Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Brown on Terror

Brown appears more committed to civil liberties than Blair. Appearances can be deceptive.

By Liam Bailey

Tony Blair's successor as British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced Jun. 3 his intention to strengthen counter-terrorism measures in the U.K. The third time the Labour party has done so since 9/11 and 7/7. Brown also pledged to increase parliamentary accountability to ensure civil liberties are upheld under the new laws. It remains to be seen whether Brown's rhetoric of maintaining civil liberties is anymore than a cover for more authoritarianism. As Blair's closest aide throughout most of his premiership it is likely Brown supported Blair's terror laws, which were often thought to be slowly but surely eroding civil liberties, so we could be in for more of the same.

However, whereas I thought Blair was turning the U.K. into a police state targeting Muslims and driving so called moderate Muslims into extremism, because Brown seems as eager to uphold civil liberties of the British way as he is to tighten measures to stop terrorism, I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

I am in support of most of Brown's ideas: the use of phone-tap evidence in court, allowing police to continue questioning terror suspects after they have been charged, and allowing judges to consider involvement in terrorist activities as an aggravating factor when adjudicating other crimes. Blair rejected the use of phone-tap evidence in court on advice from security services, who feared it would jeopardize their secretive methods for gathering intelligence. Brown plans to look into ways it can be used without revealing sources to the public.

Where I am against Browns policy is his regurgitating Blair's most controversial proposal that resulted in his first parliamentary defeat, extending the period of without charge detention from 28 to 90 days.

28 days detention without charge is as long as anywhere else in the free world. According to human rights groups any longer is tantamount to internment. It is claimed that the 90 day detention is needed in light of how technology can hide evidence of terrorist activities, i.e. to gain access to encrypted hard-drives and data storage devices etc. But British law states innocent until proven guilty, so, until any evidence is retrieved proving they are guilty of something, these prisoners are innocent and should be tagged and released after 28 days and their hard-ware kept.

A tag is linked to a satellite system and alerts authorities if you aren't in or around your home for a certain time every day. That way if or when the data is recovered the people could be re-arrested. 90 days detention without charge is too likely to be abused.

When Blair was defeated on the 90 day proposal, it was opposed by the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and some Labour back-benchers. Constitutional Affairs Minister and deputy Labour leadership candidate Harriet Harman thinks that this time it will be different, that the house will support Brown's measures -- including 90 days detention -- if Brown can make a good case that the measures are necessary. She said on BBC One's Sunday AM:

"I don't think there will be a huge problem if there is a proper debate about it -- if evidence is brought forward about why current powers are inadequate and what the safeguards will be." Her sentiments of support for the new proposals were echoed by the other deputy leadership candidates, Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears and Peter Hain.

Conservative sources say there is no new evidence to support the need for longer detention. Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesman Simon Hughes warned Mr Brown that he will have a fight on his hands if he attempts to increase detention without charge period for terror suspects. In an attempt to sweeten the proposal Mr Brown has insisted he will ensure a judicial review of extended detentions is undertaken every 7 days. It is difficult to predict whether that will counteract the level of opposition to the plan.

Apparently Brown is to put the phone-tap proposal to the cross-party Privy Council for discussion, which is honouring his pledge to make the government more open and accountable on its new course. Lord Carlisle, the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation welcomed Brown's proposals, saying:

"I do think it is time for the political parties to get together and to try to reach a consensus with the government, so we can move forward on terrorism legislation on the basis of fitness for purpose, rather than having a hot political debate about these desperately difficult and important matters."

What detracts from this is the fact that Brown first released word of his proposals to the Sunday papers instead of the House of Commons. And just five days before Home Secretary John Reid was due to present his terrorism measures to the house, throwing any idea of even party consensus on dealing with the terror threat out the window -- let alone cross-party consensus. This also suggested Brown does intend to be authoritarian in his leadership and his terrorism measures -- it's my way or no way.

The new proposals are in response to three terror suspects who had been issued control orders under the old legislation absconding. However I feel suggesting 90 days detention is necessary because of that is like sending a bear to catch a mouse. I see no reason why the tags I spoke of above can't be used to strengthen existing control orders. Brown's leap to Blair's 90 day detention plan backs-up claims that he was staunchly behind Blair's legislation and the absconders simply gave him the leverage to revive the defeated proposal.

So, overall Brown's latest release was much like his vision for his premiership when Blair steps down, the new measures for terrorism are different than Blair's in slight ways, but on the whole I'd say we can expect more of the same.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition for Dumfries & Galloway.

Two parties agree to form a minority administration for South West Scotland Council.

By Liam Bailey

My county council is set to be run by a minority coalition of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. Labour had previously run the council as a minority. As a staunch Labour voter, I can't say I am happy about the council being run by the Lib Dem's and Conservatives. But the Lib Dem's and Conservatives combined have only 21 wards out of 47, and will rely on "constructive opposition" from the Scottish National Party to get measures through. Labour won sixteen wards in the election and the SNP took ten.

Because of the decades long party rivalry a Conservative/Labour coalition was and will never be on the cards. So, obviously the strongest coalition for D&G council, with the capability of passing its own measures independently of the other parties would have been an SNP/Labour or SNP/Conservative coalition. However, leader of the SNP group Robert Higgins said:

"The SNP cannot have a formal alliance with the Tories, that is the bottom line. We will take it on an issue by issue basis."

As it is, the minority council will only be able to pass measures agreed by either the SNP, Labour or both. In some ways Dumfries and Galloway council decisions will be a scale model of decisions at Holyrood -- Scotland's parliament, ran by a minority coalition between the Scottish National Party and the Green Party. Combined the coalition holds 49 seats out of 129, over Labour's 46 and the Conservatives 34. The Holyrood coalition cannot pass its own measures without the support of at least one of the other parties. And the other parties must enlist the coalitions support or put rivalry behind them and seek the each other's support in order to pass their measures. In some ways it is a good system.

Robert Higgins added: "But there are quite a lot of parallels between all groups on what they would like to do for Dumfries and Galloway."

D&G council has been without administration for three weeks since the election, as the first meeting to hammer out a ruling group failed. So, it will be good to finally know someone is in charge of things. Contrary to the theory that the local elections mirrored the Labour backlash of the Scottish Parliamentary elections, Conservative group leader Ivor Hyslop claimed that their winning of 18 wards showed people wanted a change in the way things were run. He also said:

"I'm delighted that a new partnership has been found that can shortly begin work on resolving the problems faced by Dumfries and Galloway Council."

"As the largest group of councillors, Conservatives take seriously our obligation to put together an administration."

"They wanted it to be more local, more accessible, more focused, better value for money and less chaotic."

"With our Lib Dem partners, we will now set about delivering on that agenda."

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Sandra McDowall said she looked forward to working with the Conservatives to "take the council forward".

"I'm pleased that an accommodation has been reached, so that we can now set about facing up to the big challenges ahead," she said.

Leader of the Labour group Ronnie Nicholson ended the impression of a council unified in striving only for what's best for the county. He said the parties involved had put "positions before principles". Adding:

"The Labour group will form a principled opposition, holding this new regime to account at every opportunity."

"Above all else we will fight to protect the most vulnerable in our community who will suffer most from the extremes of a Tory council backed by the SNP."

The full council of Dumfries & Galloway is meeting May 24 to discuss the administration's plans for the county.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

U.K.: Private Members' Bill: Abuse of Power

U.K. parliament's attempt to hide from the law it imposes on everyone else is an abuse of power.

By Liam Bailey

Today the British House of Lords will be looking at the latest Bill passed up from the House of Commons for their seal of approval; in fact, they'll probably leave it till Monday. Out of all those bills passed by the Commons to be looked at by the Lords, The Private Members' Bill is perhaps the most likely to become law because it is for nobody else's benefit but theirs -- MPs and Lords.

If passed the Private Members' Bill will exempt them from having to give all information requested under the Freedom of Information Act. And I don't mean information that might jeopardize Britain's security or is otherwise classified. The MPs in favour of the bill say it is to protect private letters from constituents. But MPs and Peers, as individuals, are not covered by the FOI act at all, so their correspondence to and from constituents is exempt from the FOI act anyway. Thus many fear the new exemption law is a smoke-screen to allow them to keep their abuses of expense accounts secret, and god knows what else.

If the Private Members' Bill is passed it will be law that MPs and Lords don't need to adhere to the same laws that they have been so strict in ensuring all other public bodies adhere to. The law would effectively remove the Commons and the House of Lords from the list of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information act. The PM's bill also protects all MPs correspondence and prevents authorities such as councils or companies from confirming they received a letter from an MP. In all likelihood, as it currently is in so many cases, it will be up to a judge to decide whether or not the information can be withheld under the Private Members Bill -- a judge who may or may not be in the House of Lords.

Tony Blair's successor for the Labour leadership and job of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said in one of his major speeches that he would make government more open, but also said he wouldn't dictate to MPs. Telling the world that Brown would not stand in the way of the bill, his spokesman said: "Gordon has also spoken about the sovereignty of Parliament. If MPs have voted this measure through then that is a matter for them"

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker is against the bill, he and other critics had planned to talk it out, using up all its allocated time in the commons -- but the bill was passed up to the Lords for further consideration 96-25 by its supporters with five minutes to spare. Baker claims MPs were prevented from debating the bill more fully earlier and said events "made him ashamed to be an MP."

Vowing to continue the fight the bill Baker said:

"Let me make it plain the best solution entirely is that this bill doesn't go through because the present arrangements are working really quite well and there is no need to change them."

"It is an effrontery for the House of Commons to make the deeply hypocritical move of exempting itself from a law that applies to every other public body in the country."

"It is also deeply undemocratic that MPs on both the government and Conservative benches have clearly collaborated to ensure that those with a contrary view, fighting for open government, were silenced after barely any debate on amendments to the bill."

During the debate, sponsor of the bill David MacLean said his bill was necessary "to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of members of parliament, on behalf of our constituents and others, to a public authority remains confidential".

If this bill was only to protect constituent's letters in other places, then the bill should specifically exempt MP's letters concerning constituents wherever they are from the FOIA. Making letters private from MPs to constituents, as well as letters from MPs to public bodies and companies, but only where they concern a third-party's (constituent's) business.

As a sceptic of the House of Commons, even now, when things are pretty well transparent, and with protection from the FOIA if we ever feel things we wouldn't like are going on behind the scenes, this bill scares me. Especially with our government sucking up civil liberties like a Hoover, attempting to hold prisoners longer with no charge to prevent terror, telling us identity cards are necessary in the same fight, and attempting to deport "terrorists" back to countries where it is almost certain they will be tortured or even killed. The more transparent our government is the better it is for everyone. I hope Norman Baker is successful in blocking this abuse of power.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

"Parliament of Minorities" Good For Scotland

The new government is taking shape. No party having a majority makes voting a fair process.

By Liam Bailey

Leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond made history as the first nationalist to gain power in the party's 73 years, when he was elected First Minister of Scotland May 16. He immediately attempted to silence those who doubt he can form a viable government by announcing his cabinet.

His election was a sign of how most votes might go in the parliament, with no party having a clear majority. But it also displayed that the S.N.P. is the only party that is truly putting what [they believe] is best for Scotland first, and not what is best for their party -- even if the S.N.P.'s view of what is best for Scotland differs from most Scots.

The S.N.P.'s main aim is a referendum on Scottish independence, allowing Scots to vote on splitting Scotland from the United Kingdom and going it alone. They believe that with the main power base in Westminster, Scotland isn't equal to England in the union, and that Scotland is not benefiting equally from council schemes, tax systems and most importantly profits from Scotland's off-shore oil-fields. Therefore the S.N.P. believe strongly that Scotland should split from the U.K. and be the independent state that thousands of our ancestors died painfully for.

The Green party agrees with them, but the other three main parties all disagree. As do I, having seen their policies made to look foolish by MP's opposing the split. But right or wrong I truly believe the S.N.P. is seeking independence because they believe it is best for Scotland.

It is their desire for a referendum on independence that has made the Scottish Parliament a "parliament of minorities" as Alex Salmond called it. If the S.N.P. leadership was vainly seeking to put their party in a majority government of Scotland, they could have dropped the referendum in order to secure a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dem's sixteen seats added to the Greens 2 seats, would have given the S.N.P. a one seat majority, with 65 seats vs. the 64 shared between Labour and the Conservatives. But they held firm on the referendum; putting Scotland before the party.

As such S.N.P. leader Alex Salmond was elected First Minister by a margin of only three, 49 seats to 46. His 49 votes came from the 47 elected S.N.P. ministers and the 2 Green Party ministers. The 46 against came from Labour's 46 seat holders. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives abstained. Knowing, that with Green support for the S.N.P., their abstention would still mean Salmond would become First Minister. No doubt the result they wanted, with their rival, Labour leader Jack McConnell waiting in the wings for another term as First Minister, should Salmond fail in his endeavours to lead the government. So why not put their weight behind Salmond's bid and ensure the people's faith in the new "parliament of minorities"? Because they don't support independence and they couldn't put Scotland having a viable government that the public has faith in before party political issues.

Mr Salmond said: "We will appeal for support policy by policy across this chamber."

His Predecessor, Labour's Jack McConnell said: "He will have our support when his decisions are right. We will, of course, not oppose for its own sake. But we will bring forward to the chamber, for robust debate, the policies in which we believe too."

So, this might be how every policy before the parliament goes. No party has a majority and there is of course the staunch rivalry between the Lib Dem's, Labour and the Conservatives, preventing them from maintaining a definite front against the S.N.P.'s and Greens, except perhaps on the independence issue. So, no one will really be able to predict whether policies will be voted for or against. Even the parties will rarely be able to predict what way the other parties will vote. This reduces the chance of party rivalries or other dynamics affecting the vote.

For once in U.K. or international politics for that matter, the Scottish Parliament should be able to vote on policies, based only on how good they believe the policies are. So, perhaps a government of minorities is best for Scotland.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Re-Branded Brown Puts His Stamp on Britain's Leadership

Blair's old ally, widely expected to be the next Prime Minister reveals his vision for Britain.

By Liam Bailey

After Tony Blair finally announced Jun. 27 as the date he will step down as British Prime Minister May 10, May 11 became Gordon Brown's day to unveil, what he would do as Blair's successor. Of course, who becomes the next leader of the Labour party and British Prime Minister is pending a Labour party leadership race, but most analysts predict Prime Minister Brown is a forgone conclusion.

Gordon Brown's speech was as much like the re-branding of a pop star as it was an attempt to claw back support for a damaged Labour party. Almost every major policy was airing towards increasing Labour votes, in areas where Brown obviously felt Blair's policies had cost them. By showing the public that he shares their negative feelings over where Blair went wrong, and that his leadership will be very different -- in most cases opposite of Blair's -- throughout his speech, Brown sought to regain support for the Labour party and build support for himself.

The biggest example of this was Brown's attempting to capitalize on the public's deep running anger and in some cases hatred for Blair's overruling most of the Labour party and British public to send U.K. forces into Iraq. In that move, as Brown rightly pointed out, Blair cost Labour the trust of the British public, but not only in the Labour party, in the entire British political system of supposed democracy. Attempting to counteract this Brown said:

"One of my first acts as prime minister would be to restore power to parliament in order to build the trust of the British people in our democracy.

Government must be more open and more accountable to Parliament - for example in decisions about peace and war, in public appointments and in a new ministerial code of conduct.

Over the coming months, I want to build a shared national consensus for a programme of constitutional reform that strengthens the accountability of all who hold power; that is clear about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in Britain today; that defends the union and is vigilant about ensuring that the hard won liberties of the individual, for which Britain has for centuries been renowned round the world, are at all times upheld without relenting in our attack on terrorism."

So, Brown was not only telling the British public that he will make sure that neither he, nor anyone else can deploy the British military at will, but he was attacking the move, while attempting to reassure Britain's expanding ethnic minority who have been worried by Blair's ever-tightening laws to deal with terrorism.

Brown also said he will visit the Middle East, to meet with our Armed Forces and ensure we learn from our mistakes, in the interest of creating greater stability.

Another of Blair's controversial policies also with the potential to cost Labour thousands of votes, were policies designed to cap the maximum income of Britain's wealthiest people in an attempt to bridge the rich-poor divide. In an attempt to win back support from the very -- rich -- people, who Brown will need to assist in funding, perhaps his leadership campaign, but definitely Labours next election campaign, Brown said:

"People at the very top are doing a lot better in every country in the world in a global economy -- the task of a national government is to raise the income of the poorest as the best way of reducing inequality."

Brown's using massive public hatred of Blair to strengthen his own leadership prospects didn't stop there. Brown lacks Blair's flair at speechmaking and presentation, so he attempted to highlight Blair's talents as a negative in politics -- suggesting Blair put his image in the public eye before the substance of his policies Brown said:

"As a politician I have never sought the public eye for its own sake.

I have never believed presentation should be a substitute for policy.

I do not believe politics is about celebrity."

In an attempt to re-brand his image as "dour" at best, and at worst "Stalinist", as he was called by a senior civil servant, Brown went for the subliminal message approach. Derren Brown (U.K. performer using subliminal messaging to control people's actions and feint telepathy) must be on his speech writing team -- or maybe they're related?

To tackle the "dour" image Brown repeatedly used words like passion, optimistic, power, energy, drive/ing, inspired, flourishing and thrilling. An example of -- possibly subliminal -- re-branding:

"I am optimistic about Britain because I am inspired when I see the genius of our arts and creative industries, the flourishing of our universities, scientists, entrepreneurs and cities. A new energy, dynamism and often untapped talent which it is our patriotic duty to encourage and it would be thrilling to help unleash."

To tackle his image as "Stalinist" brown repeatedly used words like: involve, engage and shared. He repetitively used words like: listen/ing, learn/ed/, meet, visit, and discuss. In fact he said listen 5 times, learn or learned 9 times, discuss or discussion 5 times, and meet, 6 times. Not all that extraordinary -- but a few examples of extreme repetition suggest they may have been used subliminally:

"I have learned that when you get something right you build on it. But part of experience and judgement is to recognise that when you fall short, you listen, learn and then are confident enough to set new priorities. And I have learned also that the best way to meet peoples' priorities is to involve and engage people."


"In the next few weeks I will also visit our armed forces and visit the Middle-East, to discuss with leaders and our forces so we learn the lessons we have to learn from the last few years as we focus on the best ways to achieve greater stability."

In his closing statements, Brown said:

"For me the weeks of this campaign are a chance to discuss new ideas but also to listen to your concerns. A chance to show how we will meet your aspirations - but also, as we listen, to learn what needs to change.

I will listen and I will learn. I will strive to meet people's aspirations."

So, subliminal re-branding or not, Brown has clearly tried to distance himself from Blair and show that he plans to forge his own path on matters foreign and domestic. But with Brown behind the scenes of most of Blair's domestic policy in his ten year role as Chancellor of the Exchequer, it remains to be seen just how much things will actually change.

One thing is clear, with brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer Britain has improved a great deal economically, so Brown is clearly capable of running the internal monetary matters of the country, and will no doubt do a shrewd job on the tax per benefit ratio.

Where Brown -- like most other candidates -- signifies the unknown is in areas of foreign policy. He has previously spoken of distancing himself from Washington -- another negative of Blair was his closeness with the U.S.. But in this latest speech Brown hinted at U.S. style control over public appointments -- suggesting a potential admiration for their political system, so who knows?

In all honesty no one knows how his foreign or domestic policy will differ from Blair's. But as a Brit, knowing his financial acumen and respecting his experience and strong reputation, I am happy to give Brown a chance -- re-branded or not.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Blair Announces Departure: A Legacy of Vanity

By Liam Bailey

Tony Blair has announced that he will resign on Jun 27 2007, after a decade as British Prime Minister. He has been refusing to set a date for months, when all he would have been remembered for was the Iraq fiasco. By announcing his departure so soon after his efforts at the Northern Ireland peace process seem to finally have come to fruition, Blair has shown that the legacy he leaves behind is one of his primary concerns.

How will history remember Tony Blair? Is I'm sure the question he asks himself now as he contemplates life after leadership. History used to be the realm of the few who sought to immerse their lives in the past. But now, with the World Wide Web it is as easy to find out what William Wallace liked for breakfast as it is to watch live news reports from around the world 24/7. Archives have gone live and are there to stay. Tony Blair and other world leaders like him know it -- he knew it when he came into office.

So, now when we look back at his premiership, it is easy to see how the thought of his legacy has influenced his policies. Perhaps his best legacy led drive was throwing himself into solving the Northern Ireland conflict.

His efforts achieved rapid success bringing all parties to the table and bringing some sort of resolution in the form of the 1998 Good-Friday agreement which ended most of the more serious violence. After stalls over disarming the I.R.A. and other issues there is now a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, after two of the most prolific members from either side Martin McGuiness-Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley-Democratic Unionist Party, who would never have sat at the same table before Blair, took the oath of office May 8, as head and deputy respectively of the new Northern Ireland assembly. To bring a lasting peace (if it lasts) to one of the world's longest conflicts, and one that had never looked like it could be resolved, is a legacy that Tony Blair has every right to be proud of.

However, another of his attempts to secure his place in the history books did not go in his favour. Blair defied the entire U.K. political hierarchy to follow the U.S. into the Iraq war. If it had gone well he would have been remembered as a bold leader, not afraid to do the right thing whatever the cost. But it didn't go well and as we all now know, it will be remembered as a terrible error in judgement and undoubtedly the cause of his rapid fall from grace.

Blair saw the chance to add to his legacy from the successful interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo early in his premiership, by helping to save Iraqis and the world from the tyrannical and maniacal Saddam Hussein. Instead he has overshadowed the successes with what is seen as his blindly following the U.S. to help start a war of aggression based on lies and half-truths, against a regime that posed no threat to the U.K. or the world. A war that has resulted in countless hundreds of thousands of deaths -- for nothing. Sure, Iraqi's no longer have to deal with a vicious, murderous and genocidal dictator, but they are no more secure. In fact most are less secure and other aspects of their lives have gotten worse than they were under Saddam.

So with all Blair's attempts to go down in history as one of the world's great leaders, it remains to be seen whether or not his achievements in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Northern Ireland will be enough to save his legacy from being: [U.S. President] "Bush's poodle", partly responsible for one of the worst wars of his generation.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Scottish Parliament: Feverous Nationalism Held at Bay – For Now

By Liam Bailey

It doesn't look like The Scottish National Party's plans to hold a referendum in 2010 and let Scots decide whether or not to split from England and the United Kingdom are going to become a reality -- despite their impressive victory in the Scottish elections. Nobody knows whether the estimated 140, 000 votes being scrapped because they were improperly filled out or otherwise inadmissible would have changed the overall result. I for one don't want to see an independent Scotland, after all, if something ain't broke don't fix it, so I am rather glad hopes of such a vote are at least postponed.

No, my reasoning for fearing independence is not based solely on that old proverb, but on listening to countless debates in the run up to both the 2003 and the recent election, where Labour and other anti-independence MP's made the nationalist policies sound unworkable and the ministers foolish.

Also, though I can not speak for all nationalists, all the people I have spoken to in favour of an independent Scotland don't care whether the policies of the S.N.P are workable, or whether the Scottish economy can survive alone, or that the E.U. might reject our application for membership, or if the whole nation collapses into anarchy and poverty -- as long as it's independent chaos.

Their desire for an independent Scotland has been passed down through the generations, and comes from a Braveheart like patriotism, mistrusting of English rule and more often than not hatred for the -- stereotypical -- "English". Don't get me wrong, if I lived in Scotland during those times I would have been at Wallace's right shoulder with whatever I could lay my hands on as a weapon, but times have changed. My dad is English and my mum Scottish so I have relations on both sides, I have also lived both sides of the border.

In England when Scotland are playing in the football World Cup qualifiers on pub TV's, most of the English people in the pub are supporting the Scotland side, as part of the U.K.. The same goes when Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland or Wales are playing. Obviously this would change in the later stages if one of the other sides were competing for the same place as England. But in Scotland, if England are playing on pub TV's, there is raucous support for whatever side is against England and abuse is hurled at the English side from the first game -- even after Scotland are out of the competition.

It was the same when I moved back to Scotland from England and went to a Scottish primary school, complete with the strong Yorkshire accent I had picked up. There was one boy who openly agreed with me that we should support all teams from the U.K. in the world cup, including England -- all the rest said they would support any team but England. I have lived in Scotland for most of my life including currently, but I am happy to be part of the United Kingdom and enjoy easy access and shared currencies when visiting relations over the border -- and all the other advantages unity brings. So, when I heard that the SNP had won the most seats in the recent election I was decidedly worried.

Thankfully, Scotland's electoral system is proportional representation. So, although the SNP had the most seats outright with 47 out of 129, 20 more than 2003 and one more than Labour with 46, with the Conservatives only managing 17, the S.N.P. needed to form a coalition with one of the other parties with 18 seats or more. A coalition was quickly agreed between the S.N.P. and Scotland's other pro-independence party -- the Green party --, who had secured two seats in the election. But the S.N.P. needed another 16 to form a majority government.

The S.N.P began to approach the Liberal Democrats with 16 seats, seeking a coalition with them, which would have given the S.N.P. a majority government by 1 seat. However, the S.N.P. wanted the coalition on the grounds that the independence referendum was guaranteed. The Lib Dem's said they would not meet to discuss such a coalition unless the S.N.P. dropped the plans for the independence referendum. As the S.N.P. attempted to lure the Lib Dem's to the table with offers to be flexible over the issue, refusing outright to drop the policy before talks were held, all hopes fizzled out.

The S.N.P. has retired -- on the surface quite happily -- to set up a minority government with the Greens.

As a minority, the S.N.P would be presenting the plan for a referendum to the house, almost guaranteed to get 49 votes for and 80 against. Suffice to say an independence referendum won't be held anytime soon. But given the growth of the S.N.P.'s vote, as feverous nationalism is passed down through generations of families growing larger and living longer, I fear that the longer the other parties can hold the S.N.P.'s plans at bay, the more likely that Scotland will become independent if a vote is ever held.