scotland's population share of the UK's debt, unless a currency union was agreed, they were saying in effect, "We won't pay our share of the debt unless London agrees to continue to run Scotland's economy, if there is a Yes vote." I always thought the whole point of being an economic Nationalist was to gain control of the economy.

Scotland has one of the most recognised identities of any country in the world and more importantly, it is one that is also one of the most popular and welcomed wherever we go. The English would give their right arm to have an identity that was a) as recogniseable and b) as popular as Scots have, but the SNP and the Yes Campaign are doing their damnedest to deny it exists. On the recent Stuart Cosgrove programme, "Five million ways to be Scottish" an English woman was asked to give an example of something that was peculiarly English, something that was recogniseable as being English. After much thought the only thing she could come up with was "a cup of tea".  That just about says it all, but the fact that ordinary English people find it difficult to recognise themselves in a crowd, is no reason for Scots to deny their own culture in case it makes us "different". We don't have to stress the differences, we are different and everyone knows it.

Cameron's "We're all John Thompson's children speech" may have been lauded and applauded in his own circle but it cut little ice in Scotland. What is classed as nationalism, if it is played by Scottish groups in favour of independence, is portrayed as something much more acceptable, on a much higher plane, when played by the British Prime Minister or his acolytes such as Ruth Davidson; it is called British patriotism. It is the kind of patriotism portrayed so wonderfully at the Olympics, a spectacle from which Scots have benefited so greatly - or so it has been claimed but the evidence for which remains a bit of a mystery. Osborne has now let it be known that to be one of Mr Thompson's children in this wonderful family of nations called England er Britain, Scots must continue to play the role of subsidy junkies as laid out for us by the London media, or we will pay the consequences. Those will be border controls and anything else the Metropolitan elite can throw in our way. Those in Scotland who swithered about voting Yes in the referendum, on the grounds that England er Britain was such a happy family of nations, and, who have just discovered what being part of that family demands, will no doubt offer the usual plaintive cry, "But we didnae ken". The only appropriate response to that has to be, "Weel, ye ken noo".

If they still have doubts, they need only pick up any copy of the Daily Mail or any other English tabloid, to read a daily summary of all the functions of daily living which will be more expensive, poorer, cease to exist, beyond the capacity of Scots to manage, destroyed or otherwise disappear if Scotland votes to be like any other normal nation state, and choose to be independent. Of course, there are those among the London self-styled elite who actually believe that kind of clap-trap to be true and, whose only comment is "good riddance". But one has to question the mind-set of Scots who seem to believe that if we are to become independent, even with London still controlling our economy, Scotland would be the ONLY country in the world totally incapable of running our own affairs. They have such a low opinion of their own capabilities that they imagine that every other Scot thinks as they do and is terrified of being independent. How do they ever pluck up the courage to get out of bed in the morning?

So far, the debate so-called, has had the SNP and the Yes Campaign claiming little or nothing will change if there is a Yes vote. Alex Salmond was moved to announce that even if Scotland declares itself to be independent, he will still remain British. I suppose he can claim to be anything he wants to be but I fail to see how his being British, has anything to do with Scots deciding to be independent. On the other hand, according to the Unionists, civilization as we know it, will come to an end and we will even be denied the pleasure of seeing Eastenders every night (hopefully). Both sides have tended to pander to what they perceived to be the lowest common denominator, with the SNP seeking to allay fears which in some cases, do not even exist, and on the other, the Unionists attempting to frighten people with scare stories they last heard in The Big Book of Bedtime Stories. Both sides have bent the truth to such an extent that the perceived audiences would have had to have taken leave of their senses to accept whatever tale was being spun. This has led to both sides losing credibility.

In the few months we have left, is it too much to ask both sides to stop treating the electorate like fools. We know there will be changes. If there weren't, we would be sacrificing the opportunity to create a country that comes somewhere close to that which any decent person aspires. Scots have been crying out for change and independence can give them the changes they not only want, but which the poorest and most deprived of our people desperately need. Unionists can try to make a positive case for the Union, an impossible task, but at least they might gain some respect for making the attempt. Until now, they have done nothing to make any self-respecting Scot want to have anything to do with a neighbouring country that heaps nothing but bile and disdain on a nation with a history of which, in the main, we can be proud. Of course there are the idiots who claim that it was the Union, which released the talents that encouraged Scots to play such a large part in the Enlightenment, but that is simply another manifestation of the problem Nationalists have with the Union of 1707.

ENDS

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Poverty - The Curse Of Scotland

The Nine of Diamonds playing card is more commonly known as "The Curse of Scotland", for various reasons, none of which has ever been confirmed to the satisfaction of historians. One version is that Butcher Cumberland wrote "no quarter" on the back of a Nine of Diamonds on the eve of the Battle of Culloden, as an order to his officers as to how the Jacobites should be treated. Alternatively, the card is supposed to strongly resemble the Coat of Arms of the Earl of Stair, who ordered the Massacre of Glencoe. There are others but the only "fact" about which we can be certain, the Nine of Diamonds is generally referred to as "The Curse". Used as a verb, it means to "wish evil or harm on someone or something", as a noun, it is something which can be classed as an evil or generally harmful and used in that sense, poverty certainly fills the bill.

The definition of poverty has changed over the generations and certainly does not mean the same today as it did, two or three generations ago. I use that timescale because it is one to which I can relate personally and from the personal experience of watching how it has changed quite dramatically. Today, using the figures taken from a paper produced by Poverty Alliance (October 2012) a person is living in poverty if the household has less than 60% of median income. This translates as:-

* A single person is living on less than £125 per week
* A single parent family with two children aged 5 and 14 is living on less than £258 per week
* A couple with two children are living on less than £349 per week

It is estimated that 910,000 people in Scotland or 18% of the population are living in poverty, while 220,000 children or 21% are living in poverty. It is claimed that poverty is higher in Scotland and across the UK than in other European countries, with Denmark and Sweden having fewer than 10% of their children living in poverty. Unfortunately, after a decade of improvement, current cuts in welfare and public spending generally, are reversing the trend and poverty is again on the increase. Despite the improvements, the old familiar areas are the ones where poverty is still prevalent and for some parts of Scotland, social mobility has come to a standstill and the poverty that was so much a part of the existence of the people there, is still there and increasing.

With a father who spent over 40 years as a bus driver, my immediate family was quite overtly working class, as was all of our extended family, but we could not be considered poor, as my parents ensured we never were without the basic comforts although holidays were unknown. That was not the case with all of the extended family and was light years away from the experiences of my parents and grandparents. My maternal great-grandmother Mary (nee Robertson) was a feisty Highlander who worked in the Dundee jute mills and was left a young widow to raise a girl crippled with polio and two sons. While her two sons were serving abroad in WWI, my grandfather in Salonika and his brother on the Western Front, she was committed to the "poor hoose" or the work house, the final refuge of the poor in those days. On her last visit to see her, accompanied by my mother and her older sister, neither of whom were yet at school, my grandmother, Jane McGregor, asked about the severe bruising on the old lady's face. She was told she had fallen, to which Mary responded with a wry smile, "Aye Jean, people fall a lot in here". Three days later she was dead "of old age and natural causes".

War wounds and the economic conditions after WWI, meant it was some years before my grandfather was able to work.His two eldest daughters, my mother and her sister, had the task of lining up outside the local bakers every night, in an effort to buy day-old and two-day old tea bread. If they were among the unlucky ones, they went hungry. My father did not know what it was to have a pair of shoes that were bought for him, until the day he started work at 13. The second youngest of 16 children, 13 of whom lived to adulthood, he wore cast offs, occasionally his mother's or his sisters', or he went barefoot if the weather allowed. Compared to them, I was lucky, but going to the only Catholic school in Perth, I experienced a greater mix of social classes than I would have, had I attended a non-denominational school where residence determined the mix. Some of Perth's poorest, were my classmates or were at other stages up and down the school, and they mixed with the children of some of the more affluent citizens of the town. There is a hierarchy, even among the poor and it wasn't until later years that I appreciated the demeanor and the look in the eyes of the worst off, that signified not just a lack of material basics but a completely broken spirit. It is a look I have seen more times than I care to remember and my God it hurts.

My Glaswegian cousins stayed in the old Royston Hill, two adults and six children in two rooms. Evacuated to Perth during WWII, they were more like brothers and sisters to me than cousins, so that after the War, I spent several years as a youngster running about the Hill, where the back middens were the playground of generations of kids. That was where I first discovered what real poverty meant and why aggression was so much a part of the daily grind. Years later, as an office bearer in the SNP and during a parliamentary by-election in the area, I re-visited the Hill to find that while the old houses were no longer there, the poverty, the attitudes, the aggression and above all, the broken spirits were all still present. While in the SNP, I campaigned in every constituency in Scotland to find that Drumchapel, Ferguslie Park in Paisley, the Raploch in Stirling, Beechwood in Dundee and Friarton and Hunter Crescent in my home town of Perth, may have had different names but the poverty was just the same, generation after generation after generation. An education and a degree helped me to break the mould but that opportunity was denied to so many of my contemporaries throughout Scotland, that social mobility did not exist for them and poverty was their's and their children's constant companions.

In March 2013 a report by The Breadline Britain Poverty and Social Exclusion, showed that poverty in Scotland was at its worst level for over 30 years with over 29% of Scots lacking three or more of the necessities for basic living. This report was said to be the largest and most authoritative study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK. The necessities included a winter coat and shoes, a dry warm house and the ability to buy the food needed to provide an adequate diet. That almost 30% of Scots cannot eat properly nor keep warm in winter, is a massive indictment of successive Labour and Tory governments and is a complete mockery of the notion that somehow Scots are better off in a Union that cannot provide the most basic necessities for our people. In the decade up to 2012, poverty in Scotland was reduced by approximately 9% but that trend has now been reversed and the forecast is that under the present policies, poverty will continue to increase, both in terms of numbers and severity. More importantly, the planned changes are not to improve the situation but to continue with austerity measures in order to cut public expenditure and debt.

Poverty does not mean simply a lack of material benefits, it means poorer health, lack of job opportunities, poorer, unskilled jobs when they exist at all, lower education opportunities leading to lower aspirations and an almost total destruction of the human spirit. Poverty dehumanises and destroys the will to climb out of the pit of despair that generations of thankless effort has created. It also determines that a boy born in the most deprived 10% of areas, has a life expectancy of 68 - 8 years below the national average and 14 years below boys born in the least deprived areas of the country. When men and women are forced to queue in line to receive food to feed their families, in full view of friends and neighbours, there cannot be much self respect left. But it is what this Coalition government and the previous Labour government have forced thousands of families in Scotland to do. At the same time, they have the gall to proclaim we are Better Together, while the majority of MPs who fiddled their expenses, in other words, stole from the public purse, have escaped any kind of punishment. Bankers who stole millions, yes millions, from their customers and who still pay themselves exorbitant rewards for continuing to steal, have escaped being named and shamed, never mind jailed.

Why is it that child poverty is less than 10% in Denmark and Sweden, that is, it is less than half the level it is in Scotland? Neither country has the natural resources that Scotland enjoys but they do have the one thing that we in Scotland lack; they have control of their own country; they have independence. Perhaps that is the connection.

ENDS