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.

MAREE TODD

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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Meretricious nonsense and half-baked propaganda: George Kerevan’s latest on Catalonia

Today in The National newspaper, George Kerevan, ex-journalist and SNP MP, has a long opinion piece on Catalonia and Spain entitled Madrid has carried out a coup – and it directly affects Scotland. It’s far from the first time he’s given his opinion on the subject but his latest effort is so full of meretricious nonsense and half-baked propaganda that it deserves a detailed textual analysis for its lies and half-truths. Do read the whole article but compare and contrast it with some real facts. I put his claims in italics; my comments follow.

Yesterday, the exiled, deposed president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was arrested by German security forces, on a European warrant issued by the neo-Francoist Popular Party government in Madrid. You can say many critical things about the PP. ‘Neo-Francoist’ is not one of them. Franco was a fascist: ‘fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach’ (Oxford online dictionary). That’s not the PP. They’re flawed but they are a democratic political party. They’ve been in and out of power as a result of elections, unlike Franco. This is the old trope of damning by (false) association.

Puigdemont is (literally) charged with “rebellion”, for organising a democratic referendum on Catalan independence last October. He didn’t organise a democratic referendum. He organised an illegal pseudo-referendum by defying the decision of democratic Spain’s constitutional court that the referendum should be suspended.

The only violence that occurred during that referendum was perpetrated by the Spanish Guardia Civil when it attacked polling stations and battoned old ladies to the ground. For ‘attacked polling stations’ read ‘attempted to stop the opening of illegal polling stations’. I’ve acknowledged elsewhere that police violence on the day of the poll was not right. But it was far from the parody of ‘battoning old ladies to the ground’.

… the political regime in Madrid is nowhere near as democratic as it pretends. There is no ‘political regime’ that pretends anything. There’s a diverse elected Spanish parliament with most shades of political and regional opinion represented.

When Franco died in his bed in 1975, the Francoist regime quietly morphed into its current reincarnation. The old order … simply adopted a veneer of democracy behind a resurrected monarchy. This is a bizarre claim. After Franco’s death the wisdom of politicians of nearly all shades ensured a peaceful transition to a modern democracy guaranteed by a written constitution that was approved by a majority of all Spaniards in a 1978 referendum. Through the decisive action of King Juan Carlos, the ‘resurrected monarchy’ (note the unspoken implication of something unpalatable) was instrumental in saving democracy in 1981 when there was an attempted far-right coup.

Anyone threatening the status quo meets repression … . Kerevan makes the claim, he should be willing to justify it. I don’t believe it for one moment.

… That repression included secret death squads recruited and paid for by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior to hunt down Basque separatists hiding in France, during the 1980s. From an unsustainable claim in the present tense, Kerevan glides seamlessly  without any link to a situation a quarter of a century ago. The ‘Basque separatists’ were not democratic politicians. They were ETA terrorists who killed about 120 people in Spain during the 1980s including civilians and children (see list here).

It [’that repression’] includes maintaining more police and paramilitaries per head than any European country west of Putin’s Russia. I’m not sure where Kerevan gets his data. The most recent comparative figures I could find on police numbers (I don’t know what Kerevan means by ‘paramilitaries’ – maybe he doesn’t) were for 2007 from Eurostat. It showed Spain had 4.8 police officers per 1000 population, compared with a not dissimilar 4.2 per 1000 in Italy. Neither level suggests an over-repressive police state. I suspect too that the devolved nature of Spanish democracy bumps the numbers up, with Policia Nacional, Guardia Civil, local police and, in Catalonia, the Mossos.

Catalan demands for independence threaten the existence of the regime. No, it threatens the integrity of Spain, not ‘the existence of the regime’, whatever Kerevan means by that.

On Friday, a politically-appointed Spanish court ordered the mass arrest and trial of most of the senior elected and civic representatives of the Catalan people. I’m not sure what ‘politically-appointed’ court Kerevan means. Thomson Reuters Practical Law web site sets out how the Spanish judiciary is selected and appointed (sections 16 and 17). There is no reference to politically-appointed courts. Incidentally, I assume ‘senior elected and civic representatives of the Catalan people’ means those representatives who promoted the illegal referendum. Many such representatives supported neither the referendum nor independence. And there was no ‘mass arrest’ (note the Stalinist overtones). There were a couple of dozen individual cases, each dealt with by due process of law.

Make no mistake: this is a soft coup by the Popular Party regime in Madrid, and its compliant, so-called “constitutional” court. It’s not a coup and it’s not a ‘so-called’ constitutional court. It is the constitutional court as described in Part IX of the Spanish constitution and it is certainly not a creature of the Popular Party.

It is a coup [sic] that affects Scotland directly. No it doesn’t. It’s nothing to do with Scotland or our devolved parliament. The only interest is the concern of many Scottish nationalists to thwart the execution of an EU warrant taken out by Spain against Clara Ponsati,  a Spanish/Catalan academic at a Scottish university. That issue is solely for UK law.

[That warrant was issued] as part of this weekend’s wave of repression. A few warrants issued under due process of law is not a ‘wave of repression’.

Madrid hopes to decapitate the Catalan independence movement. Sadly, the movement itself is disoriented following the strange decision by Puigdemont to first declare a Catalan republic – which everyone took to mean declaring unilateral independence – then flee into exile. Well ‘strange decision’ (for which in my view read ‘cowardly’) is about the one thing in Kerevan’s piece I can agree with.

The pro-independence parties won the election in late December … . Oh George, I’m losing patience with your nonsense. The Catalan voting system is weighted in favour of rural areas and smaller towns, where the enthusiasm for separation is greater. So although the pro-independence parties won 70 seats, a bare majority of two, they only received 49.09% of the votes. If anything, there is a stalemate in the region, far from the unanimous clamour for separation that Scottish nationalists often assume.

It is important to note how the right-wing Popular Party government in Madrid is applying direct rule … . Left or right wing has nothing to do with it. The decision was of the Spanish parliament. The left-wing PSOE voted for the move too.

Madrid is halting the use of Catalan as the first teaching language in local schools – an example of cultural fascism. I’m not sure ‘halting’ is even strictly correct (advice from readers welcome). Even if it is – ‘cultural fascism’? A good case could be made for the opposing point of view – the cultural fascism of Catalan nationalist political parties who have forced their language down the throats of many native Spanish speakers in Catalonia.

We need to bombard the Scottish Government with appeals to reject the warrant for Clara’s arrest on the grounds it is politically motivated. See reference above to extradition being no concern of the devolved administration of Scotland. Scottish government politicians would be wise to maintain a discreet silence on the whole subject. Alas, wisdom on issues of phoney solidarity is not the norm for them.

Kerevan ends his contentious article with a classic piece of nationalist hyperbole:

Democracy is under siege in Catalonia, as it was in 1936.

If they come for Clara Ponsati today, they will come for the rest of us tomorrow.

The whole article is so deficient in truth and understanding that these crass claims scarcely register after wading through the preceding thousand words.

File under ‘Nonsense: nationalist’.

Search the blog for ‘Kerevan’ to find other nonsense perpetrated by this man.

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They must be mad, literally mad

‘They must be mad, literally mad’ is how I feel about the tweet above, the person who posted it, and all those who’ve liked it. Their souls and brains seem to have migrated to a far place where sane human beings cannot penetrate.

Here’s the story.

Alison Brown (a.k.a. Alison Rollo, who once looked forward to the demise of elderly unionists) posted this objection on Facebook to Walkers, a great Speyside company, marketing their shortbread in Germany in a tin whose lid is in the form of a union flag.

The Herald newspaper picked this up and concocted a lazy story out of it with the headline ‘Complaints over Walkers’ shortbread sold under a Union Flag’. It was lazy because, in the modern impoverished-media style, it did little more than string a number of Facebook comments and tweets together and add a response from Walkers. By the time they did so Ms Brown’s broken heart had been shared over 900 times (presumably approvingly) on Facebook.

Old social media hands will know what happened next: Twitter for one went into overdrive with approval and denunciations of Brown/Walkers in equal measure, much of it in the intemperate tones we’ve all come to expect.

Some time during the day The Scotsman realised they were missing out and tweeted ‘The firm is set to return to the Saltire after admitting a “terrible marketing faux pas”’, this allegedly based on a claim by one of Ms Brown’s friends that he had spoken to Walkers (full quote in the Scotsman article). [The Scotsman tweet was subsequently edited to remove the ‘faux pas’ statement]

This didn’t quite match the brief factual statement issued by the company which they clarified to at least one enquirer by adding ‘All other comments in the media may not be reliable’. In other words the ‘faux pas’ claim was itself faux. But hey, it’s 2018 and who cares about fake news.

The highlight of the day’s madness (remember this is all about a label on a tin of biscuits) came when an online nationalist claimed unionists were obsessed with flags.

As I write, the row has rumbled on overnight. It’s not the first of its kind (remember the great Tunnock’s teacake protest?) nor will it be the last. It seems hardly a day goes by without someone proposing a boycott of some hapless organisation that has had the temerity to display the wrong flag on its packaging, or even fail to display the right flag. Someone discovers their driving licence has a small union flag printed on it, posts a defaced photo of it and a new round of outrage is set off.

It is a kind of madness. If you doubt me, consider these three examples appearing on Twitter yesterday:

  • ‘Rob’ a.k.a. @Ruffheaded who tweeted of Walkers ‘500 of the lowest paid workers in Scotland’. I challenged what I’m sure is a defamatory statement, but of course he remained silent
  •  @PaulSnowdon5 who referred to ‘Mr Walker’s … Uncle Tam Yoon bias’. I doubt if Paul even knows there are several male Walkers involved in what is a long-standing family business, let alone which one he’s defaming (I’ve never seen any political statements attributed to any of them). Mind you, I hardly dare mention they hold a Royal Warrant as suppliers of oatcakes and shortbread to the Queen in case it sets off another round of scurrilous abuse
  • And in a special kind of crazy but clever corner, Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter, who tweeted ‘I do feel sorry for shortbread makers. Mind the old days when shortbread was quite a fancy alternative to bourbons, custard creams & the like. Who eats them now? …’ Note how she manages to put down the likes of Walkers without mentioning them by name. As for comparing shortbread to custard creams, as a friend of mine says ‘Nae appreciation and even less understanding’.

Ms Brown’s Facebook message sets the tone for the brighter (the word is relative) members of the online mob who have piled in to support her – their concern, they say, is ‘hard won Scottish branding’ or ‘Scotland the brand’. They confuse national identity (which is really what they’re concerned about) with commercial success. The two things can overlap. But if you want a successful economy, let successful companies decide how to brand their products and services. Do they imagine that Walkers haven’t done their market research in Germany to establish that there’s a niche for shortbread that is branded with union flag alongside the vast majority of their products that shout Scottish at you?

The proponents of ‘Scotland the brand’ might do better pondering why ‘Schotten preise’ (Scottish prices) is a synonym in Germany for cheap, discounted goods, often promoted alongside associated  images, as on the Geizkragen website:

‘Geizkragen’ is German for miser in case you didn’t know.

Ex-SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson criticised this caricature of the mean Scot in 2009 but it clearly persists (this image was snipped from the web today).

If the broken-hearted nationalists so protective of Scotland the brand were really concerned, they’d mount a sustained campaign against what a whole nation seems to think of Scotland. But since it wouldn’t involve a tin of biscuits and a flag I guess they’re not interested.

Footnote: Oxford English Dictionary – ‘Madness … a state of wild or chaotic activity’.

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Visiting Auschwitz in 1970

I only noticed this nearly week-old tweet today. It comes from a self-proclaimed Scottish nationalist who lives in Dublin. I first became aware of him last September when he claimed that his ‘Uncle Rab’ had fought the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Some nifty footwork by a couple of anonymous tweeters revealed the truth – the photo of his ‘uncle’ was actually a stolen image of an SAS soldier in the second world war.

His claim – and its demolition – may have been a matter of light relief in a world awash with fake news. But in a few short months he has tipped from risible nonsense to dangerous lies.

Not long ago he posted a lengthy article on his blog asserting that the Highland clearances, certainly vicious enough, were ‘genocide’. Now he has tweeted the odious and unqualified statement at the head of this article.

On the question of the Highland clearances, the Bella Caledonia website – and all praise to it – has published a detailed refutation of Jeggit’s fallacious claims of genocide, citing at length two academic historians who, if my memory is correct, both declared for independence in 2014. As the editor of Bella says ‘Facts matter. History matters’.

Unless you’re a Holocaust denier, I don’t see that Jeggit’s latest tweet requires any refutation. What happened is a self-evident truth.

What do you do with people like Jeggit?

Bella Caledonia, for all I disagree with the independence it wants to achieve, has one answer – a detailed factual setting out of the truth.

The other response is that beyond arguing against a particularly obnoxious point of view, people like this should not be touched with a barge pole. I’m not a fan of boycotts but even neutral contact with the Jeggits of this world contaminates anyone – and the ripples spread outwards.

Jeggit himself has nearly 3,700 followers on Twitter. iScot magazine, for which he writes a column, has 11,300 followers although I suspect its circulation and subscriber base are smaller. Paul Kavanagh, the ‘Wee ginger dug’, who recently allowed himself to be interviewed approvingly by Jeggit, has 14,500 followers and writes regularly for a national newspaper. If you follow Jeggit, commission him or cosy up to him, you support and encourage him and his views, knowingly or unknowingly. You have the means to cease interacting with him and I hope you will.

Of course, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Not long after I joined Twitter I liked a tweet about something or other that was fairly innocuous. A helpful individual messaged me to say ‘Careful, he’s a holocaust denier’. I blocked him and I could produce a list of people I’ve unfollowed or muted for lesser nastiness, more than a few of them supporters of the union. Do it, whether the offender is friend or foe.

As for the title of this post, it refers to the article below I published three years ago on another mothballed blog I used to write. If you reach the last sentence, you’ll see that I conclude with virtually the same sentiment as Bella Caledonia. I doubt if that’ll happen again. I can’t say ‘enjoy’ but know that what I wrote about visiting that dreadful place comes from the heart.

Thanks for reading.

——————————————-

27 January 2015 – Holocaust Memorial Day.

In Krakow I met a student from the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

‘You should go there,’ he said. ‘You know, work parties from the GDR helped to restore it. We had a crazy professor who took us to do that. At the end when the Poles gave a dinner to thank us he said how lucky they were to have this wonderful anti-fascist memorial.’

I had already decided to go.

By the standards of its day, the train from Krakow was modern, electrified and busy. I changed at a suburban station before Katowice. There was a silence, broken only by the wheeze of a small steam locomotive at a far platform, the branch line for Oświęcim. There were two, maybe three, wooden carriages, old enough to have separate compartments. I was alone in mine. A whistle blew and the engine groaned into action to the hiss of steam and sulphuric reek of coal smoke. The carriage creaked as it rocked gently sideways, the rails below sounding a slow clickety-click, clickety-click. A flat featureless plain passed slowly outside.

Oświęcim was the end of the line. No more than four or five locals got off the train, slamming carriage doors behind them. A small town with a modern concrete station, larger than such a sleepy place needed, anticipating visitors who were not here today. In the forecourt, an arrow helpfully directed me in Polish and German to ‘Oświęcim/Auschwitz.’

Even in 1970, photographs had made me familiar with the main entrance gate, the curved ironwork overhead spelling out the famous lie, ‘Arbeit macht frei.’ Rows of two-storey red brick barrack blocks receded beyond the gate, administrative buildings for an industrial operation – the efficient murder of millions of people.

Beyond them again lay the foundations of demolished huts, the cramped quarters of prisoners kept alive, at least for a time, until they could work no longer in adjoining factories.

And further over, the long railway sidings where other trains had arrived, victims offloaded from cattle trucks from all over Nazi-occupied Europe once the mass murder started. Some siphoned off for slave labour, some for the gas chambers.

Back in the barracks, whole floors had been arranged to show the brute scale of the operation. A room with a mountain of suitcases. Another with a hill of shoes. A tumbling glacier of spectacles. Prosthetic limbs piled high. On the long walls, thousands of photos of prisoners in rows, each with a simple black frame enclosing a blank-eyed man woman or child in striped uniform staring at the camera, a name and prisoner number underneath. Occasionally, maybe no more than every thousand photos, a small posy of dried flowers, a ribbon or note pushed between frame and wall. In a separate building a crematorium, steel ovens side by side as if in some hellish bakery, doors left open, each with a metal stretcher visible inside. No personal mementos here but large bouquets and wreaths of flowers and shiny green leaves, a brightly-coloured commemorative sash around each proclaiming which delegation, which fraternal group of socialist visitors, had left their temporary mark.

The whole place was silent. If there were other visitors I failed to see them in my introspection.

At the entrance there was a small shop, a limited range of books, most in Polish, some translated into other languages. I bought a small paperback – FROM THE HISTORY OF KL – AUSCHWITZ Vol. 1, published in Poland in 1967. For years I scarcely looked at it, eventually lending it to my daughters when they studied the history of Nazi Germany and themselves visited Auschwitz with their school. The book is in front of me now. Its flimsy pages and cramped text suggest meticulous research. It sets Auschwitz in the context of what it calls ‘Hitler’s programme of the extermination of the Nations.’ It lists ‘Poles, Russians, Czechs, Frenchmen,’ and many others. It details how Soviet army prisoners held in the camp were treated. ‘Prisoners in Auschwitz,’ it says, ‘belonged to various race groups … arrested regardless of religious denomination.’ It mentions Jewish prisoners briefly but not the peculiar cruelty that attended the attempts of the Nazis to exterminate the Jews. It is as if there were no holocaust. It is a small reminder of how history can be written to tell lies and of the importance of remembering the truth.

 

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Adventures in cyberspace. In which I venture into the dug’s den …

Two days ago, a well-known separatist who styles himself as a ‘wee ginger dug’ wrote an article on his blog entitled ‘Why the indy movement needs to crowdfund.’

It was a curiously defensive piece that can be summarised as ‘Pro-independence voices on social media need to solicit funds because they are just ordinary grassroots folk whereas unionist voices have got “loadsamoney”.’

If you suspect my prècis is a parody too far, this is the point at which I grit my teeth and in the spirit of openness that characterises cyberspace, provide you with a link to the article concerned. If you venture through to look at it (don’t feel you have to), you’ll also find the claim, on the basis of what one individual wrote in an independence-supporting magazine, that an anonymous group approached a number of people in 2014 to write pro-union blogs for cash.

The dug’s hackles had been raised by two tweets earlier that day:

The person sending those tweets is a nationalist but her comments seem reasonable to me, and since she cites me in evidence, I feel justified in reproducing her thoughts here. She’s correct about me, by the way. You’ll see no ‘Donate’ button (as is self-evident) and no shady backer – or anyone – has ever offered me money to write this blog, which I do in my own time. It was born of frustration during the 2014 referendum campaign and it continues because those who promised a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity lied, and continue to lie, about separation.

Anyhow, I don’t expect you want to know all this. The point, and it’s obvious, is that I didn’t agree with the dug’s conclusions so I ventured a lengthy comment on his blog:

Reasonable? I hope so. And in fairness to the dug he published it.

Meantime, his article was gathering a lot of comment, some of it from nationalists also concerned about aspects of fundraising. One thanked me for my comments (‘Nice to hear an opposing view’), I assume not ironically. One doughty individual had a go for a while at reinforcing my comments but, like me, was received frostily. The discussion veered off, as these things tend to, into scarcely-related territory and what passes for banter.

However, someone along the way challenged me on a few words I’d used in my comment:

“the bad and plain ugly categories”. Really, Mr White, really?

and it seemed reasonable to answer the question, which I sought to do with the following comment:

I expect the last thing WGD wants is for me to publicise my blog here but there’s really no other way to respond to a couple of comments already made, especially about my use of the words ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ (I also used ‘good’ – geddit?). I wrote two posts on the subject, linked at the end of this comment and if it doesn’t offend your sense of propriety, I’d urge you to glance at both. The first deals with some general points, the second with some examples. If you get to the second, you will see I start with what I regard as an example of good practice, Common Weal. As for an example of something that seemed distinctly dodgy at the time, you’ll have to read to the end, where you’ll see Messrs. Clegg (David) and Macwhirter seem to agree with me.   Part 1  Part 2

The comment didn’t appear although a number of other people’s contributions popped up. What the dug may not know is that I use the same blogging software as him, so I could see that it was ‘Waiting in moderation’, the jargon WordPress use for comments a blogger has yet to approve. After about twelve hours it disappeared, never to be seen on the dug blog. Luckily I saved a draft.

A further brief contribution was also zapped. In response to my original comments, the dug had replied ‘I didn’t see the original tweet as I no longer engage with twitter.’ I had tried to chide him about his claim since his Twitter account is still there, although he’s blocked me from viewing it. A sneak peek revealed he’s tweeted several times already in February.

Meantime, and irritatingly, another commentator has challenged me on the dug’s blog. Thanks ‘Ian’ but I won’t be able to respond since the mutt doesn’t seem to want me around.

You see, the dug bottled it. He let a yoon in, presumably in the hope of some canine-inspired sport, but wouldn’t let the yoon defend himself when he was asked a direct question. I can only assume that like many pets who are made hygienic for modern living, the dug has had his op and is no longer in possession of his cojones.

Oh well, I tried.

PS – more important than any of this is the dodgy behaviour of some online separatists around fundraising (see links above to previous posts on this blog). To purloin a phrase used by the dug I’m ‘not pointing any fingers at any individuals’ but I wonder how many donations he gets on his blog and how he accounts for that money.

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