Gordon and Joe

I was very sad this morning (Friday) to read of the death of Gordon Aikman.

Gordon had been Director of Research for the Better Together campaign until, early in 2014, he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease.

He was 28 at the time.

Given that the diagnosis came with a prognosis of 18 months or so of deteriorating quality of life (he managed to live longer…indeed he tweeted a message at the beginning of the year. Hello 2017, I didn’t expect to see you”), he threw himself into making the most of the time he had left, campaigning with politicians for more research into MND and raising money. And he still found time to get married.


He launched a Just Giving page with the target of half a million pounds has now raised more than that. This is what he wrote on it:

I’m dying. And fast. 

That – in short – was what my doctor told me when I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. It is not the news you expect when 29 years old. 

MND is a progressive, neurodegenerative condition that eats away at your body until you can no longer walk, talk, eat or breathe for yourself.

There is no cure. Soon it will kill me. That’s why I am doing all I can while I can to raise money for MND Scotland: a great charity that funds research into the disease.

It’ll be too late for me, but we can and we must find a cure for the next generation.

With your help, I can turn a negative into a positive. Please dig deep and donate what you can today. 100% of your donation will be spent on cutting-edge research.

Thank you 


As Humza Yousaf just tweeted, the best way to honour his memory is to make a contribution if you can.

I’ll miss you, Gordon. Your writing was always clever and wise and spirit lifting, even when it was, as it inevitably had to be, sad. You were an inspiration for so many, and you’ll continue to be. Heaven knows whenever I have an ache or pain and feel sorry for myself, I’ll think about you and slap myself out of it. I suspect many other people you’ve inspired will too.

RIP, Gordon.



It’s not an unreasonable interpretation, and I don’t doubt that it’s true, particularly when you consider where the majority of Leave votes came from. But, as you may remember, there were no questions on the ballot paper about levels of general satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Just a simple “Leave” or “Remain”. bexit10

What Mrs May is saying, it seems to me, is that in England and in Wales, with administrations run by the Tories and Labour respectively, people are fed up. Britain doesn’t work for them. They are not listened to. No one cares. Queens live in palaces, MPs get pay rises, Lords continue to be paid for sleeping while pensioners have to pay the bedroom tax, kids are hungry, and people sleep in the streets. They are dissatisfied, and because the tabloids have told them for years that everything,


that was wrong with Britain was wrong as a result of the UK’s membership of the European Union, and foreigners/immigrants being here, they chose to vote to leave.


Mrs May might like to take a lead from the administrations in parts of Britain which did not vote to leave the world’s biggest trading block: Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and Scotland, if she is looking for inspiration on how to make things work for people who didn’t go to Eton or Oxford; maybe those who don’t have titles, aren’t royal or indeed who hold other “celebrity status”.

And given that both Northern Ireland and Gibraltar have close cross-border ties with their “foreign” neighbours, and therefore have a desperate need to stay attached to Europe, if I were her, I should concentrate on how things are done in Scotland.


Mrs May indicated yesterday in a nervous jittery stammering tv interview that there was little chance of the UK remaining in a single market with Europe, the result of which was that the pound lost 1% of its value. This may be seen as another disappointment for people who haven’t been listened to.


You see, that WASN’T what folk were led to believe, at least by the ever hopeful Mr Davis.

And you could understand, given the current mess of the English Health Service before the worst of the winter has actually happened, that people may be wondering where the £350 million a week that it was promised on the side of that bus, has gone.

If I were Mrs May I’d start delivering. Reducing tax for the better off and imposing bedroom tax on pensioners, allowing people to die after 30+ hour waits on trollies, having to depend on the Red Cross for medical care isn’t what folk were expecting. And frankly, an extra few million for mental health issues that apparently affect 25% of the population, is a slap in the face to the sufferers and clinicians alike.

Oh, and for those that thought that all would be well with their workplace, here’s a little reminder of the way the trade secretary’s mind is working (if you can read that without choking with laughter).


Aye, that’s your job that will be deregulated. Enjoy!


So, Anas says that the SNP hates the Labour Party and thinks that its (Labour’s) destruction is the way to gain independence.

Odd really because the best way to gain independence and have a socially just Scotland, would be for Labour and the SNP to work together to counter at least some of the horrific effects of Tory rule in the UK, and the rise of the Tories in Scotland. So I think “hate” is a bit strong. The SNP is certainly mystified about a party which is supposed to represent the poorer people in society, but which sides so often with the Tories on matters that affect the poor. But hatred? I don’t think so.

But, bless him, he says that their solution is to unite the Labour Party.

Good luck with that, Anas. I suppose we could really just stop there. After all, as parties go, Labour, “across the United Kingdom”, is about as far as you can get from being united.

In the UK parliament they don’t have time to be in opposition to the Tories. They are far too busy being in opposition to themselves.

Their members want Corbyn by a massive record breaking majority; 75% of their MPs don’t. When the membership voted decisively for Corbyn, after years of Tory-lite leadership from Blair, Brown (and Mandelson) and then Miliband, the MPs insisted on another leadership battle. Knowing what the odds were, no one remotely serious stood (Angela Eagle or Owen Smith as prime minister???? Oh please!), and Corbyn was re-elected with an increased majority.

But instead of listening to the votes of members and supporters, the PLP decided that they knew better and embarked on a policy of undermining the leader, and to hell with being the opposition. That inspires no confidence at all in a  party of potential government.

A civil war is going on inside the party, and if the Fabian Society is to be believed, they can look forward to a crushing defeat in 2020, and we can look forward to yet another 5 year period of Tory rule, despite the pitiful quality of leadership.

I can’t see any way around that problem, but then I’m not Anas Sarwar!

In Scotland Labour has reached what must be close to “core vote”: a presumably ageing and diminishing group who have voted Labour all their lives, through Labour’s socialist days and their Tory-lite days, and are too old to change. Hard to believe these people were in government 10 years ago. The leader and deputy leader disagree about the way forward and Dugdale has just handed Riley a job at which he can only fail dismally: Campaign Manager for the 2017 elections.

Again, I see no way through this, but I’m not possessed of Anas’s intellect.

In the meantime, the UK is facing the biggest challenge in it history since the second world war, and it is in the hands of Theresa, Boris, David, and Foxy. And her majesty’s loyal opposition is too busy tearing chunks out of itself to bother much about the mess they have made so far.


Scotland voted firmly against leaving the EU. Nicola Sturgeon has put forward reasonable membership proposals to keep the country in the single market, enjoying some of the benefits of EU. She’s one of very few leaders in the UK to come up with ideas (along with the Deputy First Minister of NI, and the First Minister of Gibraltar).

Kezia Dugdale’s response has been to say that Nicola HAS to rule out any possibility of a seocnd referendum on independence, which of course, she knows will never happen.

Anas is probably the next leader in Scotland. He has to be positioning himself for a take over in the summer, so we should get used to that. It’s a pity that they won’t pick someone a little more open to listening to what Labour supporters seem to want.


…write something intelligent (well, by my standards) about the Scottish government’s proposals for Scotland’s future relationship with Europe, which I consider to be measured, logical and sensible.


But then I read Terry’s analysis and I decided that I really couldn’t add anything to that, so I’d direct you to his more learned comments.

I should like to add that it seems the British government produced a report on the same day with their full analysis of the situation (above). I should add that in reply to a series of questions yesterday when she point blank refused to answer whether MPs would have a chance to debate the final Brexit deal (as MEPs will), she said: “I said what I said”.


What Scotland thinks? Do I look like I care?


So now we know that Brexit means Brexit…red white and blue… and she said what she said.

Comforting, eh?

First Minister’s Address to Seanad

Text of the address given by Nicola.


Nicola addressing the Seanad


It is a great honour to have been invited to address you today. I understand I am the first serving head of government to address the Seanad so it is truly a historic day for all of us and I thank you warmly for the opportunity. It is wonderful to join you in these absolutely beautiful surroundings

Last night in Dublin I had the pleasure of visiting Trinity College and seeing there for the first time in my life the Book of Kells. That is a truly moving reminder of how deeply and inextricably linked the peoples and cultures of Ireland and Scotland have always been.

Indeed, when Colmcille travelled from Ireland to Iona in 563, he helped shape Scotland forever.

And then, more than two hundred years later, when monks made the corresponding journey from Iona back to Ireland, they bequeathed to this country in the Book of Kells one of the great masterpieces of European civilisation.

These exchanges – in both directions – have continued ever since, and they have helped to create a special and unbreakable bond between our two countries.

As a student, a lawyer and most recently a Member of the Scottish Parliament in the city of Glasgow, I have seen evidence of that bond every day of my adult life. I know it has enhanced Glasgow and Scotland in many different ways.

Indeed, one of Scotland’s great Gaelic poets, Sorley Maclean, described it as “the humanity/ that the ocean could not break/ that a thousand years has not severed.”

Of course, the strength of our bond isn’t just defined by the people who have moved between our two countries.


With the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flannigan


Much of the modern history of both Scotland and Ireland has been shaped by our experiences of emigration beyond these islands.

As a result – for all the regret we undoubtedly feel about the historic causes of emigration from our shores – both of our countries can today take great pride in what Scottish and Irish people have achieved overseas.

We are unusually blessed as countries with ambassadors and supporters in every corner of the globe.

Indeed, when Ireland’s rugby team beat New Zealand three weeks ago – a result I thought it politic to mention, not least because it gives hope to us all! – you had the good fortune of being able to play at home in the great city of Chicago!

There are two points in particular I want to make today about our shared history and experiences.

Europe, now, is facing its greatest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Scotland and Ireland both know that, in other times and in very different circumstances, the peoples of our nations were also driven by the instinct for self-preservation and the desire for a better life to seek a future far away from the lands of their birth.

Perhaps that helps to explain why both Scotland and Ireland have responded with such an open heart to today’s crisis.

Today, Scotland is home to almost a third of the Syrian refugees that have been resettled in the UK and I know that Ireland too is playing her full part.

And, of course, both of us are making the case for a co-ordinated European response. Given our own national experiences, for Scotland and Ireland to turn away from this crisis wouldn’t simply be a failure of compassion, it would be a denial of our own identity.

By helping people who so desperately need our help today, we are in some senses repaying the obligations of our past.

The second point I want to make is perhaps a more straightforward one. Although we share more than a thousand years of history, I hope and believe that relations between Scotland and Ireland now are stronger, warmer and more harmonious than they have ever been in the past.

I know I have been immensely touched by the hospitality I have been shown since I arrived in Dublin yesterday.

I hope that your President, who I had the honour of spending some time with yesterday, felt the same warmth of welcome when he did us the honour of visiting Scotland in June.

In terms of political co-operation, Ireland has recently increased its diplomatic representation in Scotland, and Scotland has this year established a new government office here in Dublin.

Ireland is one of Scotland’s biggest export markets and I discussed with your business community earlier this morning how we can further strengthen and deepen those links.

As well as healthy business relationships, we also share and enjoy strong cultural ties. Indeed, the Abbey Theatre is now directed by two people who were previously based in Glasgow, while a Dubliner runs the Edinburgh International Festival.

And of course these political, economic and cultural links draw great strength from, and reinforce, the most important connection of all: the friendship, indeed the kinship, shared by millions of Scottish and Irish people, across these islands and around the world.

I believe passionately that all of these ties will be strengthened even further – to our mutual benefit – in the years ahead.

Of course, throughout the last four decades, an important context for our co-operation has been our shared place in the European Union.


Nicola with President Higgins.


Last year I gave a lecture at Sabhal mor Ostaig, the Gaelic language college on the Isle of Skye. Your former President, Mary Robinson, had delivered the same lecture there 18 years previously and as I was preparing my own speech I was struck to read the remarks Mary Robinson made back then.

She attributed in that lecture the revival of traditional Irish culture in part to your membership of the EU.

She said that “The experience of interaction with other European states, on a basis of equality, has helped our national self-confidence and heightened our awareness of the value of our distinctive contribution to European culture and civilisation.

Scotland’s experiences in Europe have not been identical to Ireland’s. We are not an independent member state – yet!

But much of what President Robinson said holds true for Scotland as well. The sense that small countries can be equals in a partnership of many, is something that appeals to us about the EU.

And so the basic principle of EU membership – that independent countries co-operate for the common good – has generally seemed to us to be praiseworthy rather than problematic.

Indeed, that perspective may help to explain why Scotland did vote so convincingly to remain within the European Union. It’s not just that we value the practical benefits EU membership brings – although we do. It’s also that for many people in Scotland, as in Ireland, being European has become a positive part of who we are and how we contribute to the world around us.

So there is no doubt whatsoever that the UK-wide vote to leave the EU was deeply unwelcome. For Scotland, as for Ireland, it creates a challenge which is not of our making or of our choosing.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Taoiseach at the British-Irish Council in Cardiff and yesterday I also met your Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan.

It was clear from both of those discussions that Brexit is the greatest foreign policy challenge Ireland has faced since it joined the EU.

For Scotland, too, we know that how we – and indeed the UK as a whole – respond to June’s vote will define us for generations to come.

I thought it might be helpful to set out some of the principles that are guiding the Scottish Government, as we confront the consequences of the EU referendum and seek to navigate the best way forward.

The first is straightforward. Scotland believes that the UK as a whole should now seek continued membership of the single market and the European Customs Union.

After all, 48% of voters in the UK chose to remain in the EU. So did two of the four nations of the UK. And many people who campaigned to leave the EU were clear in their view that doing so need not involve leaving the single market. I accept that there is a mandate for the UK Government to take England and Wales out of the European Union. However, I do not accept that there is a mandate to take any part of the UK out of the single market – especially when we consider the economic consequences of such a step.

Secondly, to guard against the very real possibility that the UK does decide to leave, not just the EU, but also the single market, we are exploring options that would respect the vote in Scotland and allow us to retain the benefits of single market – not instead of free trade across the UK, but in addition to it.

The Scottish Government will publish proposals before the end of this year setting out our thinking in further detail.

These proposals will focus on options for Scotland within the UK.

Of course, there is also the option of Scotland considering again the question of becoming an independent country – and that remains firmly on the table. If the path that the UK chooses to take turns out to be deeply damaging to Scotland’s best interests – to our economic, social, cultural and international interests – then the people of Scotland must have the right to choose a different future.

Of course, we understand that none of what lies ahead will be easy – but then nothing about Brexit is going to be easy. We are living in unprecedented times, which require imagination, open minds and fresh thinking.

The third point I want to make about our approach relates specifically to Ireland. The Scottish Government knows and understands how vitally important it is to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland.

So, regardless of what agreements may be reached elsewhere on these islands, we will support, unequivocally, an open border here. We fully understand that for reasons of geography, history and the simple preservation of peace, Ireland’s circumstances demand close and particular attention.

The final theme I want to address today is a more general one.

It is about cohesion, social justice and solidarity.

When President Higgins spoke to the Scottish Parliament in June, he talked about the “consequences of unsustainable economic models, which have fomented instability and widening inequalities.” In my view, Brexit is one of those consequences.

There are many different causes of the UK’s vote to leave to leave the EU and we will no doubt be analyzing and debating these causes for many years to come. For a lot of people, they will have included entirely legitimate concerns about the EU. It is, after all, an imperfect organisation.

But there seems little doubt that the Brexit vote was also a product of inequality, of disillusionment with the established order; of a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement.

After all, if people don’t believe and feel they are benefiting from the status quo, we can’t be surprised if they choose not to vote for the status quo.

And although every single region in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, as first Minister of Scotland, I cannot ignore or forget that even in Scotland, 1 million of our fellow citizens voted to leave. So one consequence of the referendum, for us, is an even sharper focus on social justice.

And that crystalizes the challenge – indeed the choice – that the Brexit result poses for all of us who support free trade and who value the economic, social and cultural benefits of immigration.


Waiting to address the Seanad.


We can choose to turn inwards or we can choose to stand strong for the principles of an open economy and a progressive, liberal democracy.

I choose the latter. But in doing so, I recognise that we mustn’t just assert the benefits of these values – we must be able to demonstrate the benefits of these values.

Ireland provides an interesting example. The decisions you took after 1958 to open your economy to the world were transformational. You are a wealthier, more open and more diverse society as a result.

But recent years have demonstrated that all open, trading nations – including Ireland, and certainly including Scotland – need to ensure that growth is truly sustainable; that all parts of our society have a fair chance to contribute to it; and that everyone can fairly share the benefits of it.

There need be no contradiction between being an open, dynamic and competitive economy, and a fair, inclusive and welcoming society. In fact, what we are seeing around the world today demonstrates that the two must go together – a fair society is essential, if we are to sustain support for an open economy.

That’s why in Scotland, our economic strategy prioritises fairness together with economic competitiveness.

It’s also why Scotland – like Ireland – was an early supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that the goals provide a framework for all countries to follow. They encourage us to exemplify fair and sustainable development at home, while also promoting it overseas.

As we do this, I think there are many areas where Scotland and Ireland can work with, and indeed learn from, each other.

I had talks yesterday that touched on how our governments and businesses are co-operating to promote renewable energy and tackle climate change.

In Scotland, our ban on smoking in public places in terms of social policy, was heavily influenced by Ireland’s example – and that policy is already improving the health of our people. I know that Ireland is currently considering Scotland’s legislation on minimum unit pricing of alcohol and I wish you well as you do so.

Both of our nations have travelled a long way, in recent years, on issues such as same sex marriage. It was legalised in Scotland at the end of 2014, while Ireland – to your great credit – became the first state to enshrine that right in its constitution.

Finally, I know that President Higgins recently called for small countries to work together on conflict resolution and sustainable development. I welcome that call. And I believe that Scotland and Ireland – as individual nations but also as partners – are well placed to play our part.

In terms of overseas development cooperation, Scotland is committed to learning from the example of other small countries, including Ireland.

Indeed, in 2012, it was partly the influence of Mary Robinson, that led Scotland to become the first country in the world to establish a climate justice fund. The fund recognises that the people affected most by climate change are those who have done the least to cause it.

It is further evidence of Scotland’s determination to show leadership on climate change – the biggest environmental, economic and moral issue currently facing the planet. It demonstrates our desire to lead by example at home, and exert a positive influence overseas.

In all of this – and in so much more – Scotland and Ireland are living examples of the positive impact that small, open, outward looking countries can have on the world around us. And the need to safeguard and enhance our reputations as open, outward looking countries is perhaps greater now than it has been for many decades. I hope very much that we can and we will support each other as we seek to do so.

I began this speech by referring to the Book of Kells.

The first line of the first page of that Book is widely believed to have been from St Jerome, setting out his intention “to make a new work from the old”.

There is an echo of that sentiment in the quotation I want to close with.

In 2004 Ireland’s presidency of the EU coincided with the accession of ten new member states.

The occasion, as I am sure many of you will remember, was marked on May Day in Phoenix Park. The ceremony included a poem by Seamus Heaney.

The closing verses of that poem speak to the optimism, the humanity and the basic kindness that all good societies need to flourish and succeed.


Cathiorleach of the Seanad, Senator Denis O’Donovan with Nicola.


They also encapsulate the tolerance, internationalism and open-mindedness that I believe must always define who we are – no matter the headwinds and challenges we might currently face.

So on a day when newcomers appear

Let it be a homecoming and let us speak

The unstrange word, as it behoves us hear

Move lips, move minds, and make new meanings flare

like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak

From middle sea, to north sea, shining clear.

My hope is that Scotland and Ireland – sharing as we do an open heart for newcomers and a faith in dialogue’s power to move minds – will work even more closely together in the years ahead.

And I hope we will make new works, new meanings, new impacts from our ancient ties and our shared values. If we do so, we can and we will ensure that our small nations send a big and a very powerful signal to others across the world.

And we can help to deliver real and tangible benefits throughout these islands, across our continent, and right around the world.

Thank you.


Commenting following a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee to discuss the implications of the referendum on leaving the European Union, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This was a long overdue meeting but unfortunately it was, in large parts, hugely frustrating.


“I set out Scotland’s key interests in protecting our place in the single market, securing continued freedom of movement and ensuring social and employment rights are protected. However, despite a full and frank exchange of views around the table we know no more about the UK Government’s approach to the EU negotiations now than we did when we went into the meeting.

“Four months on from the referendum we finally have agreement on a sub-committee of the JMC for the devolved administrations and the UK Government to discuss the issues raised by Brexit, but there is a significant amount of work to do to make sure that the engagement we have is meaningful.

“As a first step we agreed that there must be a detailed work programme developed ahead of the first meeting of the sub-committee. Crucially we agreed that this must be integrated with the wider process so that the devolved administrations can influence key Cabinet Sub-Committee decisions. We also agreed that there will be a further meeting of heads of government in the New Year.

“The Scottish Government is fully committed to engaging with the UK Government and we will seek to use our influence to ensure that the UK does not pursue a hard Brexit. However it is clear from today’s discussions that we must also continue to pursue alternative options, including bringing forward proposals to protect Scotland’s place in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves, and continuing to prepare for the option of a referendum on independence if that is what is necessary to prevent the UK taking Scotland over a hard Brexit cliff edge.”



Bugger the Panda sent me some brilliant photographs and I thought you might like to share. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1IHNgzJC6n3u7WePDtD2v61e4XapYxSB4DJyEwjEIdDo/embed?hl=en_GB&size=m&slide=id.p8