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I gather the appearance of four pistol toting cops in a Dingwall eatery recently caused some comment. When I first came to Canada I found it odd to see cops wandering around with guns on their hips.  I would have been more than a little worried about the armed cops in Edmonton if I had known what bad shots some of them are. Confronted several years ago outside a block of flats by a man wielding a knife, officers felt they had no alternative but to open fire. I can't remember how many bullets were fired, but I think maybe around 20. Only one or two hit the man with the knife. I always thought the people living in the block of flats were lucky not be killed or crippled for life by a stray police bullet. So, my advice to the people of Dingwall is to ask questions about how well trained and practised the cops are when it comes to using their guns. Pistols and revolvers in the vast majority of hands are only accurate at pretty much point-blank range. Deliberately shooting someone in the arm or leg to disable them is a myth. Even aiming at the centre of the body, most people shooting at someone more than a handful of yards away would be lucky to get a hit.  The other myth is that stun-guns are used as an alternative to firearms. In a life or death situation, the only one that really justifies cops pulling out a pistol, a stun-gun is just not reliable enough to guarantee incapacitation. For all intents and purposes a stun-gun can only be trusted as an alternative to wading in with a truncheon/baton.

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There have been several newspaper and magazine articles recently telling us that contrary to popular conception, the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was not a Scottish Vs English affair after all. My guess is that "journalists" have suddenly become aware of the battle and the 1745 Rising thanks to the TV series Outlander. Like most Scottish history, the truth is complicated. Smart Alecs have long impressed themselves by revealing that there were at least three "Scottish" regiments in Hanoverian lines at Culloden. It's also quite likely that there were more clansmen on the Government side during the rebellion than were "out" with Charles Edward Stuart's rebels. But there is something to popular perception of the issues at stake. While Scots might have been divided when it came to the Jacobite Rising, but the English Establishment was not. And it did not make much effort to distinguish between Scottish factions. No Scot could be trusted when it came to dealing with the rebels after their defeat. Ignoring the provisions of the  1707 Treaty of Union which guaranteed the integrity of the Scottish legal system, captured rebels were shipped to England to be dealt with. The punitive laws outlawing Highland dress did not distinguish between loyal and rebel clans. Nor were Government troops bent on burning, raping and murdering their way through the Highlands after Culloden fussy about the loyalties of their victims during the rising. And Highlanders represented a far larger proportion of the Scottish population in those days than they do now. The English Establishment set out to break the pesky Scots once and for all. The English Establishment knew what the war was about.

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I was reading about the defeat of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan by the Israelis in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The verdict has to be that there were too many political generals and not enough professional and capable military commanders on the Arab side. Those in the know say that one-third of the British casualties in Afghanistan were avoidable or unnecessary. British generals are political with a small "p". The upper echelons of the British Army are filled by club-able chaps of the right sort and background. Competence takes second place to having no interest whatsoever in changing the status quo. There can be no more Cromwells, or his Major Generals. This means that the talent pool the British Army chooses to draw from is by necessity pathetically shallow and includes far too many real-life Giles Wemmbley-Hoggs and Tim Nisebutdeems. There is a very good reason why in the real wars fought during the past 150 years have always started out for the British Army with a couple of disasters. Perhaps the time has come to trust the working people of Britain a little more and stop sacrificing their kids on the altar of politically safe-handed mediocrity at the helm of the British Army. 

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Fortunately for governments and businesses, whistle-blowers are often deeply troubled people. I am hard put to think of a single whistle-blower who has prospered after exposing wrong-doing by their employer. To blow the whistle usually means sacrificing your job, jeopardising future employment prospects and, almost certainly, eventually, a serious loss of income. As Scots kids of my generation used to be told "no-one likes a clype". To that maxim might be added "and no-one trusts a clype either". At the end of day, most whistle-blowers were already fragile, unhappy or deeply troubled people before they went public. One of the first things an employer does after the balloon goes up is to attempt to discredit the whistle-blower. Whatever made the whistle-blower unhappy, odd or difficult to work with in the first place often makes this easier than it should be. Society's, our, lack of support for whistle-blowers makes it even easier to destroy those brave, or possibly foolhardy, enough to speak up. 

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Revisionist history usually involves making some controversial accusation against an national icon no longer around to defend him or herself. Sometimes it is based on new information but more usually it is a deliberately provocative re-interpretation of the known facts. So it is fascinating with the centenary of the First Day of the Somme to see some commentators attempt to present it as a British victory - actually trying to restore the reputation of an icon, namely Field Marshal Douglas Haig, no longer around to defend himself. Some victory; 22,000 dead on the first day - about the same number of frontline infantrymen as we have in the present-day British Army. And let's not get into the numbers of men crippled for life, countless psychiatric cases and the lives ended prematurely in the years after the conflict. The cream of the British working class, the brightest and best who volunteered in 1914, was slaughtered on the Somme and Britain has still not recovered from the loss. The "victory" claim is based on the substantial damage done to the German Army. But the price paid was too high. The British artillery, on which the whole battle plan depended, was just not good enough at the time. When that became obvious on July 1st there should never have been a Day Two on the Somme. It is true that Haig was not the callous blimp that he has usually been portrayed as since the 1960s. But he was, sadly, probably the best of a bad bunch. The British Army's officer corps in 1916 and 1917 just was not up to fighting a modern war. It is notable that the "storm troops" of the British Empire in 1918, the Canadians and Australians, were commanded by a failed real estate agent and a former civil engineer respectively. Both the Canucks and the Ozzies suffered heavy casualties during the war but the losses would almost certainly have been even worse with a club-able chap of the right sort on loan from the British Army in charge. The Germans may have paid a heavy price to stop the British on the Somme but they were still able to come within an ace of smashing their way through the Allied lines in Spring 1918.

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I was more than somewhat appalled by the gleeful reaction from Americans, or at least some Americans, to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox last week. The online comment section accompanying the story was filled by Americans saying "So much for gun control; see, it doesn't work". How twisted are these people? How stupid? No wonder Big Money in the United States is so successful in persuading citizens that universal heath care, such as folk in the United Kingdom, Canada and most sensible countries to a large extent enjoy, is Evil. Even Americans were shocked when 49 people were basically machine-gunned in a Florida club. But nothing will change.  It is a sad comment on the USA today that so many of its citizens believe it is necessary to own an automatic rifle. It's also sad that so many would use the stupid and futile murder of a British MP on the steps of a Yorkshire library to make such a stupid point.  Many other countries where guns are freely available have nothing like the rate of shootings or indiscriminate mass murders seen in the USA. But I didn't see any gleeful postings from those countries regarding the death of a mother of two.

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I was pretty appalled; nay disgusted, by the coverage here in North America of the deaths of US journalist David Gilkey and the man usually described only as his “Afghan translator”.  This unidentified Afghan was in fact Zabinulla Tamanna, a well respected journalist in his own right. Zabinulla was more than translator. Western media often depend on local “fixers” to expedite matters and basically make sure things go as smoothly as possible. Sometimes these fixers even act as the eyes and ears of journalists who refuse to leave the confines of their hotel. The work they do often goes unrecognised and uncredited – especially if the reporter in question is only really interested in getting their “worked in a combat zone” ticket to help move them up the corporate media career ladder. Now, I’m not suggesting that Gilkey was like that, from what I can gather he was far from that, but it does make my blood boil to hear Zabinulla dismissed in so many reports as a nameless translator.

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It seems nearly every week that a new British spy heroine appears in the media. Then it turns out that the old trout had been a clerk at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. I blame Dominick Cumberbatch. The film he starred in about the code breakers at Bletchley Park drew the attention of a new wave of self-obsessed and pitifully ignorant journalists to the fact that the British could read top secret German radio messages for much of the Second World War. Some of these stories in which the "spy heroines" finally speak about the "vital" work they did even include a photo of Cumberbatch alongside a photo of the now very wrinkled old trout. For goodness sake; these women were clerical workers who hardly risked arrest by the Gestapo at any moment. These stories trivialise the genuine courage of the women who really did risk their lives in Occupied Europe. But any excuse to print a photo of Cumberbatch, I suppose.

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I haven't lived in Scotland for years. One thing I've always been conscious of when I have made visits back home is not to show off by slipping North American words and phrases into conversations. "Pants" for trousers and "sidewalk" for pavement immediately spring to mind. When I worked on Tyneside, there were words and phrases that I used without thinking that were meaningless to Geordies, though oddly I found Canadians understood them after I crossed the Atlantic. On another side note, it used to be I had to translate words in my head when I spoke to Canadians, or as they would say "spoke with" Canadians. Now on visits to Scotland I have to translate Canadian English into English English. I have obviously gone past some kind of tipping point. Anyway, back to my point that using North American phrases in Scotland is considered showing off. Imagine my disappointment when I heard a BBC "journalist", Nuala McGovern, talking about people running out of gas as they fled the fires in Fort McMurray. Surely folk in Britain still fuel their vehicles with "petrol". Well, isn't Nuala "special": She has lived in America. She obviously lived there long enough to become a devoted agent of US cultural imperialism.  Good for her not being afraid to show off, something Americans are often accused of but British people used to be shy of doing. But's it's kind of scary that after seven years back in the British Isles that she still hasn't regained the use of her native tongue. Perhaps she suffered some kind of catastrophic brain fart while living in the United States and had to re-learn English. But then if that were the case, it's odd that she kept her Irish accent.

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I think it was the American wit and comedian Groucho Marx who said he was disinclined to join any club that would have him as a member. I think I would be equally disinclined to join any club that did not want me as a member. What is the point of demanding entrance to somewhere you are not welcome on grounds of creed, colour or background? Why would anyone want to mingle with narrow minded blinkered bigots? Someone also said something about not agreeing with what someone said, but being prepared fight for their right to say it. So, I have to respect the Muirfield Golf Club's decision not to admit women members. I feel sorry for the people who voted against women members. But it is a private club with the right to write its own rules. What got my goat was the BBC quoting a number of people condemning the golf club's decision and none speaking in favour; though it might be hard to find anyone who would defend such stupidity. I felt the BBC should have added a rider that it endorses sexual discrimination. What else can "The Conversation", which bills itself as produced for women by women about women, be but sexual discrimination? Perhaps its producer could have gone on air to defend the Muirfield Golf Club's decision. Or, come to think of it, if the BBC had any real journalists left, they could have interviewed a spokeswoman for one of the women-only golf clubs in Scotland. I understand there are more women-only clubs in Britain than men-only. 

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Here's something that has long puzzled me: When I was in Afghanistan, long long ago. a high ranking Canadian general came to visit. No, that's not it. His machine-gun toting bodyguards stood out like sore thumbs in their baseball caps, designer khakis and wrap-around sunglasses amongst the gaggle of uniformed aides surrounding him. Now, I'm no expert in bodyguarding but I would thought a protection squad would not want to draw attention to itself - or the guy it is supposedly protecting. I thought they might be better advised to blend in with the crowd and wear uniforms that day. I had a nagging feeling that they wanted to advertise how "special" they were. I remember when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came to visit the Gateshead Garden Festival that there were several Special Branch officers and other cops whom I recognized, mingling with the crowd in casual street clothing. But all were also wearing same apparently innocuous and non-descript item. I guess that was so that if something happened and guns had to be drawn that Thatcher's London Boys wouldn't shoot them dead in the confusion. I can't help feeling that the British approach was better.

 

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A study of hospital admission figures by Glasgow University researchers raises some interesting questions about combat related mental health problems. A lot of modern journalists seem to believe that the higher than normal admission rates for soldiers and veterans can be firmly attributed to combat stress. These keen young scribblers strongly believe killing bad guys must inevitably result in stress conditions such as PTSD. The Glasgow study shows that soldiers who quit the army before completing their training are most likely to suffer mental health problems. After four years of service soldiers and ex-soldiers are no more likely to have problems that civvies. Long service members of the military, possibly the most likely to have been through multiple combat deployments, are half as likely to have mental health problems than those on civvie street. The question is why those who do not complete their training are so much more likely to suffer from depression, stress disorders or psychotic illness. Could this be because they enter the military with existing mental health problems or vulnerabilities? Or perhaps there is something about the military life that makes people crack. Sadly, bullying and ritualistic humiliation have not yet been entirely erased from our military bases. Either way, the military, and the Army in particular, have questions to answer. Is the selection process selective enough? Money spent training someone who drops out is money wasted. Or should the officer corps and the senior N.C.O.s be doing more to clamp down on those sad-sods who get their kicks from bullying and humiliating new recruits?  

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More than 10% of soldiers in nominally Scottish regiments are not even British, according to recent media reports. Overseas recruits are becoming are bigger factor every year. Some continue to blame the amalgamation of the "traditional" Scottish regiments in the multi-battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland a decade ago. The critics argue that the loss of such names as the Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers has eroded the local links and backing that the old regiments enjoyed and a price is being paid in poor recruitment. But the truth is that several of the regiments folded into the Royal Regiment of Scotland never did draw a sizeable number of recruits from their supposed home territories. There were few real Argyll lads in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the majority of the Queen's Own Highlanders were not from north of the Highland Line. Scotland has seldom provided enough men to fill all the supposedly Scottish regiments of the British Army. For most of their histories the Scottish regiments always had a substantial number of non-Scots. Even the Highland regiments, which tended to attract more Scots than their Lowland cousins, often had large numbers of Irish and English men serving in their ranks. At the end of the Crimean War there were 734 non-Scots serving alongside 6,164 Scots in the Highland regiments. Nowadays in the Royal Regiment of Scotland the 10% shortfall is filled by Fijians, men from the Caribbean, and South Africa.  The Scots Guards has always had a large contingent of Englishmen in its ranks. But back to my main point; even the decision to cut the number of regular battalions in the RRoS from five to four, basically a 20% reduction, has failed to bring the quota of Scots serving in the ranks of the remaining nominally Scottish units up to even the old, surprisingly low, levels they once enjoyed.  The creation of the RRoS only acknowledged that the "traditional" Scottish regiments could, at most, only add a tinge of regional identity to units which were actually composed mainly of men from the post-industrial West of Scotland and often officered by Englishmen. But even that recruiting ground is slipping away. Perhaps the time has come to look at why the British Army is not an attractive career proposition for young Scots. Scotland has changed.  Maybe the Army should change a little to reflect modern Scottish values and aspirations. Otherwise it is probably doomed to be continually scouring faraway islands to fill its ranks with "Jocks" brought up to prefer kava to whisky: good soldiers though most of them are.  The real question is why equally promising young Scotsmen people don't want to take the Queen's Shilling these days. 

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I was listening to a BBC World Service programme called Outside Source recently. It had an item about, Aleksei Navalny, an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, being accused in a television documentary of conspiring with the CIA and MI6. But Outside Source said the poor English in the documentation which supposedly supported the allegation suggested it was a clumsy forgery. This seemed a little ironic as Outside Source itself usually includes several red flags which suggest it is produced by people with little knowledge of Britain or of the correct use of English. Do Britons really "arrive to" destinations these days? Would someone from the British Isles really refer to the last letter of the alphabet as "Zee"? When someone broadcasting from London refers to the "East Coast" would they really mean the Atlantic seaboard of the United States and not Ipswich? By Outside Source's own journalistic criteria it would be easy for a listener to believe it is produced by some latter-day version of Radio Moscow and not the BBC at all. Alternatively, as the same sort of people who work at MI6 also work on Outside Source, the catalogue of errors in that spy allegation documentation perhaps prove nothing.

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I've got to say that I've been impressed by how sober and sensible most of the Irish coverage of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising has been. At last the notion that it was an undisputedly Good Thing is being challenged. Questions were asked about whether Ireland would have got home rule anyway, without all the killing and chaos sparked by the extreme nationalists. After all, the Irish Home Rule Bill had already been passed by the British Government and its enactment only put on hold until the hostilities which broke out in 1914 had been ended. Another question raised was whether the north east of the island, where most of the industry was based, might have been included in an independent Ireland if the nationalist killing campaign had not appeared to justify all the fears of the Unionists when it came to rule from Dublin. And the protectionist economic policies espoused by the men and women behind the Easter Rising would have spelt disaster for north eastern counties of the island. People also wonder now if the Rising did not spawn a cancer in the Irish body politic which has still not quite been expunged to this day. Many wonder now if the legacy of bitterness was really worth it. The Easter Rising was staged by a revolutionary movement. The problem with violent revolutions is the scum quite often come to the top. Violence is the enemy of justice. It is not only those who live by the sword who die by the sword in a revolution - quite often the exact opposite is true and the scum who murder their way into power are the most likely to survive.  The glorification of those who murder and intimidate to get their own way cannot be good for democracy.  I don't think there are many in Britain who will be celebrating the centenary of the formation of the Black and Tans come 2019. As the French found in Algeria after the Second World War, fighting fire with fire when it comes to terrorism is often counterproductive.

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When I was a lot younger, I used to look on The Union at work as a something akin to a nuclear warhead - its very existence stopped a lot of nonsense even getting started. There were things the bosses would like to have done but the presence of a union acted as an effective deterrent to their muddle-headed nonsense. I think what had set me thinking this way was an incident which happened a few weeks after I started as an office boy at the Glasgow Herald. One of my duties was to file a bunch of newspapers on some hangers dangling at waist-height. This involved working on my knees. When one of my knees started to hurt badly, I didn't immediately make the connection. But eventually, I had to see a doctor. I had a case of prepatellar bursitus: better known as housemaid's knee, though at the time Glasgow Herald copyboys and coal miners were the most likely workers in Scotland to go down with it, there being very few housemaids around. Anyway, I had to take a few days off work. A week or two later, those days were docked from my pay. It was explained to me that as a new employee, I was not entitled to sick pay. I decided to keep my mouth shut. Any employer that could inflict an industrial injury and then dock someone's pay for taking time off to recover from it was capable of anything. I wanted to keep my job. Now, decades later, it can be told. But I cannot help feeling that if I had been in the union, the management wouldn't have dreamed of docking my pay. 

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These days people move around more. A couple of generations ago there were people who had never strayed more than 20 miles from where they were born. And before television, all people had were the songs and stories of their families and neighbours to keep them entertained. Though, how much time and energy they had left for entertainment at the end of the soul-destroying, back-breaking, drudgery that many had to endure during their working day is debatable. Anyway, the point is many of the stories and songs helped people to know the history of their neighbourhood. And that history helped engender a sense of community. The people who organised the Scottish new towns in the 1950s and 60s seem to have been aware of this. East Kilbride, for instance, had a lot of people from Glasgow settled there and very few residents whose families had lived there for generations. And a lot of the incomers were Catholic. One of the few times folk from East Kilbride featured in Scottish history was when a strong contingent of men from the village showed up at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679.  They fought against the forces of the Crown under a Covenanter banner. That banner used to be on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, and may still be there for all I know. The little Catholic children in 1960s East Kilbride were encouraged to take pride in those Covenanters who stood up, like all good Scots should, for what they believe in.  What the little Catholic children were not told was that if they had ever met one of those Covenanters, things might not have turned out well for them. Those Covenanters may well have run them through with a 14 foot pike and waved their little bodies in the air behind that battle flag hanging at the Kelvingrove. But in the minds of those 1960s social pioneers creating community spirit through history was more important. Indeed, sometimes it is better to forget bits of the story and be happy than remember the whole thing and be sad. History is flexible that way.

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OK, yet another whinge. I'm getting fed up with so-called journalists who automatically assume if they don't know something; then it will be news to everyone. A couple of years ago some stupid radio presenter spent five minutes telling listeners what Diego Garcia was not. She assumed that no-one knew it was an island in the Indian Ocean which the British lease to the Americans for an airbase. She told us that it was not a brand of exotic liqueur and several other things it was not: blah, blah, blah, blah. Boring and time wasting for anyone who knew it was an island. Even worse, in the programme teaser before the hourly news the presenter had told listeners that the eviction of the population of the island of Diego Garcia would be discussed. Not only did she believe her audience was ignorant but it was also composed of people with no short-term memory.  Can we not go back to the days when it was assumed that the listener/viewer/reader had some intelligence and did not appreciate being patronized?

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I can't help feeling that the Scots don't pay enough attention to what happens in Ireland, the Republic of Ireland that is. Sadly, too many Scots are convinced they know a lot about Northern Ireland. Anyway, back to the Republic, or as is sometimes confusingly referred to "The South": Ballyhillin in County Donegal is further north than anywhere in Northern Ireland. Anyway, again, when the Scots consider breaking away from the United Kingdom they don't seem to think it worthwhile looking hard at how things have turned out in the Republic of Ireland, formerly and briefly the Irish Free State, in the past just under 100 years. The two countries have a lot in common, some parts more than others, and probably the same kind of people who run Ireland would end up running an independent Scotland. Just a thought. Something to think about. Would that, could that, be worse than what we have now?

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Apparently, according to the BBC World Service, the shortage of marriageable men at the end of the First World War meant that women turned to the arts and politics to fulfil themselves. What women were these? Certainly, the arts or politics were hardly an option for working class girls and women. But this is the BBC. History is nearly always focused on what the bourgeois and upper-middle classes were up to. In a 10 minute item, there was one mention of working class women. There as also one mention of lesbians, another supposed outcome of the shortage of men to marry. The item was also flawed because it suggested that the war had deprived something like three-quarters of a million women of men to marry. The problem with that many of the dead were already married and left widows and tiny children behind. It is doubtful if those widows had time to dabble in the arts or politics. Survival in the rural and urban slums of Britain used up most of their energy. The widow's pension was pitiable, unless the dead man had been an officer. There was no doubt some surge in the number of women who could devote themselves to politics and the arts in the 1920s and 30s. But they were a tiny minority drawn from the already privileged; not the widespread social phenomenon suggested by the BBC. The BBC every day becomes more and more of a live broadcast of Chelsea dinner party.

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