Friday, September 28, 2012

Ulster Covenant 100 years on

Today is the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

What I hear most of you say?

Well it was a solemn pledge (the covenant for men or a declaration of support for women) signed by 410,000 protestants in Ulster, the rest of Ireland and further afield objecting to the Home Rule Bill of Herbert Asquith's Liberal  government. The main men behind it were  Sir Edward Carson a former Unionist MP for University of Dublin and Sir James Craig leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The wording of the Covenant was based on the Scottish Covenanters call for freedom of their religion. But called for the men who signed it to defend their cherished position within the United Kingdom by all means necessary. But was a wording of simplicity so that all the people could understand it.

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names. And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

The number who signed it was more than was involved in the Suffragette movement at the same time, but while the signed pledges were not given to anyone, they were seen as a clear mandate for the Unionist Leaders in Ulster to take their case to Asquith. A militia was founded and armed as was a Republican counter militia. Civil war may have spread to Liverpool, Glasgow, London and other centres with large Irish communities.

That threat lead to the first all party talks on the future of Ireland which were held in Buckingham Palace in 1914. After three days no real progress was made but 12 days later Britain declared war on Germany, a war in which each of the militias ended up fighting and losing men.

Of course rather ironically the fight to not have a Parliament in Ireland led to two, one in Dublin and the other in Belfast at Stormont and a splitting of Ulster.  Craig was to serve as the First Prime Minister at Stormont and a statue of Carson stands on the approach to Parliament buildings.

The signature of Rachel and my Great-Grandfather in Donegal

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Andrew Mitchell Incident

It is not often I agree with Boris Johnson, but on this occasion I do so almost wholeheartedly! What concerns me however is that Andrew Mitchell will not disclose what he says and the logbook confirms the account given by the police involved
Unless Andrew Mitchell says what he said, and explains where he was beforehand, difficult and tiring day as it was, then he should resign and David Cameron should apologise as should those Tories who backed him (who have nearly smeared the police in the process). I appreciate in some cases, and I include Tim Montgomerie who I have linked to, they have done it out of misplaced decency and I know what it is like to back someone in the face of public opinion when you take that someone at their word, but the evidence does point strongly against Andrew Mitchell (and I for one know of one witness to the incident) and it is in character and he should therefore resign

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Should The Police Be Armed!

What happened two days ago was utterly disgusting and the work of a psychopath or need not only help, but from what I can see, to be locked away for life! That said these cases are very, very rare and I think the answer is not that the police should be armed, but that there is better communication and due care taken. It seems that Dale Cregan was hiding in an area where family and friends lived and therefore I think, if anything we have learned from this it is that due care must be taken to visiting the area of any reported crime where people may be in hiding and where gangs are known to reside. In those cases being armed and/or having extra backup may be the key

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney and the American Voters

In a Democratic country there is one temptation many politicians will face but must not succumb to and that is to insult your voters!
The temptation comes from frustration in not getting your message across, and/or the frustration of voters disagreeing with you in spite of your best efforts, but even so you must take the approach of humility and review your position and work at promoting your view.
Recently Mitt Romney not only was insulting, he made it very hard to win over nearly half the opposition he has and the opposition who are stuggling and want a change he particularly insulted. He then made it worse by not only not apologising but by saying that his remarks were "not elegantly stated!" Does he mean he would have phrased it differently to voters? Lets not forget he has a record of gaffes! Although he did apologise with this gaffe! He seems to attack Obama without thinking!
We must never take victory for granted but if Romney gets elected to the Oval Office, I will be stunned!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Interview with Tom Harris MP

On Tuesday Sept 11th I interviewed Tom Harris MP, the Shadow Environment Minister and MP for Glasgow South, on the Commons terrace on Scottish Independence. In the background on Westminster bridge, a bagpipe was playing. How ironic that is I don't know! Below is some of the transcript of that interview

 PAUL BURGIN: You recently stood for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party?

TOM HARRIS: You noticed?

PAUL BURGIN: Yes I did I saw you on Newsnight. What made you decide to stand and what issues do you see...

TOM HARRIS: Gosh I haven't revisited this for a while. I was basically in a very depressed state politically, having watched be absolutely hammered in the Holyrood elections last May, and I did feel very strongly that more of the same just isn't going to work and we needed a new approach and I didn't see any other candidates providing that new approach,and I was getting frustrated and I have done in the past at a UK level as well that I do get frustrated at the so-called big beats who find every excuse in the World not to step forward for the good of the Party and that frustration boiled over in a heated moment to say I'd do it myself

PAUL BURGIN: So at the moment what is your view on Scotland? Because as someone asked me on twitter, how much of a degree of self-government are you supporting with Scotland and what are your views on the forthcoming referendum for those who do not know?

TOM HARRIS: Well I support devolution and therefore by definition I oppose independence. There used to be only one anti-devolution party in Scotland and there still is only one anti-devolution party in Scotland, but it used to be only the Tories and now it's the SNP. The SNP oppose devolution because devolution doesn't just mean a degree of self government in Scotland it means a degree of reserved powers at Westminster, that's what devolution means, that's what the Scottish people voted for in '97. The SNP want to bend that '97 devolution settlement, the campaign for a Yes vote, but they actually don't want devolution anymore... I don't necessarily see increased power for a Scottish Parliament as a good thing and decreased powers as a bad thing, neither do I see it the other way round. Increased powers are a change in the balance of powers between Westminster and Scotland, should come as a result of necessity, of practicalities, and just what is appropriate at the time and I don't think it should be done on political ideology. I absolutely reject the notion, initially developed by that famous badger hunter and druid, Ron Davies, that devolution is a process not an event. It is an event. It is an event that might be repeated but it's not a process, if it is a process then that means there has to be an end result in every process and if it's a process then the question is invited "Then what's the end result? What's the final destination?" and for most people the final destination for a continual series of process of devolution would be independence and I think that is dangerous and therefore I don't think that it's a process it's an event and one that is repeated a few times

PAUL BURGIN: The Scottish National Party do seem to.. I mean I remember once Alex Salmond said in an interview how he clarified an independent Scotland and he said there would still be some powers at Westminster, you would still have a British Passport, there doesn't seem to much clarity within the SNP

TOM HARRIS: To be fair to Alex, I don't think he ever said an independent Scotland would be a British Passport, it would have to be a Scottish Passport, but what he's trying to do is he is trying to make independence far less threatening to majority of Scotland. Let's make it absolutely clear, there has never been a majority of Scots in favour of independence. If Scotland wanted to be independent we would have been independent a hundred years ago, we would have been independent anytime during the Twentieth Century! The reason we are not independent is because the Scottish people do not want independence, we are a democracy, we could have voted for a process, we could have voted for parties that had taken down the road to independence beforehand but we didn't and we haven't done that and I see no evidence that that is changing, the support for independence is pretty much where it's at when Alex Salmond first became leader in September 1990. He is trying.. the SNP are aware of that so they are trying to make independence a less threatening prospect, so they will say things like "We will still have The Queen, we will still have the pound. There's a suggestion we still have the British Army!" What they are trying to make it sound now is that the only way of saving the Union is to go for independence. Just ridiculous and it is up to the unionist parties to expose those lies that somehow you can remain British

PAUL BURGIN: How does this look for secessionists in the rest of the UK and Europe with regards to the SNP's stance? I mean if say for example they win in this referendum, which is unlikely from what you have said, but taking that argument  what would it say to secessionists elsewhere?

TOM HARRIS: Well obviously it would give encouragement.. it's up to individual countries and individual nationalist movements to say what's best for them. I'm not going to try and tell them that what's best for Scotland is not necessarily the best solution for anywhere else, I happen to believe that Scotland is better off within the UK, that wouldn't necessarily be the case for other countries they have to make their own minds up on that

PAUL BURGIN: So with regards to the Union and the strength of the Union, how much of this Summer would you say has strengthened it, I mean we have had the Olympics, the Paralympics, Diamond Jubilee, do you think they have been great encouragement and support for the..

TOM HARRIS: I think, almost at a subliminal level, they have helped. They certainly haven't harmed the cause of unionism, but I would caution against assuming that this has been a great boost for the unionist cause. My expectation when the next opinion polls are published that there probably won't be that much of a change and that it'll be 2% in either direction, so, you know, it's been great. I think where the SNP have done themselves a lot of harm, once again not so much that it will affect independent support but I think where they have politically done themselves harm is with the past seven years bitching and moaning about the Olympics and saying "Scots don't want anything to do with the Olympics!" and then when the Olympics actually happen and Scots are clearly just as much behind Team GB as everyone else in the country, then they start, you know, saying to Unionist Parties, "Stop making politics out of the Olympics!" well you know the SNP have for the past seven years and you know people can make their own judgements from that. The Olympics is about much more than domestic politics in Britain

PAUL BURGIN: You mention the Olympics, Andy Murray is resident in England, my understanding from what someone has said, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, he won't be able to vote in a referendum because he resides in England! Is this the case?

TOM HARRIS: Yes that's the case, and actually that's right. You cannot have a referendum on Scottish independence and allow everyone with any Scottish connection and Scottish heritage living anywhere else in the World to have a say, if you really want to have a say in the future of Scotland go and live there!

PAUL BURGIN: What about UK General Elections when you have overseas votes?

TOM HARRIS: Yeah Good point and we still send we still send out.. actually we decided in Glasgow South to stop sending leaflets, we get a list of, you know, overseas voters who are registered in my constituency, we used to send them election literature, I don't bother anymore cos I think, "Well sod you if you don't live in the country then don't bother voting!" so they probably won't vote for me. Yeah I do have a problem with people living outside the country having a vote in  general elections as well! I mean, I just think "If you want a say then go and live in the country where you have a vote. Now having said that, if Andy Murray is on the Electoral Register both in Scotland and in England he will have a vote in Scotland! If you are on the Electoral Register you will have a vote. I'm on the, well I am now longer, I used to be on the Electoral Register in Glasgow and here in London, which is legal so long as you don't vote twice in the same election!

PAUL BURGIN:I know this because when I was, the '97 Election happened when I was at University and I think it's just about the only time in my life where I had a Polling Card for North East Hertfordshire, where Oliver Heald is MP, and for Luton South where Margaret Moran was MP, was about to be MP..

TOM HARRIS: Least said soonest mended

PAUL BURGIN: Exactly, I did vote for Labour in Hertfordshire North East because it was easier for me that day, but I remember the choice

TOM HARRIS: Yes, it's not quite true to say he won't have a vote, I don't know if he is resident in Edinburgh but if he is he will have a vote

PAUL BURGIN: So, again a hypothetical argument, if in this referendum, the SNP are successful,  what would that do to the infrastructure of the country? Like, say, the UK Defence Industry, will there be a move away from Scotland do you think? Will people pull out?

TOM HARRIS: I happen to think that economically it will worse for Scotland if it were independent, I also think if we were independent we would make a go of it! You know, we're not going to.. our economy's not going to collapse, our infrastructure's not going to collapse, our schools are still going to be there, you know, we will have to make some pretty tough decisions but, you know, we will  succeed as a small country, a small independent country if that's what we want! So I don't go along with these, you know, dystopian predictions, cataclysm, if we were independent, I just happen to think that we would be better off if we don't! Not just economically, it's not just about economics, it's about culture as well, and it's also actually it's about taking a stand against nationalism itself which I have never found to be an attractive philosophy, you know, we have a shared history, a shared language, a shared culture with people in the rest of Britain! Glasgow where I represent, has more in common with Manchester and Newcastle than with Edinburgh and Aberdeen! So this idea you can draw a line just north of Carslile and everyone above that line thinks one thing and everyone below that line thinks another is such a palpable nonsense that the SNP have been getting away with peddling that myth for such a long time

PAUL BURGIN: One of the questions that has been used so often, I am almost worried I might bore you with it, but one of the questions that's always asked about devolution, independence, is the West Lothian Question. How.. Do you think the West Lothian Question still defines the Union in a way? Should England have a Parliament? Should we be more of a federal country along the lines of Canada?

TOM HARRIS: Well, I didn't want to pass comment on the nationalist aspirations of small countries elsewhere in Europe, but I am not going to start dictating solutions for England, if English people want and English Parliament they should absolutely have it! No doubt there are opinion polls which will say that 80% of the English want an English Parliament, I suspect if you drilled down those numbers you will see that actually in terms of priorities, you know, potholes in the road probably come above it! But if that's what the English people want then that's absolutely fine, they don't need it I would hasten to add. I mean this idea that, the reason it was right for Scotland to get a Scottish Parliament was because we're living in a country where 90% of the people are English and a very small proportion are Northern Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, so it was always possible for anything, any aspirations of the Scottish people to be outvoted by very large numbers. It's not possible, not remotely possible, for the will of the English people to be overturned by the regions of England, now when people say, look at Top Up fees for example, back in 2004 I think, and that was, oh no foundation hospitals, carried on the back of Northern English MP's allegedly against the wishes of English MPs, look at the voting figures there! You cannot carry something in the Commons against the will of English MP's unless you've got something like 200 MP's, English MP's, voting with you. Once you separate them all into national blocs, England still gets it's way on domestic issues, on everything, they only.. You know the foundation hospitals thing was a case where it was split down the middle, that's when you get odd decisions, but this idea that the case for an English Parliament is the same as was the case for a Scottish Parliament is just nonsense. I wrote a piece on this actually for the campaign website, Campaign for an English Parliament, which remarkably few people were rude about because I was trying to be reasonable, I was trying to explain the arithmetic's, because it is about arithmetic, it's not about nationalism it is about arithmetic! If all of the non English MP's combined together on any issue, will get nowhere unless a 150-200 MP's from England join us, and that should say enough to reassure the English that  they may want an English Parliament but they don't need one!
But also in terms of the West Lothian Question I am reading Alastair Campbell's diaries, the unedited diaries at the moment, it's fascinating when you look behind the scenes, the debate on the Scottish White Paper leading up to the Referendum, because Tony's view in opposition was very much that the answer to the West Lothian Question is that sovereignty lies in this Parliament ultimately, because a devolved parliament therefore, you know this Parliament can overturn anything in the Scottish Parliament anytime it wants! It chooses not to by convention

PAUL BURGIN: Rather like the Queen can interfere far more than she actually does?

TOM HARRIS: Yeah that's right, but sovereignty remains remains with the UK Parliament and that's a controversial thing to say in Scottish politics and I will be lambasted for saying it, but everyone knows it's true, but you're not supposed to say it! But that in fact is the answer to the West Lothian Question, that ultimately, sovereignty is not devolved, policies are, ours are, but sovereignty remains at Westminster and that's why it's perfectly right for Scottish MP's to continue to be fully functioning members of the Commons

PAUL BURGIN: Peter Robinson recently spoke about Scottish Referendum..

TOM HARRIS: And I am sure he was very helpful

PAUL BURGIN: I was going to ask, Northern Ireland First Minister, the nationalism and unionism politics obviously far more contentious in Northern Ireland. Not helpful or helpful?

TOM HARRIS: I don't know what he said?

PAUL BURGIN: He basically was supporting.. he said something along the lines of what you said; (along the lines of) "It's not my business to interfere in another country's views, but I think that it's in our interests that in a referendum that they vote for unionism!"

TOM HARRIS: Yeah is anyone really surprised that the Unionist First Minister of Northern Ireland is saying that the Union should remain?


TOM HARRIS: I mean, I'm quite happy on paper to say that the people of Northern Ireland, if they ever get the chance to be a part of a United Ireland, a part of the United Britain should remain in Britain!

PAUL BURGIN: I mean the reason I asked, I mean obviously not a surprise, but the reason I asked is that Northern Ireland has a far more contentious history and a contentious..

TOM HARRIS: Yeah but that's.. You know there are elements of the Northern Ireland conflict in Scotland, particularly the West of Scotland, but it doesn't actually permeate into our politics so actually I don't think it's unhelpful

PAUL BURGIN: Okay. How do you see the next two years with the Referendum debate going on? What pattern do you see emerging if you do see a pattern?

TOM HARRIS: The pattern will be that we start off from a position where just about everyone in Scotland apart from journalists are bored to the back teeth.. The level of interest that the people are showing in the debate at the moment is going to be much less in a couple of years time. You know it will go back and forward, there will be some bare research, some leaked paper from 1890 showing  that someone in the UK Government didn't like Scots and this will be revealed by the SNP as a great reason why we're not to have a union and, you know, there will be some businessman who is threatening to pull out his business if there is independence and that's what happens and you go back and forth, back and forth. The SNP will wheel out a few more big names and people who are basically living abroad to avoid tax and saying "How wonderful it would be if Scotland were independent but don't expect me to live there!" and it's all just a silly game I just can't wait to get it over with!

PAUL BURGIN: Okay, well thankyou very much, Tom Harris, for your time!

TOM HARRIS: Did I come across as too cynical again?

PAUL BURGIN: (Laughs) I don't think so!

Sir Ranulph Fiennes To Return to Antarctica

On one hand I am pleased about this, but anyone with a passing knowledge of the Antarctic Winter should be deeply concerned. It was the start of the Antarctic winter that did for Captain Scott and the men who went to the South Pole with him, even taking into account the unusually cold weather that March in 1912. The Antarctic Winter involves constant darkness, high winds, low to non-existent visibility and it is extremely cold as it is in the Antarctic Summer. If they run into difficulties a rescue mission will be fraught with danger. It is a dangerous plan and a dangerous journey and yet I pray they succeed and well

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hillsborough: Twenty Three Years On

I rarely say this I know, but yesterday David Cameron was statesmanlike and at just about his finest as Prime Minister as he gave the statement on Hillsborough.
Some of what he stated was shocking and I for one had not heard of some of the details, such as testing for blood alcohol levels during the autopsies on the children and teenagers who were killed! David Cameron was right to offer a full apology on behalf of the government and demand it of others. Equally Kelvin Mackenzie was right to apologise, a pity it wasn't earlier and during the silence, but he has apologised and it is pointless to demand any such thing from him again, because if he is sorry he has made that clear and if he isn't what is the point in asking in the face of what has happened?
There were also calls for Boris Johnson to apologise in the face of the "victimhood" editorial in 2004. He did apologise then and he was right to reiterate that today, it would be decent of Simon Heffer to apologise however as he had a hand in writing that editorial. Failure to apologise at present shows a lack of courage and decency on his part and at the least the opportunity should be presented to him the next time he is on a television programme! Sir Patrick Mercer, the MP at the time who spread the smear, should also have the guts and decency to apologise if possible!
So where should we go from here? Well there should be moves towards prosecutions , a full investigation about how much the Thatcher government knew, and those policemen involved should step forward and help in the forthcoming investigations and, while they can, show what decency, honesty, and courage may yet exist within them!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US Ambassador to Libya Killed!

Not only is this a shocking display of violence and totally uncalled for, but equally while it is good not to cause needless offence we must not let ourselves, as Christopher Hitchens once stated, to be intimidated by the "angry man". Such people thrive on conflict and offence and whilst it is right to be sensitive it is wrong to pander and appease others out of fear

Salma Yaqoob Resigns From Respect

Is it me or do you get the impression that this is a sign of Galloway having heavy supporters and cheerleaders within his Party and that they do not tolerate dissension from their views, criticism of one of the Hard Left's big cheerleaders, or anything that goes in the way of attacking the US! If so, then Respect will lose a lot of, erm, respect from a no of supporters.

Monday, September 10, 2012

President Carter Sets New Record

In the past few days Jimmy Carter beat Herbert Hoover and became the US President with the longest survival after office. That is no mean feat, and what is more he helped define how an ex President should be when his or her days in the Oval Office are over, something Mitt Romney failed to realise when he sneered at Carter's video speech to the DNC this week

Frances O'Grady: First Female Head of the TUC

Many congratulations and hope she does well, especially given the tough times ahead. We will need tough but fair responses from the Unions within the next few years as the austerity measures bite

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

New Team in Northern Ireland

Much needed, especially after the rioting in Belfast recently where the sectarian issues need to be dealt with once and for all, although that will take time. What especially needs dealing with are the issues around the Parades Season and segregation in schools around the province, where my understanding is that over 90% of schools are still segregated between Catholics and Protestants. That is not a good way to help teach tolerance and peace to future generations.

Michelle Obama at Democrat National Convention

Fantastic speech and the First Lady not only mentioned how the post of President can affect it's holders but also how it defines character and what fantastic achievements, such as healthcare, that Obama has managed to achieve for the benefit of the American people in spite of the odds

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Interview with Rachel and Sarah Hagger-Holt

Rachel and Sarah Hagger-Holt caused a minor sensation nearly three years ago when a book of theirs was published called Living It Out. The book was about being a Gay Christian couple and what day to day lives are like for Gay Christian couples. As they put it; "As gay Christians, we heard a lot in the media about Christianity and LGB people. Very little seemed to have anything to do with our own lives, or those of people that we knew who were living out their faith as lesbian, gay or bisexual Christians. We realized that these voices weren’t being heard, and this inspired us to interview more than 50 LGB Christians, families, church leaders and straight friends, and to share their insights, experiences and voices."
The book has been selling well and is still building up in sales and reputation, as Rachel says; "After an initial flurry of sales when the book was first published in 2010 and again after we spoke to a 200-strong audience at Greenbelt festival in 2011, the book has been selling slowly but steadily" They did get good reviews in the church press but "...even better was receiving letters and emails from readers, and requests to come and speak at groups. We have been attending speaking engagements regularly since the book was published. We’ve heard from people who were encouraged to go back to church after reading Living It Out, and others who felt less isolated after hearing that other people shared their experiences." The important thing for Rachel and Sarah is making sure people know the actual experiences and emotions many Gay Christians go through, whether the audience are non Christians or Conservative-minded Christians. More importantly, as they say, it is "...The opportunity to show, through the stories that we share in the book, that not all Christians are anti-gay – and not all gay people are anti-Christian!"
And as with all good books there is the question as to whether they will write another one "We are always coming up with ideas, but none of them has reached fruition yet – we’ll keep you posted…."


That Cabinet Reshuffle

From what I have seen so far it is nothing spectacular. The unpopular remain in their posts bar Lansley who seems to have been moved to be Leader of the House of Commons, and predictably Osborne is still Chancellor and, to the irritation of many, Gove remains at Education. The biggest casualty and change seems to be with Kenneth Clarke who seems to have been moved from Justice to a non portfolio post. Wounded but not killed!
But all so far is speculation, although nothing spectacular from what we have seen so far