Scotland-Catalonia update – the first minister, the president, the professor, and the lawyer

Regular readers will know I turn occasionally to the connections between Scottish and Catalan nationalists. This week a couple of events came together to prompt another update and raise a few questions.

The first was the meeting yesterday between our first minister and the president of the Catalan devolved government, Quim Torra. The meeting was on government property at Bute House and she subsequently tweeted about it from her official government Twitter account, @ScotGovFM. This is relevant to what follows.

My first question is, should the first minister have met Mr Torra at all? The Guardian newspaper has called him a ‘hardline’ nationalist, citing the ‘“xenophobic” and anti-Spanish tone of his past writings and comments’. Here are some of his tweets from 2011-2014, subsequently deleted but then appearing in the Spanish newspaper El Periodico (translated by me with some online help):

The French and the Spanish share the same annihilating conception of the nations that live in their States

We own our own cars and we pay for everything, not like the Spaniards

We have been occupied by the Spaniards since 1714

Spaniards in Catalonia are like energy: they don’t disappear, they transform themselves into something else

Joking aside, if we go on like this for a few more years, we run the risk of ending up as crazy as the Spaniards themselves

Above all, what is surprising is the tone, the poor education, the Spanish snobbery, the nastiness. It’s horrific

Embarrassment is a word the Spaniards removed from their vocabulary years ago

Hearing Alberto Rivera [an anti-Catholic polemicist widely accused of fraud] speak of morality is like hearing Spaniards talk about democracy

Spaniards only know how to plunder

Catalan Socialist Party members, misguided people, speak Spanish like the Spaniards [The CSP is anti-separatist].

The Guardian also quotes an article entitled The language and the beasts he wrote for the Catalan website elMón in 2012 in which he described those who opposed the use of the Catalan language and objected to expressions of Catalan culture and traditions as:

carrion-feeders, vipers and hyenas … beasts in human form … It is a sick phobia. There is something Freudian in these beasts, a rough patch in their DNA.

This is not the language of the ‘civic’ nationalism beloved of the SNP. If you doubt its intent, try replacing Torra’s ‘Spaniards/Spanish’ with ‘British/English’ and see how it feels.

My second question is on an apparently separate issue – what’s going on with the Clara Ponsati fundraising? Professor Ponsati, you may remember, was briefly a minister in the Catalan generalitat (government) and is the subject of a European Arrest Warrant for extradition to Spain. She is being represented by human rights solicitor Aamer Anwar.

In March, an appeal for funds to fight her case entitled Defend Clara Ponsati from extradition to Spain appeared on the Crowd Justice website. As I write, it still has nine days to run and has raised £282,290 of a ‘stretch target’ of £500,000. In other words, it has raised only 56% so far of what it hoped to.

However, yesterday a second appeal was launched while the first was still underway – #DefendClara Stage Two: Urgent Extradition Hearing Appeal. Again as I write, this has raised £34,255 of a second stretch target, this time of £220,000. Here are the two appeals as they appear on the Crowd Justice website when you search for ‘Ponsati’:

With the exception of a mention in the Stage Two appeal that ‘Within 24 hours nearly £200,000 was raised on the previous [sic – it’s still current] legal campaign crowdfunding page’ there is no reference there (at least in the English text) to that first appeal. Back on the original appeal a note dated 11 July, and only in Catalan, has appeared directing potential donors to the Stage Two page.

There are two other curiosities. First, although both appeals are in the name of and by Ms Ponsati, the second begins with a long statement in Catalan against her name that concludes ‘Una salutació ben cordial, Aamer Anwar, Advocat de la Professora Clara Ponsatí’. Second, even though the two appeals together are far from their total stretch target, having reached only 44% of £720,000, the second maintains a statement in the original:

In the event that money is left over, we would redistribute it among the other cases of political persecution in Catalonia [via Google Translate].

The whole thing is very confusing. Why start a second appeal when the first is still open? Did that first appeal stall, far from the sum required? If so, is the second appeal no more than a device to capitalise on the visit of Mr Torra to Scotland in the hope that it would prompt more contributions? And if you’re so far from your target, why retain a statement about surplus funds being used for  other (unknown) cases?

Reverting to the Sturgeon/Torra meeting yesterday, the first minister tweeted a joint statement about it:

It’s a fairly bland effort and I doubt whether a fuller minute will ever emerge, although I note the irony of the implication in the last paragraph that our own 2014 referendum ‘resolved’ Scotland’s constitutional sovereignty. A referendum will, of course, only ever resolve such a question for nationalists when they get the answer they want.

What the joint statement doesn’t do is say who was at the Bute House meeting, and here we’re lucky enough to have a video taken of the participants emerging. You can see the whole video on YouTube if you can bear the grunting impromptu voiceover. My attention was directed to 22:20 where you will see this image:

In the foreground, Mr Torra and behind him, also having emerged from Bute House and replete with yellow pro-separatist Catalonia ribbon … Aamer Anwar.

I noted earlier that the meeting was on government property and the first minister tweeted about it from her official government Twitter account. So, the most interesting question of all, and neatly linking the two topics this post has been about – what was the lawyer for a defendant in a highly-political extradition court case doing in an official meeting between the first minister and the Catalan president?

At the beginning of the whole Ponsati saga, the first minister said:

I know that many will wish that @scotgov was able to do or say more – I understand that. But I hope there can also be an understanding of the position as outlined and the importance of protecting due process and the independence of our legal system (The Scotsman).

That was a cautious and proper approach. Has it now been abandoned? And why was Mr Anwar in that meeting?

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Celebrating the UK: No. 2 in an occasional series – the Mexican cosmologist


Photograph by Mike Peel (

Way back in 2015 I wrote a short blog post entitled Celebrating the UK: No. 1 in an occasional series – the El Salvadorean guerilla, the first of what was intended to be a series of articles ‘setting out what we should value and celebrate about the UK’.

As a series it faltered – no let’s be honest – stopped. Not because, as nationalists might claim, there was nothing to celebrate, but because I allowed myself to be diverted into other aspects of political life. And when I did look at positive aspects of the UK I did it through other lenses, for example In praise of my country on a special anniversary (the anniversary was two years to the day after the 2014 referendum).

Listening to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs yesterday, I was struck by the fact that I had just heard another Latin American, cosmologist Professor Carlos Frenk, provide reason for celebration of things that were good about the UK.

Frenk was born in Mexico in 1951. His father was a German Jewish immigrant who fled persecution by the Nazis in the 1930s with his parents. His mother was a Mexican Catholic of Spanish origin. After he completed a physics degree in Mexico he procured a British Council fellowship to study for a PhD in Cambridge and, apart from a few years at Berkeley, has been an academic at Durham University ever since.

The BBC describes Frenk as ‘one of the originators of the Cold Dark Matter theory for the formation of galaxies and the structure of the universe’. If you’re interested in cosmology (it’s deep stuff) his biography on the Royal Society website will give you a flavour of what he does. If I hear it correctly (and he was very modest about this on Desert Island Discs) his work is world-class.

Frenk came over as a sympathetic character with many interesting aspects to his life: his Desert Island Discs programme is well worth a listen. He has been married to a Scottish woman for the last forty years and chose as one of his eight pieces of music a Scottish Chamber Orchestra recording of Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ symphony:

Scotland is a country very close to my heart because [it]’s given me the greatest gift I’ve ever had, my wife Susan.

He also said he was an Anglophile and added:

[the university] is a wonderful place and the city is very beautiful and the people are so great – friendly,  hospitable open. I’ve nothing bad to say about Durham except the weather…

The same qualities that Frenk sees in Durham (including alas the weather) we can see in Edinburgh or Glasgow or in many other places across the UK.

For a modest but wise investment by the British Council we have had a lifetime of work by a leading scientist.

It can take someone who was a stranger once to remind us of the things that we share and can celebrate in common across the UK.

Footnote: if you like Latin American music, you may find one of Frenk’s musical choiuces as moving as I did, Chilean Violetta Parra singing her own song Gracias a la Vida.

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The curious case of Branston Pickle and Westminster’s managed decline of the Scottish economy


This is just one of a small blizzard of tweets appearing over the last few days:

The ‘scandal’ concerned is the fact that Young’s Seafoods have decided to close their Pinneys plant at Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, with the loss of hundreds of jobs (confirmation of the closure was reported by the BBC). No one could take joy in that decision and some claim it’s linked to a grant Young’s received to invest in their Grimsby operations in Lincolnshire:

It doesn’t need me to explain the narrative that’s being pushed here, but for the avoidance of doubt let me summarise it – large company gets UK government grant to move Scottish jobs to England as part of a Tory/Westminster plan to run down the Scottish economy.

It’s a neat story for those who want to believe it, but it’s just that, a story. Fiction.

The first and most obvious flaw in the plot is the fact that the grant referred to, £1.3 million, was awarded three years ago in 2015 and the link to the Annan closure is tenuous at best. In any event, while £1.3 million may seem a large sum to the likes of you and me, to Young’s, with an annual turnover of £600 million, it’s a marginal amount although not one to be turned down.

The other, more substantial, flaw is the claim that the Annan closure is part of a plan by the UK government to manage the decline of the Scottish economy, to which my response would be ‘Prove it’. It’s something I’ve seen absolutely no evidence of. I haven’t even heard our SNP government make the claim. If someone can produce evidence, properly sourced, of the plan I’ll be more than happy to publish it here and retract my scepticism.

Which brings me (be honest, you were wondering) to the estimable condiment known as Branston Pickle, with its mystery ingredient no-one has ever heard of in any other context – ‘rutabaga’.

I’m partial to some Branston myself, in a cheese and pickle sandwich or with the occasional pork pie I manage to smuggle past the family health police.

But I have, if you’ll excuse the phrase, a rather more intimate connection with the product.

In my youth I worked as a town planner in a deprived borough of East London. In an area called Silvertown full of mostly-deserted wharves on the Thames, stood two factories – the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, and next to it, Crosse & Blackwell’s Branston Pickle factory. If the wind was in the right direction I could stand at the back window of my office and take in a deep breath of rutabaga and sundry other vegetables being simmered in a rich broth of vinegar and sugar. It was a valuable asset to have in an area with a persistently high unemployment rate, providing, not unlike Young’s in Annan, hundreds of food-processing jobs.

One day a colleague came into the office and said ‘[Expleted deleted], they’re closing the Crosse & Blackwell factory and relocating it to somewhere called Peterhead. Where the hell’s that?’ In those pre-internet days we scurried around to find an atlas that confirmed said-place-we’d-never-heard-of was indeed in North East Scotland. By the way, if you groan at my youthful ignorance about the existence of the Blue Toon, just ask yourself if you’d heard of Silvertown.

On further investigation, we discovered that Crosse & Blackwell (owned if my memory’s correct by Nestlé at the time) had received a hefty government grant to relocate its plant to Scotland. The government at the time was Conservative.

For several years after I moved to the North East I would visit Peterhead for work to be greeted by, yes you guessed, the heady whiff of rutabaga etc. etc. simmering in the same rich broth that had once pervaded Silvertown.

The Peterhead plant subsequently closed, the brand went through at least two different ownerships, the current one being Japanese, and after more than one re-location Branston is now manufactured in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.

You can draw your own conclusions from these two tales of pickle and fish.

You might conclude that they show a dynamic capitalism alert to market demands and opportunities.

You might on the other hand conclude that they demonstrate how ruthless multi-nationals exploit governments to maximise profit and discard workers at will.

You might look with approval at the role of governments in pump-priming the economy in deprived areas desperately needing it.

But you might gaze at the folly of government subsidising large corporations to move the same jobs around the country at public expense.

All these and other conclusions, according to your economic beliefs and political philosophy, are possible.

What you can’t do is sustain a lie that there is a Tory plot (but don’t worry, if Labour were in power it would be a Red Tory plot) to do Scotland’s economy down. Both cases are just part of the not always logical rough and tumble where government and business meet.

Meantime, of course, the likes of Messrs Gallagher and Macdonald’s falsehoods feed the never-ending well of nationalist grievance. You’ll note that when I found them, their views had been liked or retweeted hundreds of times. Lies, propaganda and nationalism. They go well together.

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New recipe – National Soup

The SNP’s sustainable inter-generational growth (or something) commission launched its report today, to a chorus of dissent from left wing/radical nationalists, not to mention the party’s recent favourite economist Richard Murphy (‘There is a route to Scottish independence – but it’s not via the Growth Commission’s recommendations’) and veteran indy-minded commentator Jim Fairlie (‘What is being proposed wouldn’t be Independence. It is a pathetic apology of a report which the SNP should be ashamed to present’).

I’ve not seen any pro-unionist or academic comments yet so it looks as if in-house nationalist critics are doing the job for everyone else.

Doubtless serious commentary will follow but in the meantime you may wish to savour an item that seems to have been missing from the launch press pack.

Apologies if you saw this on Twitter. I’m an avid recycler.


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Scottish government baby boxes – more information, more concerns

This post is in two parts. I drafted Part 1 a while ago after the Scottish government (quietly) released the full certification they hold for the box. I decided to hold off publishing it as I thought there was little else they were likely to concede. Today’s Guardian newspaper has further damaging information on the boxes so I have added a Part 2 about that.

Part 1

My previous post on Are the Scottish government’s baby boxes safe? engendered a fair amount of debate on Twitter, in the middle of which two government ministers tweeted contributions:

The identical wording (including the error that the box complies with ‘BSEN11330’ – it’s actually ‘BS EN 1130’) was an eerie echo of the earlier coincidence noted at the beginning of the previous post, of an SNP MP and councillor tweeting identical praise for the pilot version of the box.

Ms Freeman bothers me not. She’s the minister for social security, has no responsibility for the baby box and blocked me a long time ago on Twitter. Her tweet was merely a copycat of Ms Todd’s.

Maree Todd is more interesting because she is the minister for childcare and early years. She attached some photos to her tweet (here) and in an exchange with someone else invited them to e-mail her if they had any further questions. On the back of that offer I decided to ask her if, as the still fairly new minister for the baby box scheme, she was able to make publicly available a copy of the BS EN certificate for the box together with the associated test results.

At this point, regular readers, not to mention the occasional nationalist who claims this blog is only ever about ‘SNP bad’, may wish to pause for breath because (a) she replied and (b) I give her unqualified praise for her openness.

This is the minister’s reply in full:

15 Jan at 2:45 p.m.

Mr White,

Thank you for your e-mail of 4 January 2018 regarding Scotland’s Baby Box’s safety certification.

We have previously been unable to release the BS EN Certification for Scotland’s Baby Box as our managing agent for the programme, APS Group (Scotland) had wished to protect the Intellectual Property (IP) of their box supplier who are a UK based SME.

We are now approaching the tender for year 2 baby boxes and contents and to avoid this situation arising again in year 2, I have asked that the accreditation be a mandatory part of the box specification. Accordingly, we have agreed with APS Group (Scotland) and their supplier to make the certification publicly available.

I have therefore attached the BS EN Certification for Scotland’s Baby Boxes. You will note that materials were not tested as part of this process due to the materials holding their own certification. For completeness I also attach the relevant paperwork for the materials, board and ink, used in the production of the current baby box.

I hope this reassures you that Scotland’s Baby Boxes have been awarded with British Safety Standard BS EN:1130 accreditation as a crib for domestic use.


Minister for Childcare and Early Years

A sceptic may say that Ms Todd could see which way the wind was blowing and, to mix my metaphors, was trying to lance the boil of criticism about the safety of the box. Never mind. It’s done and it’s something the civil servants wouldn’t do when responding to my previous three Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on the subject.

The government have now placed the documents concerned on their Parent Club web site (scroll down and open the section on ‘Does Scotland’s baby box meet industry safety standards?’). Parts of each document have been redacted but I’m as sure as I can be that they are of no significance in this context.

Inevitably, and I feel for Ms Todd here, the information that has been released raises further questions. For the sake of clarity in discussing them, I refer to the documents as:

  • the test certificate (in relation to BS EN 1130-1:1997 Furniture. Cribs and cradles for domestic use)
  • ink safety
  • cardboard safety.

The second and third items refer to separate standards, not to BS EN 1130-1:1997.

It may be helpful at this point to remember the background to the question of safety raised in my previous post, the SNP’s claim on 3 August last year that the box

has British Safety accreditation as a crib

and that (in response to my previous FOIs), it:

meets all aspects of the standard applicable to it [BS EN 1130-1:1997].

Because the government then spelt out which aspects of the standard were ‘applicable’ it was possible to work out that it had not been tested for ‘materials.’  Now the test certificate confirms why it was not applicable. It was issued:

(Excluding clause 4.1 Materials at request of client).

The box could not comply with the materials requirement of the standard because that refers only to:

(Note that I refer later to ‘EN 71-3’)

Despite, however, materials (the cardboard) not being tested, the test certificate then refers to two tests that were undertaken of the ‘Sides and Ends’ of the box and that it passed:

Reference to Part 2 of the BS EN standard (Part 2; Test Methods) refers to three tests that are surely relevant:

  • 5.6 Strength of the structural members of the sides (bending test)
  • 5.7 Strength of sides, structural members of the sides and corners (impact test)
  • 5.8 Vertical static load test.

It then specifies the sort of detail that it takes a scientist to understand, for example:

The conundrum is how can you exclude testing of materials – cardboard – from the standard and then undertake, let alone pass, tests intended for wood or metal?

Perhaps to compensate for the fact that the cardboard was not tested as part of BS EN 1130-1:1997 the government have also released the documents on cardboard safety and ink safety, which state that those materials used in the box conform to ‘EN 71-3’ which the British Standards Institution describes as follows:

BS EN 71-3:2013+A1:2017 Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements.

This states that:

  1. if particular chemical elements in the cardboard and the ink used to print the outside of the box are present, they are only present at safe levels (and, I assume, will not ‘migrate’ to harm a child)
  2. cardboard is ‘paper and solid board grades intended for packaging’ (I don’t have access to the BS EN definition of packaging but a dictionary definition is ‘materials used to wrap or protect goods’, not a baby)

So in BS EN 71-3 etc. we have standards not for ‘Furniture. Cribs and cradles for domestic use’ but for toys and the packaging in which toys come. Whether this is sufficient for a box in which a baby is intended to sleep is at best a moot point.

Finally, two further potential safety issues about the boxes have become apparent to me.

First, in these photos you’ll see that like the commercial box from The Baby Box Co. on the left, the government’s box, on the right, has hand holds on the side:

Doubts were raised about the safety of the holds on the commercial version.  Because there are slots/handle holds on the sides, the box was likely to be used as a carry cot which was not its intended or safe use. In particular, the edges of the handle holds could be sharp, there was a small risk of the laminate coating on the box being pulled off at the handle point which could represent a suffocation hazard, limbs could be trapped from the handle holds, and the box could be unstable. If you follow the link, you’ll see that the company both identified and resolved these problems. Whether or not any are relevant to the government’s boxes I don’t know. But it would be helpful to have a reassurance that they’re not.

Second, potential users of the box as a crib may be interested in the verdict about baby boxes of the Lullaby Trust, a charity that seeks to reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome. They have produced guidance to parents who choose to use a baby box and are adamant that:

there is no safety standard in existence anywhere in the world that specifically applies to a baby box as a sleeping place for a baby. Be aware that some manufacturers state that their boxes meet European Union 1130 standard for cots, cribs and bassinets. While some elements of a cardboard box may comply with this standard, for example, wood material, structure and smooth edges, remember that EU 1130 is a furniture standard for traditional cots, cribs and bassinets.

Finally, and notwithstanding the new minister’s openness, I remain uneasy that the government began the scheme by claiming that the box meets safety standards and only under pressure conceded that it met ‘applicable’ standards. In effect, it meets those parts of the standard they’ve chosen to engage with. But the qualification is still not on the box itself and the Parent Club website (linked above) still states ‘the box meets all safety requirements including testing of construction, specification, load and stability … The box is marked with the European Standard on Cribs and Cradles for Domestic use BS EN 1130 accreditation’; marked with, but does not mention it excludes ‘clause 4.1 Materials at request of client.’

Part 2

I had not written a conclusion to what is now Part 1 of this post when I decided to defer publishing it (see introduction). Today, the Guardian newspaper has an article entitled Cot death expert raises concerns over Scotland’s cardboard baby boxes. All credit to them for the new information they have unearthed. I’d urge you to read their article but meantime here is a summary of its key points that relate to the concerns I have previously expressed.

Dr Peter Blair has been revealed as another expert who expressed concern about the safety of the box. He is a reader in medical statistics at the University of Bristol, an expert in sudden infant death syndrome and involved with the Lullaby Trust (cited above). He is also a member of a panel of experts advising the government on the baby box programme and is quoted as telling them that:

there was no evidence they [baby boxes] were safe or reduced cot deaths, and urged them to stop claiming they are a safe sleeping space except in rare cases or emergencies.

The Guardian also claims that when he raised these concerns at a monitoring meeting, the minutes of the meeting did not accurately set out his concerns until he asked for them to be included. A cynic might say ‘The Scottish government and the minutes of meetings. Where have I heard about that before?’ He wants the guidance and information given with the boxes to be changed and concedes ‘I think [the government] are listening’. Mind you, this is fifteen months after the baby box pilot programme started so the listening can’t have been as assiduous as it might have been.

The Guardian also seems to have obtained a direct statement, for the first time, from the BSI about the subject that:

accreditation had not been available for the boxes in the UK. It was only now starting work on designing that accreditation. ‘At present there is no standard that covers baby boxes. There may be some clauses of the BS EN 1130 furniture, cribs and cradles for domestic use series that could be applicable to baby boxes, but BS EN 1130 is a furniture standard and not intended for cardboard baby boxes’.

This confirms the doubts I expressed in my previous post about the partial testing of the box, the granting of ‘accreditation’ on that basis, and the marking, literally, of the box with ‘BSEN1130-1:1997’.

These are the essential point from the Guardian article although, as I say, I’d urge you to read it to appreciate the full detail of what it claims.


I had thought, previously, that controversy surrounding the government’s baby boxes might fade away after the inept introduction (from a safety point of view) of the scheme. I’m not so sure now.

My thanks, as before, to various people who helped with information and comment for this post.

Following hostile comment on Twitter from people who had either not read or understood the previous post on the subject I will not be discussing this one there, but feel free to post comments here. Usual rules apply.

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YesM8? NoM8 – don’t touch it with a barge pole!

A group calling themselves ‘YesM8Scotland’ plan a demonstration tomorrow on bridges crossing the M8 motorway. It follows similar demonstrations on other bridges by pro-independence groups who have taken to calling themselves ‘bridgivists’. I noticed this morning a tweet from the group, posted yesterday, that says:

Some correspondence from @policescotland Take care everyone. It shouldn’t be like this, but it’s proof that there’s work to do to turn this country into a better place.

Attached to it is the following e-mail:

Apologies for the small print. You might be able to enlarge it on most devices if you need to.

A number of curious features struck me about this e-mail that led me, in turn, to tweet:

Does anyone know if this e-mail from @policescotland is genuine? It just doesn’t ring true to me #fakenews?

This drew a response from the @YesM8Scotland Twitter account:

And what exactly doesn’t ring true? I can assure you that it is not fake news. Whether you believe us or not is of no interest to us. We don’t need your belief to take part in a peaceful demonstration.

We exchanged tweets a few times, the M8 account assuring me that ‘I know it’s genuine’ but providing no proof beyond the earlier sight of the apparent e-mail. Our contact ended when the account holder told me they were bored and blocked me.

I still have my doubts about the e-mail and thought I should set them out here. In favour of YesM8Scotland’s assertion is the fact that they tagged the @policescotland account in on all their tweets, including the original one with the e-mail attached. However, that is a generic police account (coincidentally I follow it myself) that says ‘Not monitored 24/7’ and does not normally (ever?) respond to people commenting on their posts. I add one other caveat to what follows – I have not checked directly with Police Scotland if the e-mail is genuine. I’m not sure they’d tell me directly and even if they were minded to, I doubt I would receive a response before the M8 demonstrations go ahead tomorrow.

The rest of this post looks at two possibilities in turn. The first, and more likely in my view, is that the e-mail is not genuine, the second that it is.

My first major doubt about an e-mail that purports to come from Police Scotland is that the tone and content just do not ring true for how the police (God bless them) communicate. I doubt very much, for example, that they would use the words ‘resistance or aggression’, certainly not in the context of events with obvious road safety implications. Their tone would be more measured and neutral.

If you look on the Police Scotland web site you will see that they list various ways people can contact them, including an online enquiry form. You will see that they ask for full contact details from enquirers. In this e-mail they seem to be responding to someone who calls themselves ‘Ra Bleather’. There’s no Twitter account of that name although a Google search suggests it may be the pseudonym of an independence supporter somewhere in the West of Scotland. Would the police write an e-mail to someone who chooses to use a pseudonym rather than their real name, or at least an official designation like ‘Demonstration Co-ordinator’?

There is then the curiosity that the e-mail seems to be from ‘Contactus’, not ‘Contact us’ as spelt out on the Police Scotland website. I note also that, unusually for a public organisation, it is undated. And the e-mail is signed ‘Police Scotland On behalf of “Contact us”’ rather than ‘”Contact Us” on behalf of Police Scotland’. If, as the e-mail suggests, there had been earlier exchanges on the subject, surely any e-mail would have been signed, for example, ‘Inspector Joe Smith’ or ‘Sergeant, Road Safety Division’?

I don’t know if Police Scotland habitually end their e-mails with all the information shown after the signature but if they do, it would be easy to cut and paste them into another document.

The final curiosity is that the e-mail includes the word ‘OFFICIAL’ in a different, red typeface. Why would the police include that in an e-mail that was genuine?

So much for the possibility that the e-mail is not genuine. What if it is? I remember from earlier social media comment that the police had not objected to the holding of the demonstrations. It’s fair enough, indeed important, to give demonstrators advice on how they should behave to ensure road safety and that they do not break the law, and  the YesM8Scotland Twitter feed does include such advice. But how unwise of someone responding on behalf of the police to imply partiality in communicating with the group – the use of the words ‘resistance’ and ‘aggression’, and the convivial sign-off – ‘Regards’.

I don’t know whether the e-mail is fake, or doctored, or genuine, although each possibility reflects poorly on one party or another. I do have doubts about the events themselves. Whatever opinion the police have given on the matter, I believe the presence of distracting flags, slogans and people probably waving on bridges over motorways is a risk to road safety. It only takes a second’s distraction and at 70 mph or (to be realistic) more anything can happen. Add in that (I read) some Yes Bikers intend to travel the route in support, presumably with flags flying and horns blaring as they pass each occupied bridge, and it doesn’t look good.

For the avoidance of doubt my concerns are not an attempt to stop people’s right to demonstrate. Pro-indy events happen all the time. I have never objected to the principle of any of them.

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The SNP and a sinister driving out of alternative views of history

A while ago, I went to Elaine C Smith’s one-woman show in Aberdeen where she made pro-independence remarks (I wrote about the experience here). More recently, I watched an updated version of The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil at the Dundee Rep into which other pro-independence remarks had been inserted. Yesterday, I saw the tweet at the head of this post. You’ll see an SNP branch was objecting to the sale of a book entitled The History of Scotland for Children by someone called Fiona Macdonald. You won’t be able to read the words that offended them so here’s a magnified version:

This exchange then followed:

Further tweets followed between both the Abbotsford and SNP Cupar accounts and various people for and against the removal of the book from sale. I won’t bore you with the details but in true social media fashion the content and tone on both sides, well, escalated.

You may be wondering why I started this post with my minor huff over two theatrical entertainments. It’s because the three cases are precisely the same in principle, notwithstanding one was in print, the other two spoken on stage.

If I had taken the same attitude as the SNP’s Cupar branch over the children’s book, I would have been happy to see Elaine C Smith banned from appearing on the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre again, and Dundee Rep remove the words that offended me from the rest of their run of John McGrath’s play. I didn’t, but if I had I would have been conniving in the censorship of opinion.

This is precisely what the SNP, in the guise of its presumably freelancing Cupar branch, have hoped for and apparently achieved – the censorship of a book sold by a tourist attraction. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this sort of thing leads.

I could be charitable. Maybe the SNP Cupar account is operated by a solitary member who tweets without reference to branch/party policy (although how much worse if the branch had formally decided to take a stand on the subject). And maybe whoever operates the Abbotsford account is an enthusiastic Walter Scott/heritage volunteer naïve in how politics is played out on Twitter. Maybe.

In any event, it’s not too late for both sides to withdraw from the awkward situation they’ve got themselves into.

The SNP to say ‘That was not an official view. We don’t agree with what the book says but we have no wish to censor alternative views’.

And for Abbotsford to say ‘We made an error of judgement. The book will be restored to sale immediately’.

In all this, the words objected to are not really the point; it’s not as if they advocate an extreme position on something repulsive like excusing genocide. The book was published in 2004 and presumably represents the author’s view then. And even if some nationalists don’t accept her judgement, the final sentences of what is only one short paragraph in a much longer work are indisputably true:

Some Scots see their parliament as a waste of time and money. Some think it should have even greater powers. Some are satisfied.

Meantime, over on Amazon, I notice that the book attracted its last review in October 2017 (a five-star effort as it happens) … until yesterday, when an amazing 25 people all seem to have bought, read and given it one-star reviews in 24 hours, headlining their contributions variously ‘skewed, subversive, inaccurate, bigoted [?], clueless …’ and much besides.

It’d be amusing if it wasn’t actually quite sinister.

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