Stay Safe (2)

The rolling Mandelification of Martin McGuiness, a man directly responsible for at least 200 murders, came to a juddering halt with the attack at Westminster on Wednesday by Khalid Masood. In my day it was bombs and bullets, now it's a kitchen knife and bad driving. There isn't much to cling to in the 'it could have been worse,' department when we have dead and wounded in double figures but actually, it could have been. The weather in London was pretty damp on Wednesday and the bridge could have been very much more crowded with tourists as is usually the case. That the terrorist attacked the most heavily armed part of London is also a bonus. I don't need to articulate the alternatives.

The attack came as a surprise to no one. Well, no one except the BBC who fail to understand that while the deaths are a tragedy for those concerned, in the minds of the perpetrators the BBC's blanket coverage completely justifies their actions. An absence of detached proportionality is unhelpful in the defence of the public and the sight and sound of multiple reporters maximising their air-time and seemingly vying for reporter-of-the-year award has been somewhat distasteful. I suppose that is what we get with the monster that is 24 hour news.

Then, the well-practised government machine rumbled into view and I was reassured to see the Acting Deputy Commissioner on the steps of New Scotland Yard telling us that there is no cause for alarm. In doing so he was echoing the words of the old head of the Anti Terrorist Squad, Commander Churchill-Coleman who always used to say, 'there is no cause for alarm,’ usually as he was standing in front of half a London postcode that had recently been removed from the map by a PIRA bomb. As is normal routine, this was followed by the Prime Minister giving us her ‘we will not allow our way of life to be changed by the terrorists.’ That is what Prime Ministers do. Then, the Mayor of London told us that Londoners will carry on as usual. Let me tell you son, Londoners don’t have a choice. 

Police Officer and fellow ex Gunner Keith Palmer; murdered.

Police Officer and fellow ex Gunner Keith Palmer; murdered.

The truth is, the people offering us the free advice to not be alarmed and not to worry will very much have their own lives changed with elevated personal security. Another truth is that there are some very bad people out there who, given the opportunity, will happily ruin your day with the maximum violence on the maximum number of people they can bring to bear. The threat manifests itself in many different ways. Earlier in the week the Met warned financial institutions that following  the delivery of two explosive packages to European financial institutions another intended for a British financial institution was intercepted. The mantra from the Met is ‘be alert, not alarmed.’ This brings us to the subject which I have covered many times before of ‘situational awareness.’ Here is a reminder with a piece I wrote in April last year after the Brussels airport incident,

It is an unfortunate fact that a terrorist attack in the UK is inevitable. While our security and intelligence services do good work in keeping us safe, as the Provisionals used say, 'we only have to be lucky once.' 

The attack may come in various shapes and forms from a random and impulsive ‘lone wolf’ attack to organised and coordinated attacks on multiple targets. Moreover, the threat is constantly evolving. We can expect constant improvisation and innovation from the terrorist in both method and design. Technical advances, miniaturisation and advances in chemical engineering among others will all eventually be reflected in the terrorists arsenal. 

While the probability of being caught up in any of these incidents is remote, advice for innocents caught up in incidents, and the ensuing melee’, is sparse. Jihadists present a fractured and complex threat across the European mainland, holiday destinations and within the UK. They are committed, in many cases well trained and as evidenced in the Brussels attack, they have a good bomb-maker. The tradecraft of the Brussels attackers though was sloppy and unrefined reflecting the fact that the terror threat doesn’t come in a neat, one profile package. Here then are my thoughts on different scenarios

COL. JEFF COOPER WAS A LEGEND IN THE US SHOOTING AND SELF-DEFENCE WORLD. IN ADDITION TO BEING INSTRUMENTAL IN REFININGAND POPULARISING MANY MODERN PISTOL AND SELF-DEFENCE TECHNIQUES HE BELIEVED, IMPORTANTLY, THAT THE MIND WAS THE BEST SURVIVAL TOOL.

COL. JEFF COOPER WAS A LEGEND IN THE US SHOOTING AND SELF-DEFENCE WORLD. IN ADDITION TO BEING INSTRUMENTAL IN REFININGAND POPULARISING MANY MODERN PISTOL AND SELF-DEFENCE TECHNIQUES HE BELIEVED, IMPORTANTLY, THAT THE MIND WAS THE BEST SURVIVAL TOOL.

Bang!

For individuals caught up in an incident the reason why will matter least. The instinct of survival should have primacy but that is often not the case. Most citizens take a ‘well, if it’s got my name on it…’ fatalistic approach to the prospect of a bad thing happening. They feel events are anyway beyond their control and there is little one person can do. Moreover, in the aftermath of an incident, especially one involving an IED, people are disorientated and shocked leaving many unable to grasp what has happened, far less grip their own vulnerability and seek a route to hiding or safety. This is true of trained individuals and ordinary folk. Bombs are violent, bloody and indiscriminate instruments of war. They create fear through destruction and after the short silence, mayhem ensues. There are however, steps that the ordinary decent public can take to mitigate some of the risk. In the first instance, much depends on luck. There isn’t much anyone can do if you are standing a few metres away from the seat of an explosion but let’s take things one step at a time and look at how we can employ our own situational awareness to increase our chance of survival before, during and after an incident.

Don’t Be A Victim

Taking the fatalistic approach to life may seem to fulfil what is expected of ourselves as Britons displaying a 'business as usual,' phlegmatic approach to life. Indeed, various governments play the same record after every incident, ’This will not change our way of life.’ Well, mine changed as soon as the Provisionals started bombing the Mainland back in the Seventies.. Having the right mindset is critical. Denial, ignorance and complacency are no defence against nail packed semtex packages. Acceptance of the threat is the first step in not becoming a victim. Don't live in a bubble.

Most people exercise situation awareness whether they recognise it as a valuable tool or not. Walking down a dark street at night for example will inevitably create a state of heightened sensory awareness of everything around. While we can’t replicate that same heightened state of awareness throughout the day, (it would simply be exhausting), there is a reasonable medium whereby you are alert to your surroundings. US law enforcement frequently use a system called Coopers colours to describe the five common levels of situational awareness. For ‘awareness,’ read ‘alertness.’

In condition White you are relaxed, tuned out and unaware of events around you. Unaware equals unprepared. The kind of constant vegetative state that many urban dwellers seek refuge in; hood up, plugged in to music, eyes down. People who are 100% dependent on luck for survival; people happy to become statistics, in an ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that this is happening to me,’ way.

In condition Yellow you are relaxed but aware of what is around you. You are paying attention to activities and sounds around you. You will be in a state where you will not be completely surprised and will be taking normal precautions. You may be running ‘what if,’ scenarios in your mind and have pre planned exits in mind. (This is a dynamic process. For example, when driving down a suburban residential street you probably already say to yourself, ‘the car in front may turn right,’ or 'that child ahead may run into the road,’ and be prepared to brake. That is typical of condition Yellow action). This is the minimum mindset everyone should adopt, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings, in crowds or when with people not known to you.

In condition Orange you are more focused and may have identified a potential threat. Someone following you, for example an unruly bunch of NEDS approaching or something more sinister. If a bad thing happens in condition Orange you should be expecting it and not be surprised. You will have a definite plan of action and escape routes in mind. The driving analogy here might be driving in icy or foggy conditions when you are totally focused and ignore any distractions outside keeping the car safely on the road.

In condition Red the threat identified in Orange becomes real and triggers action, be it flight, fight or hide.

There are some points to note about these different levels of situational awareness. The first is that people cannot operate in a heightened state of alertness for prolonged periods. It is tiring and induces stress which is unhealthy. People should simply practice being in a constant state of relaxed awareness and be prepared to elevate that alertness for brief periods as required. Adopting a minimum level of awareness will anyway, lead to the avoidance of many situations that could otherwise escalate. This process is simply introducing some rigour into what will come naturally to most people anyway but usually in situations they are already familiar with such as driving, watching young toddlers play, using an ATM and even Christmas shopping. You can practice your situational awareness skills easily and at will. Examples include checking exits whenever you walk into buildings, always leaving a gap between you and the car in front when in waiting traffic, watching vehicles in your rear view mirror to see if any are taking the same turns and start people watching. Look at people and work out where they might be from, their education, distinguishing marks, what kind of mood they are in, what their life story is. Observation can be practiced and honed until it becomes intuitive. The British excel at this game. Note our obsession with shoes from which we can derive a massive amount of instinctive background information. This process of seeing, and interpreting, rather than just looking soon embeds itself into the subconscious and becomes part of one’s natural state.

Understand Your Environment

Clearly, you are more vulnerable to attack either individually or as part of a crowd in some environments than in others. Travel to many countries necessitates a heightened state of awareness as indeed a visit to a major attraction in London does when compared to a visit to a village flower show. On a micro level however alertness can often prevent a bad thing happening or increase the observer’s probability of survival if it does. Criminals and terrorists have a significant advantage because they have surprise. That advantage is magnified if the victims freeze rather than react. The bad people though will often plan and reconnoiter their attack. Suspicious activity makes the terrorist vulnerable and they are not very good at camouflaging their behaviour when either marking potential targets or in the run up to an attack. They will be edgy and their adrenaline will be pumping. This is why some take drugs before an attack to dampen the natural response of their bodies to stress. Many adopt an intense stare before an attack. Wearing unseasonal clothing, suspicious bulges under the clothes, unnatural perspiration, avoiding eye contact, mumbling and fidgeting, using hand signals with other perhaps unsighted individuals are all give away signs. A citizen identifying out of character suspicious behaviour will tend not to want to make a fuss. Make a fuss. Better to suffer the embarrassment of a false alarm than to be a quadriplegic for life

As a young soldier I recall attending a lecture and demonstration of let’s call them ‘sneaky IED’s.’ These would be devices hidden in lamp posts, telephone boxes, gate posts, window boxes and so on. I asked the instructor, who had entertained us with some very impressive bangs, how we might know if one lamp post out of the hundreds we walked past on patrol in Belfast every day might have an IED inside it. He said, ‘the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up.’ What did he mean? Every day, in going about your normal business, your mind processes everything it sees and hears. It might be in the home, the journey to work, in the workplace or place of leisure, your brain is expecting every detail and matches it to what has gone before. It isn’t something that you consciously think about but sometimes, there might be something out of place. A person, an object or things happening in the wrong sequence and while it may not trigger a conscious thought or response you get, ‘a feeling.’ That ‘something isn’t quite right,’ feeling is the ‘hairs on the back of your neck rising.’ Don’t ever, ever ignore it. It may be something unthreatening, something completely trivial and innocent but something has changed and your mind is warning you that something is different.

Depending on the study, brain scientists tell us that our conscious mind processes 40-126 chunks of information per second. Our unconscious mind, on the other hand, is processing upwards of 12 million chunks of information per second. If you’re consciously trying to continually evaluate your environment for threats in addition to actually engaging in conversation with other people, the conscious mind just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do both well and it puts a considerable amount of stress on the mind.

But, if you give the mind the tools it needs to unconsciously identify and rank dangers and threats it can work in the background while your conscious mind is fully engaged with people around you.

AN INFORMATION FILM, MADE BY THE POLICE, WHICH IS FULL OF GOOD ADVICE AND EXPOUSES THE BRITISH APPROACH OF 'RUN, HIDE, TELL.'

Action!

If a bad thing happens and you are caught up in a terrorist attack the first and obvious thing to do is dart to the nearest cover and quickly ascertain where the threat lies. You must determine where the terrorist or terrorists are less you run blindly into the danger, or killing zone. Gunfire in built up areas for example is notorious for being difficult to pinpoint because of the echoing around buildings. 

Shooter

If the attack is a live shooter or shooters do not panic or give up. You have a good chance of escape to safety if you keep your head. Knowledge dispels fear. Here is the knowledge. 

In most cases active shooters are not well trained and as explained earlier, will be 'pumped up,' with adrenaline flowing and very possibly, under some kind of intoxication. Most casualties are shot at close range. Our aim is obviously to increase that range. Using the acronym MDACC which represents, Motion, Distance, Angle, Cover & Concealment we have all we need to exponentially increase our survival rate. Forget everything you have seen in movies. It is very difficult to hit a moving target, even for trained soldiers and law enforcement professionals. The average target presented to soldiers in Northern Ireland was a moving target with a 3 second exposure. Very few such targets were hit. 

Most tactical shootings happen at distances of less than seven meters. Few people can consistently hit a stationary target beyond 25 meters with a handgun, much less a moving target. Most people can put 25 meters between themselves and an attacker in just a few seconds, so motion and distance improve a target's chances of escape. Think and move. If in doubt, seek sanctuary, secure it and protect yourself as best you are able. Then, prepare to fight.

CONVERSATION ON ACTIVE SHOOTER SCENARIO FROM STRATFOR.

The angle at which a target runs away is also important because shooting a target that is moving straight away is easier than shooting a target running away at an angle, since the second scenario would require the shooter to swing the barrel of the weapon and lead the target, a difficult task even for an experienced marksman. Both require practice, even with a rifle or shotgun. If the target can run at an angle behind objects like trees, cars, office furniture or walls that obstruct the shooter's view of the target (concealment) or stop bullets (cover), that is even more effective. Think and run.

It is important to distinguish between concealment and cover. Items that provide concealment, such as a bush or tree leaves, can hide a target from the shooter's line of vision but will not protect them from bullets the way a substantial tree trunk will. Likewise, in an office setting, a typical drywall-construction interior wall can provide concealment but not cover, meaning a shooter will still be able to fire through the walls and door. Similarly, a car door or the boot doesn't afford the same protection as does the bonnet with the engine block inside. Still, if the shooter cannot see his or her target, they will be firing blindly rather than aiming their weapon, reducing the probability of hitting a target.

In any case, those hiding inside a room should attempt to find some sort of additional cover, such as a filing cabinet or heavy desk. It is always better to find cover than concealment, but even partial cover,  something that will only deflect or fragment the projectiles, is preferable to no cover at all.

Bomb

Let's not mince our words here; bombs are a bastard. When a device is detonated all hell breaks loose. If you are in line of sight of the device then you are at risk from the shockwave, fragments and debris. Distance is the best defence. The blast from even a small device will be magnified inside a building. There will be a shockwave which will damage everything in its path, (including your internal organs), fire, heat, noise and steel and glass fragments travelling at high velocity. If you are some distance from the explosion and are not medically trained leave the area immediately helping the infirm or children as you are able. Do not loiter to take photographs, make telephone calls or seek comfort from strangers. Avoid obvious meeting points such as squares and precincts and avoid crowds. There may be secondary devices planted at such locations. 

If you are closer to the blast, and survive, switch on. It is easier said than done given you may suddenly be deaf and shaken beyond any previous experience. Live shooters may be on the loose. Seek cover if you are able and remember, you are at risk from falling shards of glass from buildings for a long time after the explosion. 

AMERICAN PUBLIC INFORMATION FILM ON RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. THERE ARE MANY SUCH VIDEO'S AVAILABLE, MOSTLY FROM THE US. HERE IS ANOTHER, THIS TIME FROM LA WHERE I GUESS THEY HAVE HAD PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE IN THIS FIELD.

Wounded

If you are wounded it's not game over. The body will not give up and cease functioning but the mind is likely to. Escape out of the line of fire is doable if you want it to be. As with every survival situation, the will to survive is everything. Most people do freeze and go into shock which allows the shooter the opportunity to let loose with a close range killer shot. When shot apply an improvised pressure bandage using anything to hand to both the entry and exit wound if there is one which won't always be in line with the entry wound. If you are shot and get to a hospital alive you will probably live, such is the excellence of trauma care these days.

Fight

Advice from British law enforcement backs off from fighting the terrorist. Not so in America, as we might expect, where they promulgate the Run, Hide, Fight approach. I favour this. Be under no illusion, if you are cornered and your life is in danger, as a last resort only sudden maximum violence on or at your attacker using any improvised weapons to hand will keep you alive. 

RUN and escape, if possible.

  • If safe to do so, use an accessible path.
  • Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Keep your hands visible.

HIDE, if escape is not possible.

  • If you are in an office, stay there and lock or barricade the door.
  • If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door.
  • Close, cover, and move away from windows.
  • Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
  • Remain quiet with all sources of noise silenced.

FIGHT as an absolute last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger. DO NOT seek out the shooter. 

  • Attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.
  • Act as aggressively as possible against him/her.
  • Be prepared to cause severe or lethal injury to the shooter.
  • Throw items and improvise weapons.
  • Yell.
  • Commit to your actions.

Law Enforcement

Don't expect too much from law enforcement officers arriving on the scene. If caught up in the initial incident they themselves will have adrenaline pumping and may also be shocked. Be wary of first response directions issued under pressure by disorientated officers which may also send you into harms way. When armed officers arrive do exactly what they say. Make no sudden movements and do not approach them in haste or you might get an unwelcome response. They will be extremely keyed up. Mistakes can happen. Avoid shouting, gesturing and pointing and keep your hands where they can be seen. You may be roughly treated by first responding officers. Their priority is to neutralise the threat. They may push you down for your own safety or may treat you as a suspect until otherwise proven. Suck it up and do as you are told. Also, paramedics and doctors arriving will seek out the badly injured first. If they don't come to you think of it as good news. Wait your turn if wounded and rely on self help. They will get to you. After reaching a place of safety identify yourself to the police as a witness. If waiting try to recall the sequence of events and take notes in as much detail as you can remember where possible.

Urban Zombies

There is a modern trend which seems to be almost hard coded in the mind of the urban dweller to reach for a smart phone and either start recording any incident that takes place in his or her vicinity or to telephone a loved one. As an immediate action following an incident both are stupid and both are selfish. 

Taking photographs or footage of injured people, rather than helping them, is callous. It is also dangerous. Current popular tradecraft among Jihadists points to them detonating an IED then switching to a 'live shooter,' attack to kill the confused and disorientated civilians around them, or, they open fire then detonate. Indeed, shots were heard before the Brussels airport devices detonated and what was left of an AK 47 later recovered. 

Survival for those in the midst of the mayhem is absolutely dependant on their will to survive and their ability to quickly gather their wits to a heightened state of situational awareness and take action. Taking pictures or telling your Mum you're OK is all a bit pointless if you are about to take a couple of 7.62mm rounds to the chest. 

For the injured and dying words fail me of how they must feel when fellow travellers start snapping away. If I end up lying on the pavement in Piccadilly with my legs in bits all over Regent Street I'll be more than a little animated if I found myself full frame on someone's iPhone 6s. Perhaps we need a Good Samaritan or Duty to Act law which enshrine a duty of action and legal protection in doing so in law. Unfortunately, in these extreme situations such Act's would not be reasonable given many of the people reaching for their iPhones are doing so while in a state of shock and are themselves reaching out for comfort and security by the only means known to them. iPhones don't stop bullets though. 

Simple actions that could immediately be taken by the Home Office would be to prevent individuals generating money from opportunistic photographs and to heavily fine news agencies that solicit, (often while events are in progress) and pay for such pictures and footage. Perhaps too it is time for the return of the Public Information Film instructing citizens of 'actions to take in the event of a terrorist incident.' The Government does a good job in calming a sense of elevated fear and keeping 'business as usual,' but the hard fact is that it is only a matter of time before the terrorist strikes again on home soil.

Most of all, those Urban Zombies who wander around town with white ears buds stuck in their ears oblivious to all around them and reach for their smart phone when a bad thing happens are likely to discover that its a fast track route to being a dead Urban Zombie.

Summary

No one except the terrorist wants us to swap a normal way of life for paranoia and fear. That however, does not preclude accepting and understanding that risk exists and some simple steps to elevate our personal situational awareness can help mitigate that risk. Adopting the right mindset which is appropriate to your environment and being ready and able to elevate your preparedness and then react vigorously if a situation develops will all contribute to enhanced survivability. Finally, bloody minded determination and aggression will see you through the darkness should you be embroiled in an incident. Do not ever, give up. That's the point when the bastards have won. 

Finally, if it is all too dramatic for you and you had rather not bother my departing advice is move to Glasgow. They've got it taped up there (starts 1:13).
 

What Are We Going To Do About George?

George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to a packed House of Commons

George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to a packed House of Commons

The news wires are burning with reports that the Chancellor, George Osborne, has gone completely doolally. In delivering an Autumn Statement that eviscerated house buyers with aspirations of acquiring property worth more than £935,000 he fired a financial exocet directly into the centre of his parties core constituency. The opposition can't believe their luck as they leave the chamber sniggering to each other.

The rate for property at say the £1.5m price point gives the buyer the unwelcome prospect of coughing up £93,750 big ones; that's as near as damn it £190,000 (actually higher), of pre tax income or a 6.25% blended rate of stamp which is scaled through the above levels. Things get interesting further up the ladder with a £3m property attracting a 9.125% blended rate. 



The £2m+ property market ground to a halt months ago because of political uncertainty. Most people though obviously couldn't care less. Apart from that is, those who rely on such transactions to fuel their own removal, decorating, building, plumbing and so on businesses. The point is, as I never tire of saying, these idiots at the Treasury simply cannot or will not focus on freeing up the economy. This is but one example. The overall tax take will anyway, fall.

I'm sure too that distortions will quickly develop in the market which at the higher price points will simply freeze up and that will have a trickle down effect with some properties becoming overvalued while others find a lower point of equilibrium. You'll probably also see a rush of planning applications to split up houses into two or more flats. 

The net beneficiary of this will again be UKIP who I'm quite sure will benefit from additional donations from frustrated property sellers and their votes....... along with those coming from citizens with laughable broadband, bins that are emptied but once a fortnight, commuters who now cough up 5-7 grand annually to get to work, redundant soldiers, (they haven't cut government departments or the civil service by 23% have they?), and so on.

So Tories, keep up the entertainment for your Labour colleagues. Build expensive railways to nowhere through your core voters homes, then start fracking under them and now over-tax them. It's so original, why hasn't it been done before? Even the old class warrior Gordon couldn't have dreamt this lot up.

On reflection, Treasury Officials agreed they might have chosen the Stamp Duty Rise Focus group with more care

Scottish Independence; The Final Furlong

Final furlong

Heading into the final week of campaigning in front of the most momentous vote that Scots will take in their lifetimes and with the rest of the Kingdom strictly relegated to observer status, mixed emotions are increasingly evident. Many can see victory within their grasp and are beginning to see red mist. Their claims become more emotionally charged and factually outrageous by the day. Others are suffering from referendum fatigue and simply want a quick end to it all and to be allowed to get on with their lives while some are sucked into a vortex of questioning disbelief, worry and anxiety for the future.

“No,” would appear to be slightly in the lead but with a tolerance of + or – 3pts in these polls it really is all to play for. I do though hear more stories of stupid and crass low level intimidation from the “Yes,” campaign from the Highlands to the Borders. I think we’ll hear more about this after the vote but one thing is for sure and for certain, when individuals are in that voting booth they can tick which ever box they wish with absolute privacy and impunity. That’s exactly the point when Mr Salmond may regret not reigning in the more febrile elements of his campaign.

Standing back from the melee for a moment I can’t help but think how badly planned and handled the entire enterprise has been from every constituent part. That with four days to go the level of informed debate is better suited to the cut and thrust of a mid-term by-election is nothing short of an international embarrassment. Peoples livelihoods and their economic future are at risk here and they deserve better. So does the rest of the United Kingdom.

Both campaigns have in fact completely missed the target. Salmond has failed to invest in time and energy to create a sound intellectual case for independence and instead has leaned far too heavily on transient soundbites, reviving ancient mistrust of the English, (that many voters have no lineage to anyway), questionable election practices, a nostalgia for a post war economy that has forever gone and oil and well, oil. Creating a dependency for the well being, health and education of 5m people on the price of a globally traded commodity would to me seem a somewhat casual approach to policy but what do I know?

What did you expect Nick when you asked an awkward question at a press conference. The SNP, reinventing East Germany.

An independent Scotland though is of course possible and indeed could be more of a reality if Salmond and his hopeless band of backward looking socialists embraced a culture and manifesto of socially liberal, economically conservative policies that enthusiastically sought openness, collaboration, partnership and participation. That’s not going to happen though. The SNP is a small minded, spiteful and resentful collection of miscreants who in the best traditions of modern politics will promise everything to everyone and deliver nothing except value destruction and national strife.

There is the possibility that the electorate vote for independence then immediately vote the SNP out, preferring instead individuals capable of doing the job properly but they are in short supply in Scottish politics. I think such an echo of Churchill being tossed out from government in the 1945 election is unlikely; the SNP have simply left it too late having relied too much on what they perceive to be a spirit of nationalism and they have left too many open questions unanswered.   

It would have been so much better to make the case ex oil and ex the EU and sell those as added bonus’s. Salmond should have focused on a very gradual disconnect with the rest of the UK with multiple joint ventures and collaborations, with checkpoints, at the sovereign, financial and social level. He should have warned every Scot that this momentous decision was one they were entrusted with on behalf of their children and subsequent generations. That for most Scots there would be no immediate financial uplift. That in fact the benefits would take a minimum of ten years to accrue, if not a generation. He should have asked, “Is that a sacrifice you are prepared to make?” He should have reminded, if not berated his potential voters that Scotland suffers from a corrosive drug problem, galloping ill health in some areas and a bewildering and growing culture of dependency on government. He should have reminded Scots of their heritage and what he intended to do to unleash the capacity of Scots to revive, invent and build based on a competitive and forward looking education system and an environment which allows business to thrive. Instead, he’s just shovelled out a truck load of lies, half-truths and  cynical scare stories that add nothing to the debate and diminish his appeal to voters. Voters see through this nonsense and his standing has fallen commensurate with the diminishing integrity of his argument. He will lose on Thursday and he need look no further than himself to blame.

Not all one way traffic; 5000 gather in Edinburgh yesterday

The No campaign meanwhile has been equally poor. In fact, its been an utter shambles. The “Keep Calm,” approach was chucked on the bonfire last week when the enormity of the weapons grade fuck up they’d made of it became apparent in the polls. They will probably pull it off in the end but it will be in spite of their efforts not because of them. In fact, it will largely be the pragmatic and sensible undecided Scottish housewife who rescues them. I don’t imagine she has much love for either side but will instead vote for whoever she thinks will cause her family the least dislocation and worry. I don’t blame her. The failure of the “No,” campaign to properly articulate the benefit of being a Scot within the United Kingdom is symptomatic of our hermetic national politicians and the arms length political class we’ve created. Here though is a man who can and in fact is one of the few who has written sensibly about the issues at hand for some considerable time, Alex Massie. Worth a read.

The winner in all of this, and there aren’t many, is UKIP who will benefit from an English reaction to an independence vote but also to an excess of largesse with Devo Max. The driving undercurrent is anyway, a rumbling dissatisfaction with central government which has resonance throughout the UK and indeed in many European countries beyond.

Referendum fatigue, voters deserve better

That general feeling of dissatisfaction was nicely articulated by a chum in the Highlands over the weekend,

“I took a wee wander with the dog the other day to pass the time and popped in for a pint. On looking up at the sign above my watering hole, it read - The Royal British Legion (Scotland) Branch. I pondered and wondered what that will be called next week?  Anyway, I digress...

It was a lovely sunny day so I sat outside at a table and during my time there, I chatted to several tourists from the Manchester area about various topics, weather, how nice it was 'up here' etc, etc.... and of course the referendum. It was quite surreal actually, with about a 50/50 split in how the 'tourists' would vote if they had the chance, which came as a bit of a surprise. 'Westminster' isn't too popular in the North of England either it seems...

Also sat with me was a wise old piper, now in his eighties, who served his Queen and country well when he was in his prime and he eventually summed it all up in a few ( or quite a few...) words.

He was sitting quietly listening to all the opinions, not saying anything - apart from humming his usual heedrum hodrum pipe tunes aloud until he finally stopped 'playing' his imaginary pipes and he said;

‘Och!! I'm sick o' the whole damned thing!

Some days I wake up and my heart says Yes, but my head says No.

On other days my heart says No, but my head says Yes.

The problem is I can never get the two of them to agree.

I've listened to everything all these (*expletive*) politicians have said and all I have to do now, is decide which lot of the (*another expletive*) are lying the least!’

That for me, sums it up in a nutshell.........”

Indeed it does.

Douglas Carswell MP Defects To UKIP

Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP

The jumping ship thing is perhaps a little unfair to Carswell. He does appear to be a thinking politician of conviction and has left the Tory party citing the dependency on pollsters, lack of real change, blocking of parliamentary reform and a desire to shake up the Westminster clique. 

So, UKIP have their first member of parliament and No 10 have a real "Oh bugger," moment. You can hear the hurried conference call happening now, "No Prime Minister, we're not aware if the 'slippery bxstard' has been to Rotherham or not..."

Actually, if his actions rock the galloping and disconnected sense of righteous entitlement that pervades Westminster then its for the better. I wish the man well. Interesting times.

 

Go Glasgow!

Well, I sat down last night in front of the television with a bottle of red aggravator looking forward in a ghoulish sort of way to laughing and cringing my way through the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in a re run of the bloody awful Olympic Opening Ceremony. Strangely.... I found myself getting drawn in and enjoying it.

Ok, some of it was a bit shortbread tin and heather kitsch but actually, that's what most people want and expect. There were some low points, obviously there were. Susan Boyle managed to leave most people with bleeding ears and the Pipes & Drums could have done with another 50 mins of exposure but then that's just me. Most teams looked as if they’d dressed themselves after ram raiding TK Max or clearing the shelves of a closing down charity shop. The biggest home nations obviously won gold and silver here. The English team came out looking like a bunch of cheap 1970’s gigolo’s and the Scots were apparently dressed by an art student working on a theme of “throw up you can wear” and a healthy supply of Perthshire tearoom curtains. Odd isn’t it that the best dressed teams seemed to come from the smallest countries.

The highlights for me included that amazing violinist, Nicola Benedetti (who goes straight to the top of the TMC list), and most of the girls in the Welsh team who just looked terrific; I may now have to support Wales except in rugby sevens were I sincerely hope they crash, burn and fail to score a single point and exit the competition never to play the game ever again. Actually, I shouldn't knock the Welsh, if only because they brushed all the winging about the accommodation aside at the Dehli Games, got on the plane and got on with the job.

I thought the charity thing was a cool idea and was happy to chuck a fiver in the pot. All in all, its set the stage really well and has to be the best Commonwealth ceremony ever. Big congratulations to Glasgow who everyone seems to agree this morning are the knock down winners of the Games and deservedly so.

The best thing about the Games though, which I genuinely hope are a massive success, is that they deliver a healthy poke in the eye with a sharp stick to most of the self obsessed and cynical short term Charlies in Westminster who have done the square root of bugger all to support the Commonwealth over the past fifty years. The Commonwealth only exists because of the dogged perseverance and patience of the Queen whose vision for the Commonwealth has seen off generation after generation of doubting politicians to the point where we might rightly ask, "has it indeed ever been stronger and is not its role more relevant today than ever it has been?" The second biggest Commonwealth supporter is of course the Duke of Edinburgh and I'm putting my stake in the ground as the third. With so much tension and strife in the world the Commonwealth is an interesting and useful diplomatic back channel outside the usual power blocks but one which retains individual State independence and importantly, integrity through the leadership and patronage of HM. Its a family of shared blood, history and values which very much ought to be celebrated and not ignored or treated like some embarrassing anachronism. 

The opening parade of the massed pipes and drums at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, August 2008.

Oh and just in case anyone else felt short changed by the Ceremony organisers and their parsimonious use of the pipes & drums here you go, enjoy!


Blue Skies?

The view this morning from outside the office was nothing but uplifting. I think it’s the first blue sky I’ve seen this year!

Unlike some other parts of the country which continue to suffer although real perspective from the media was long since flushed away. Now though, that the pastures of South Western England are more easily identifiable with the paddy fields of South East Asia, and talk on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere is reminiscent of the Blitz, “I see Somerset was hit again last night,” “and they got the Rose & Crown in Chertsey,” it is reassuring that the governmental machine has at last rolled into action. Unfortunately, it again took a media storm and growing political embarrassment to force action to acknowledge the situation that the stoic citizens of the South West and elsewhere find themselves in and past errors of judgement which have exacerbated the problem.

Are not the floods though, another pressing indictment on short duration politics which constantly strive for immediate electoral favour without regard to long term unintended consequences? The paucity of multi decade planning is being laid bare across every part of our society and embrace energy, transport, defence, education and the vexatious issues of long term health and elderly care. We’ll have another opportunity to witness “last safe moment crisis management,” with the next financial crisis which is trundling down the tracks with an arrival time of later this year.

The political establishment would gather much more support if they focused more on doing the right thing, rather than always lurching for the politically expedient path. We’re not as stupid as they evidently think we are. 

A politician trying to look windswept & interesting (click)

Would it be too cynical to reflect that Berkshire and Surrey have been sacrificed to manage the water flow through London? As a plan it does have an economic logic although not for the citizens west of London. The flaw in the plan of course is that such is the weight of water, it’s displaying the temerity to go around the upstream weirs and is now encroaching as far as Richmond. Londoners may be phlegmatic but the floods are worsening, as evidenced by the Navy appearing upstream and not just the Army!  While politicians stare at the floods trying to look windswept and interesting, enquiring minds are left to ponder, what about the moles and is there any truth in the rumour that Somalian pirates have been spotted on the Somerset levels?

Sandbags.jpg

The drafting in of servicemen, if only to reassure citizens, is woefully overdue, even if they don't have the kit, (we sold it all), or training to make a significant difference. As Think Defence points out, using servicemen as general labour to fill sandbags, (probably because it fulfills some hearty belief in that's what soldiers do), is "pure tokenisim." 

There have been some suggestions of remustering the Civil Defence Corp. I think it's a great idea and long advocated here. Call it what you will, but a series of CDC detachments and or TA Royal Engineers stationed up and across the country with dedicated long term depots of food, fuel, light, shelter, pumps, earth moving kit, snow moving kit and so on to support the civil community in times of urgent need is an obvious good. It doesn't matter if they're young reserve soldiers or civilian middle aged and retired specialists, (perhaps a mixture of both), but the poverty of our preparations to deal with disaster is becoming a national embarrassment and a dereliction of duty by HMG. The Americans have FEMA , we've got a bunch of clowns in wellies. Mind you, in the US the Corp of Engineers look after the waterways but then they are almost half the size of the whole British Army.

Why doesn't it happen now? I suspect a mixture of self entitlement, self importance and self preservation from all currently involved. The whole structure, where one exists, needs a shake down.

For the moment, there are no winners. The Environment Agency has let itself and the country down, (even though many planning departments ignore their advice on developing on flood plains), the media are turning the whole thing into a hysterical circus with not even a crumb of scientific analysis, (Charles Glover's piece in the ST about farmers in Somerset putting their topsoil at risk in flooding by over planting with maize is an exception), Westminster have been shown to be the comedy act that they are and some householders have seen a lifetimes endeavor floating away toward the English Channel. All the rest of us, well we'll end up with the bill because we keep electing people with no vision, foresight or appreciation of risk.

Market watchers meanwhile are left to consider the weather impact on food prices. From the drought in California, the snowstorms across southern and eastern US, the hottest December on record in Brazil and our own floods there will be an inflationary impact to come on the High Street. 

The Chosen Ones

PPE3.jpg

We see a lot of cheap political point scoring over where and who with individuals in politics went to school. The specific suggestion being that Etonians are all members of some sort of mystical Masonic like, Knights Templar of the Golden Arch secret society. 

I'm not an OE so I wouldn't know but in my experience, OE's comprise many sorts of characters from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have razor sharp intellects, some you could hammer six inch nails into their foreheads and it would make no difference. Many are completely affable and clubbable while you wouldn't trust others to walk your dog without the two of them falling out. The only thing they have in common are parents who are prepared to stump up thirty two grand a year for the pleasure of sending them there. 

Meanwhile, if we look for the source of these criticisms then we far too often find ourselves tracking back to the list of those who did PPE at Oxford and what a grand collection they are.

The problem however, is that far, far too many of the Westminster cabal come as a job lot from one place, have been educated in the same way by the same people. That includes politicians, advisors, lobbyists, policy wonks and most worrying of all, journalists who are never shy of telling us they are the unofficial guardians of freedom.

How any of this is supposed to create an environment of free thinking creative solutions to problems is beyond me. It's just all too cosy.

My, how I would love to see the list of Oxford PPE grads who now run Qango's. 

Eton isn't the problem; the PPE course at Oxford is. 

Libya; Coalition Fragments

 

As I described last week in "Gotcha!," the manufactured outrage from Westminster which has been on permanent transmission this week, about the phone hacking scandal has a "hollow and tinny sound," to my ears. Watching our apparent Members of Parliament, members of the government and parliamentary committees descend to the level of feral cats in trying to out do one another has been yet another unedifying spectacle. 

The least qualified entity in the country to critisise anyone in these matters is the entity mostly responsible for the growth of media influence over our national institutions. They may have legal authority but they have no moral authority.

So now, the House of Commons is fully engaged in unleashing its attack dogs on the media and police. The last time the House of Commons was similarly fully engaged was over the expenses scandal. That scandal too was created by the same institution. Anyone see a pattern emerging here? In fact, it seems to your humble observer that the House spends most of it's time running round in circles attempting to put out fires of its own making. 

Meanwhile, fires are burning elsewhere and are mostly off the front page. One such fire continues to be our ill advised adventure in Libya.

Our involvement in the Libyan conflict remains perplexing yet neither David Cameron or any minister have adequately articulated why we are there and what the aim of being there is beyond getting rid of Gadhaffi. There is absolutely no national interest involved, that much is very clear. The heads of the RAF and Navy meanwhile recently let us, and everyone else, into the secret that they would not be able to sustain operations beyond September without making cuts elsewhere............ which is something of a worry given no one is shooting back at them......... so far.

Yet the war has been dragging on for months and no one appears to have any clue as to potential timelines for resolution, be it political or warlike. The rebels are tribally based and tribally fractured and whilst we are told that progress is being made in turning them into a more cohesive force it wouldn't appear to me to have solid foundation. There don't appear to be many political options open either, especially given Gadhaffi has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague which provides a major disincentive to Gadhaffi leaving Libya or negotiating. This of course, was a major obstacle to finding a resolution in the Balkans with Milosevic. The bottom line is Gadhaffi has nothing to lose by fighting to the end.

Whilst minimal progress is being made on the ground the coalition is, after four months looking shaky. Italy has said it wants out, has halved its funding and is quickly hedging its position. France meanwhile, once the most hawkish country and the key instigator in the current action, is beginning to soften its position. In the backround the Russians are hovering and appear positioned to leverage their Libyan relationships as mediators. Slowly, the penny is dropping that the air campaign is unlikely to work and coalition members are beginning to sniff out alternative exits, as are the Americans who have been in the shadows of the campaign with logistical and intelligence support. 

It remains to be seen if the penny has yet dropped in No 10. I would think it probably has and the phone scandal has offered good top cover while they work on their position at the coalition meeting in Istanbul today. The big problem though remains the Libyan leader and his henchmen; what possible incentive do they have for talking to anyone when talks would result in a one way ticket to the Hague?

Standby for more "hollow and tinny," sounds from Westminster.

 

William Hague, Surely Not?

William Hague has found a new and exciting way of getting some front page news time; if any of the allegations prove to be true though, then we'll quickly be deficient a Foreign Secretary. Whilst perhaps implausible, I suppose that given Westminster's dodgy track record probability doesn't favour a positive outcome, especially as Guido appears to be reporting developments with some conviction.  If true, this would be professional and social self immolation; the matrons of the Conservative Party in Yorkshire won't be taking kindly to this and fellow Yorkshireman Eric Pickles is probably going Super Nova. It's taking on the coalition with the Liberals with just a wee bit too much enthusiasm.

Frankly, I don't much mind or care. I've long since failed to be surprised by the activities and antics of these narcissic, ego centric people. Honour and dignity are words of a foreign language to them. For me, the question mark that hangs over Hague is one of judgement,

Did he really spend the night with his untrained advisor Chris Myers,

in preference to his wife Ffion?

It's a strange world, so it is.