Friday, 31 January 2014

South Lanarkshire

A brief statement has been issued by Fox and Partners Solicitors on the discussions which have been taking place with South Lanarkshire Council in recent months over its outstanding equal pay claims - the content covers all clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland.  

"As you know, we have now had several weeks of negotiations with the council’s representatives over your claims. Those negotiations have been constructive and progress is being made. We therefore feel that at this stage it would be in the best interests of our clients to seek a postponement of the EAT scheduled for 18-20 February so that negotiations can continue. We will continue to act in your best interests and will update you as soon as we can by the end of February."

Further news will follow at the end of February, so for the moment there is no need to do anything - other than to sit tight.

Wee Things

I caught part of First Minister's Questions (FMQs) in the Scottish Parliament yesterday and was taken aback by the performance of the Labour leader, Johann Lamont.

Now FMQs has developed into an unseemly affair in recent times with the Labour leader continually calling into question the First Minister's integrity by calling him dishonest, a stranger to the truth and completely detached from reality.  

But Johann lost the plot altogether at yesterday's FMQs describing the potential new powers of an independent Scotland as "wee things". 

Earlier in their exchanges the First Minister, Alex Salmond, had reeled out a long list of 'gains' from independence including: 
  • control of: all taxes (e.g VAT, Corporation and Income Tax)
  • control of North Sea oil revenues and renewable energy policy
  • control over employment law and related issues such as the minimum wage
  • control of welfare policy and controversial issues such as the 'bedroom tax'
  • control of any decision for the country to go to war 
  • control of whether to get rid of or to replace Trident
The full list read out by Alex Salmond was even more extensive and the First Minister lost not time in telling Johann Lamont that she had made a complete folk of herself - a klutz, if you like.

And do you know what?

The First Minister was absolutely right.

Death of Lorca

I just finished reading a book by Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust, which is a fascinating work but hard going because it documents events surrounding the Spanish Civil War including the cold blooded murder of thousands of innocent civilians.

Peter Preston is even-handed in his criticism of both Republicans and Nationalists, but he is unafraid to call a spade a spade and does so repeatedly, in a painstakingly researched book which concludes that the fascists were the main culprits in their campaign to overthrow the elected Republican Government.

Here's a brief excerpt from the book which recounts the death of the famous Spanish Poet, Federico García Lorca (38), who was murdered o
n August 18, 1936 along with a teacher and two bullfighters.

"When rightists hunting for 'reds' began to look for him, Lorca took refuge in the home of his friend the Falangist poet Luis Rosales. On 16 August, at the home of the Rosales family, Lorca was seized by Civil Guards who were accompanied by the sinister Ramon Ruiz Alonso, a one-time deputy for the local CEDA, Trescastro and another member of Accion Popular, Luis Garcia-Alix Fernandez. Ruis Alonso, who had hitched his cart to the Falange, harboured grudges against both Lorca and the Rosales brothers. Lorca was ludicrously denounced by Ruis Alonso to Valdes as a Russian spy, communicating with Moscow via a high-powered radio. Valdez sent a message to Qeipo de Lano asking for instructions. The reply was 'Dale cafe, mucho cafe' - 'give him coffee' being slang for 'kill him'. Federico Garcia Lorca was shot at 4.45 am on 18 August 1936 between Alfacar and Viznar to the north-east of Granada."

Trecastro later boasted that he personally killed the poet and others, including the humanist Amelia Augsutina Gonzalez Blanco. 'We were sick to the teeth of queers in Granada. We killed him for being a queer and her for being a whore'. On the day after the poet's death Trecastro entered a bar and declared: 'We just killed Federico Garcia Lorca. I put two bullets in his arse for being a queer.' Murdered with Lorca were a disabled primary school teacher, Dioscoro Galindo, and two anarchists who had fought in the defence of the Albacin. The cowardly murder of a great poet was, however, like that of the loyal General Campins, merely a drop in the ocean of political slaughter." 

Qeipo de Lano was a key figure in the Nationalist rebellion and a henchman of the fascist dictator, General Franco who went on to rule Spain with an iron fist for almost forty years.

Yet before he was brutally executed 'for being a queer', Lorca was clearly dehumanised and made unworthy by the climate of intolerance in Catholic Spain shown towards people with a homosexual lifestyle.   

Ring any bells with what's happening in modern day Nigeria or Russia?     

A Cautionary Tale

If I could, I would send this article from the Guardian to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, because it illustrates what happens when a country allows prejudice to grow and turn into outright bigotry - in this against gays.

President Putin says he has nothing against gay people, yet by his words and behaviour he  encourages the opposite by linking a homosexual lifestyle to the abuse of children. 

The quality of the 'evidence' presented in the Sharia Court was laughable, according to the Guardian report, but the intolerance shown towards gay people more widely is the catalyst for violent vigilantes and lynch mobs.    

'Nobody thinks I'd dare show my face here' – inside a Nigerian sharia court

New legislation has increased homophobia – and in the state of Bauchi, led to a court being mobbed by anti-gay protesters

By Monica Mark in Bauchi

A crowd gathers outside a sharia court in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi during the trial of seven men accused of being gay. Photograph: Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty

The man who threw the first stone was a taxi driver, his skinny shoulders poking through a faded red football shirt. He hurled a rock with such force it splintered as it crashed into the side of the sharia court. The next one sailed in through an open window, hitting a spectator on the head.

"God will punish homosexuals!" the taxi driver screamed as the crowd joined him in pelting the building.

Inside Upper Sharia Court 4, officials sprang into action, unsurprised by the violent turn in the trial of seven men accused of being homosexual in the ultraconservative Nigerian state of Bauchi. Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu's white scarf, a symbol of wisdom, was trampled in the dusty ground as he was bundled into a back office for his safety.

Among the viewers trapped in the court was John, a gay rights activist, who wondered if he had made a terrible mistake in attending the trial. On the run since a sweeping anti-gay bill was passed this month, John had ignored the advice of everyone he knew by sneaking into his home state at dawn. "Nobody thinks I'd dare show my face here, so I have the element of surprise," he had said earlier, directing a rickshaw along labyrinthine back routes to avoid detection.

The legislation had whipped up an undercurrent of homophobia in the sleepy north-eastern state, where sharia law already outlaws sodomy, and prompted an exodus among gay men. But John, who secretly founded the state's first gay association in 2007, said he couldn't stay away. "It's my job to help these men," he added. He hoped to speak to the judge privately and pay the men's bail using money he had scraped together from donations.

Through interviews with defendants, family members, court and security officials, the Guardian has pieced together the trajectory that culminated in the violence at Sharia Court 4. Although no death sentence has been passed since sharia was introduced in 2000, the story spotlights the stigmatisation gay men encounter as they try to negotiate a place in modern Nigeria.

Sharia police, AKA Hisbah, outside a Bauchi court. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

It had begun with a message posted on a website last June. Edward, a bread-seller, began talking with a user named "FynBoy" on 2go, a popular instant messaging service. The two connected instantly; weekly messages became daily messages, until they were talking constantly. In December, FynBoy made a plea: "I love you and I can't stop thinking of you. I want to meet you," he wrote to Edward.

Where to meet in a rural state that had outlawed being gay? Using their homes could endanger their families. Hotels were risky, as frequent arrests across the country showed. Edward never considered another risk, a betrayal that took on cataclysmic proportions in a virulently anti-gay climate. By the time he had messaged to say he had found somewhere, FynBoy had placed two of his own calls. One was to friends connected with a local vigilante group. The other was to the Hisbah – the religious police.

FynBoy came to Edward's friend Barry's house. At first Edward and FynBoy sat on the bed, in the room with no light, and talked in whispers. Then FynBoy touched Edward's arm and asked him to undress. He wanted to take a picture on his battered phone, for a memento.

As Edward undressed, FynBoy picked up his phone. Within minutes, a group of neighbourhood vigilantes were swarming into the mud-brick alleyways. "It was a trap," said Edward later, shaking as he recalled the beating the men inflicted on him. "I don't know why they did it. I can't sleep when I think of it."

They dragged him outside, naked, and demanded the numbers of every other "dirty gay" he knew. They agreed to let him go in exchange for testifying against his friends in a court. "We know where you live," they warned him, before leaving him barely conscious in a sewage-filled gutter.

Banladi Gamji, the chairman of the semi-official vigilantes, denied the events. "Our main priority is to fish out robbers, drug users and gays, who disturb the peace of society. Then we hand them to the Hisbah," he said.

The vigilantes rounded up other men, using the numbers from Edward's phone. A week later, they were back at Barry's house. His number was on their list. "We were inside when I heard my son screaming for me. I'll never forget the sound," said Barry's mother, a wisp of a woman. "There were 10 or 20 of them – I don't even know. I ran out with a broomstick to fight them."

The men knocked her to the ground. "We don't want to arrest your son, but people in this area have complained," they told her.

They took Barry and a friend who was visiting to the Hisbah.

The pair were now sitting with five others on wooden benches inside the crowded court, wearing green jumpsuits, eyes fixed on the dusty ground.

It was 10 o'clock on a midweek morning, but hundreds of people had gathered outside. Only six of them were women, all related to the defendants.

"If the judge releases them, I will personally kill them here and now," said Ibrahim Mohammed, the red-shirted taxi driver at the front of the crowd outside.

An hour trickled by. Two hours. A guard whispered, audibly, that the judge was afraid for his security. He might not turn up. Eventually, Judge Aliyu was led in by policemen, who waved their guns threateningly at the hissing crowd. Armed guards took their positions around the tiny, tin-roofed building.
Two accused men in green prison clothing sit before the trial judge, El-Yakubu Aliyu. Photograph: Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images

"Islamic law is very clear," Aliyu began. "It is not based on hearsay. We need five witnesses who have seen these men in the act."

Edward, witness number 1, was nowhere to be found.

Witness number 2 stepped forward. A tall, nervous-looking man. He gave a rambling speech. No, he had never seen them in the act but he had heard lots of talk, he said. They're always together, he added, pointing at them.
"Besides, they don't have jobs but they are always smartly dressed," he finished bitterly.

The judge looked incredulous. "That is not an argument in a court of law."

He quoted the 12th-century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides: "It is better to acquit a thousand guilty men to put a single innocent man to death," he said.

That's when the first thud sounded.

One defendant leant forward, his eyes screwed shut in fear.

"My head!" a man screamed in anguish, blood pouring out of his temple, as fist-sized rocks started raining into the court. The policemen closed the doors, but the muffled screams continued outside. "Bring them out so we can kill them!"

The guards started shooting into the air. They fired as they threw open the doors, dragged the defendants through the frothing mob and into the waiting van outside, and sped off, still shooting.

Spectators scattered into the blazing desert sun. Several staggered around with bleeding wounds. On a nearby street corner, John hung around, still hoping to catch the judge. An elderly woman came huffing into view. "You shouldn't stay in this area, they're looking for you," she said, between gasping breaths.

John reluctantly headed to a deserted restaurant, waiting for nightfall so he could slip out of Bauchi unobserved. Disappointment hung in the air. He had spent a week tracking down the parents of the accused and had emptied his bank account and gathered donations in the hope of securing their bail.

But now the trial has been postponed while lawyers argue for a closed hearing – although this is against sharia requirements – or to move the session to a remote village.
Outside the sharia commission in Bauchi, Nigeria. Photograph: George Osodi/AP

"I just have to keep trying," he said, with a weary shrug.

Some names have been changed to protect identities

Freedom Games (25 January 2014)

Elton John and Billie Jean King
Hooray for Elton John!

Because Sir Elton (the famous signer formerly known as Reg Dwight) has shot back at the ridiculous Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, who unbelievably has nothing against gay people, but nonetheless wants gay people to leave Russian children alone.

What a plonker Vlad is, it has to be said, which I did say recently in the post below.

Maybe the best thing Elton could do would be to compose a song which makes fun of the Russian President for spouting such nonsense - if his old collaborator, Bernie Taupin, is still on the scene, then maybe their old double act could come up with a big hit in time for the Sochi Olympic Games.   

Personally speaking, I favour an upbeat number like Philadelphia Freedom - now that would certainly put Sochi on the map.

Elton John to Putin: I will show you gay people victimised under Russian law

Singer responds to president by saying he has met Russians abused under legislation banning 'homosexual propaganda'

Mark Brown and Sean Michaels - The Guardian

Elton John intervened after Vladimir Putin seemed to invoke the singer’s name to show there was no gay discrimination in Russia. Photograph: Florian Schuh/EPA

Sir Elton John, the man Vladimir Putin last weekend called an "extraordinary person ... regardless of his orientation", on Thursday offered to introduce the Russian president to gay people who were being verbally and physically threatened as a direct result of what the singer called vicious legislation banning "homosexual propaganda".

In a statement on his website, John said he had met people in Moscow within the past month who had received terrible threats from vigilante groups. "One young man was stalked outside a gay club by someone posing as a taxi driver who tried to garotte him with a guitar string because he was a 'sodomite'," John said.

"The people I met in Moscow – gay men and lesbians in their 20s, 30s and 40s – told me stories about receiving threats from vigilante groups who would 'cure' them of homosexuality by dousing them with urine or beating them up."

John was moved to intervene after Putin invoked the singer's name over the weekend, apparently to show that there was no gay discrimination in Russia.

In an interview on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Putin said: "It seems to me that the law we adopted doesn't harm anybody. What's more, homosexual people can't feel inferior here, because there is no professional, career or social discrimination against them.

"When they achieve great success, for example Elton John – he's an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him, regardless of his sexual orientation."

Russia's legislation, introduced in June last year, is under intense scrutiny ahead of the Winter Olympics being held next month in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

There have been calls for a boycott of the Games, with Stephen Fry comparing going to Sochi as the modern equivalent of taking part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In an open letter last summer he wrote: "At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it."

John thanked Russians who had welcomed and accepted him since he first visited in 1979 and said the new legislation had not lessened the warmth he received from audiences.

But on his last visit in December he also met members of the LGBT community. "What I heard reinforced all the media stories that have been circling since the propaganda bill became federal law: that vicious homophobia has been legitimised by this legislation and given extremists the cover to abuse people's basic human rights," he said.

He said everyone shared stories of physical and verbal abuse, "at work, in bars and restaurants or in the street". And he warned that important work providing HIV prevention information was being shut down because it was being labelled "homosexual propaganda".

John said he would welcome introducing Putin to Russians who deserved to be heard. "The people I met in Moscow were decent, kind, patriotic men and women who had no thought of forcing theirsexuality on anyone," he said.

"Whatever the intention of Russia's homosexuality and paedophilia propaganda laws, I am absolutely clear from my own personal experience that it is proving deeply dangerous to the LGBT community and deeply divisive to Russian society."

The debate on whether to boycott or attend the Sochi has led to considerable soul searching. In the UK Stonewall is not advocating a boycott because it says LGBT Russians believe engagement is better. In a similar vein, Clare Balding will be commentating on the Games for the BBC because, as a high-profile lesbian figure, she believes "it's hugely important that I go".

Barack Obama is not going, but has ensured the American delegation includes two gay athletes, Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow. David Cameron, François Hollande and the German president, Joachim Gauck, are also not going, but have not said why.

The "gay propaganda" law has been condemned widely outside Russia. Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller publicly came out as gay last August, writing a public letter revealing he had turned down an invitation to the St Petersburg film festival because of the legislation.

He wrote: "I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government. The situation is in no way acceptable, and I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly."

But many are dismayed by the paucity of Russian voices condemning the legislation. Last November the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, was picketed for his closeness to Putin and for failing to denounce the laws.

The mezzo soprano Maria Maksakova, also a Russian MP, has been one of the few to speak out. She told members of her party last month: "We are seeing extremely negative consequences as the result of this law with the growth of hate crimes."

Leave Them Kids Alone (21 January 2014)

I never had the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, down as an idiot before now, but after his ridiculous comments gay people and childrenI suppose I'll have to think again.

Because as everyone knows the vast majority of sex offences against children are carried out by heterosexual men - not gay people.

I hope athletes attending the Sochi Winter Olympics will come up with imaginative ways of protesting against this kind of vile and ignorant propaganda - because there is no doubt that ridicule is hugely offensive weeping against prejudice. 

Vladimir Putin: gay people at Winter Olympics must 'leave children alone'

Russian president vows no discrimination but says gay people must observe law banning 'homosexual propaganda'

By Shaun Walker in Moscow - The Guardian

Russian president Vladimir Putin poses with volunteers after arriving in Sochi to inspect preparations for the Winter Olympics. Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty

Vladimir Putin has said that gay people will be not be subjected to harassment at the Winter Olympicsin Sochi, as long as they stay away from children.

Putin is currently in Sochi reviewing preparations for the Games, which begin in three weeks. During a meeting with some of the thousands of volunteers who will work during the Olympics, he was asked why their uniforms were rainbow coloured, given the recent Kremlin anti-gay initiatives.

"We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships," said Putin in comments reported by Russian agencies. "We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things – a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of that thing."

Putin also added that Russia was more liberal than some other countries, claiming that in certain US states homosexuality was still punishable by law.

"We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations," said Putin. "You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone please," said Putin.

Since the law on "homosexual propaganda" came into force last year, Russia's gay community has reported an upturn in homophobic violence and threats. Gay rights rallies are also banned in Russia, and there has been much discussion over whether athletes or spectators displaying rainbow flags or gay rights placards could be arrested during the Olympics.

Earlier this week, Putin said the Games would be held "without discrimination on any grounds". But he added on Friday that Russia was a traditional country, and refused to accept European values on sexual orientation, claiming that some countries were even discussing the legalisation of paedophilia. He declined to specify which countries, saying it was easy to find out about such things on the internet.

Putin said: "What, are we supposed to follow along like obedient lapdogs, towards whatever consequences await? We have our own traditions, our own culture. We have respect for all of our international partners and ask that they also respect our own traditions and culture."

Richard III

Godfrey Bloom, the madcap MEP (Member of the European Parliament), may have been disowned by UKIP but he's back in the news again and, predictably, for all the wrong reasons.  

Here's a YouTube clip of Godfrey trying to put down a student, David Browne, during and Oxford Union debate by comparing his physical appearance to that of King Richard III of England who was portrayed as a physically frail and wizened figure by none other than William Shakespeare, of course.

But whatever Godfrey Bloom's reasons for 'playing the man rather than the ball' with his rude ad hominem interruption dressed up as a bogus point of order - the young man certainly wipes the floor with the former UKIP MEP by reminding him that people who resort to personal attacks do so, because they have lost the argument and have nothing better to say.  

Abolish the Lords

Here's a report from the Herald newspaper on a 'debate' in the House of Lords which seems to have involved a series of Tory and Labour peers, plus the odd Liberal Democrat, agreeing with each other on the proposition that Scotland is bound to go to hell in a handcart - if the country votes for independence on 18 September 2014.

To think that we are paying these 'noble' lords £300 a day (tax free) plus generous expenses to discuss such nonsense - is an insult to people's intelligence in these straitened economic times.

Not only that they are all of former politicians who are all retired (some early) on gold plated MP pensions - yet they still get their noses in the public spending trough with their elevation to the other place, as it's known, in the Palace of Westminster.

If you ask me, we should get rid of the House of Lords - a policy which the Labour Party supported for years - yet the placed is stuffed full of former Labour politicians who make a good living out of the place.

Maybe that's why they're all against independence - since the game would be well and truly up.

As for Ian Lang's comment about a vote for independence 'dishonouring' the war dead, the man is a complete buffoon - because no one is out to disavow or re-write history.

Instead all that's happening is that the Scottish people are making an informed choice about how they want to be governed in future and that process should command a certain level of respect.  

So, let's abolish the lords - it's a waste of space, time and money.

Tory peer refuses to backtrack on war dead statement despite SNP criticism

Lord Lang refused to bow to SNP demands to withdraw the controversial parts of his speech, which he delivered at the start of a wide ranging debate on independence.

He also told peers it was a "matter of great regret" that Scots living in other parts of the UK would not be given a vote in September's referendum.

Lang, the former Conservative Scottish Secretary, had been urged to consider withdrawing an "ill-judged and offensive remark" about Britain's war dead in a planned speech.

The peer questioned whether the proposed break-up of the Union between Scotland and England by the SNP would dishonour the sacrifices made by soldiers.

Tory HQ last night put out in advance remarks expected during a House of Lords debate on the referendum.

In them, Lord Lang plans to say that for generations Scots and English have lived alongside each other, sharing a British heritage. "They have fought shoulder to shoulder in the battles of the past three centuries and they still serve together today."

He added: "Together, they built and administered the Empire before turning it into the Commonwealth with Scots very much to the fore. Must they now - both Scotland and England - disavow that shared history?

"And does not that dishonour the sacrifices, made in common cause, of those who died for the United Kingdom, a nation now to be cut in two if the present generation of Scottish Nationalists have their way? There is nothing positive about a campaign that would destroy so much."

Keith Brown, the Scottish Government's Veterans Minister and an ex-Royal Marine who served in the Falklands War said: "This is a very ill-judged and offensive remark by Lord Lang, who used to argue against having a Scottish Parliament in equally lurid terms; which contributed to him being defeated by the SNP.

"People across these islands and throughout the Commonwealth made the ultimate sacrifice in common cause, which is respected and honoured by all and always will be."

He added: "It is entirely a matter for him but Lord Lang may wish to reconsider his speech and withdraw the section which will cause offence and hurt to many; and apart from anything else actually damages the No campaign."

A Conservative spokesman made clear Lord Lang stood by his comments but insisted Central Office would not get into a running commentary on the matter.

Lang also warned that Britain's international prestige and influence would "crumble" if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum later this year.

He said the possible break-up risked becoming like an "increasingly hostile divorce".

And he suggested that the destructive influence of the vote could be used instead to re-invigorate the UK with a positive alternative for Scotland's place in it.

Opening a major debate on Scottish independence with more than 40 speakers, Lord Lang warned that the "trauma of a broken union" would shake all parts of the UK.

"The once-united kingdom would shrink not just physically but in the eyes of the world.

"Others would see it as diminished - diminished in size, diminished in population, diminished in strength and diminished in authority.

"The mother of parliaments would be viewed as unable to hold itself together.

"An historic partnership of peoples would seem to be crumbling and Britain's international prestige and influence would crumble with it.

"Our standing in the Commonwealth would change, our standing in Europe, Nato, the UN, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation would also change".

Lord Lang said the UK had so far been a "magnificent success story", forming a "highly efficient single market" and asked: "Why put that at risk?"

He said it was a source of great regret that so many expatriate Scots were disenfranchised in the September referendum.

"North and south of the border, within two generations, countless numbers of Britons could become foreigners to their kith and kin."

Both England and Scotland were "woven into the fabric" of the UK. To disavow that shared history would "dishonour the sacrifices made in common cause of those who died for the UK".

He said there was nothing positive about an independence campaign that would "destroy so much" and leave Scotland a "competitor rather than a compatriot".

It would "risk becoming like an increasingly hostile divorce in which the parties continued to live next door to each other afterwards".

Lord Lang pointed to Bank of England governor Mark Carney's warning yesterday that sharing sterling between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK could lead to eurozone-style crises unless firm foundations were put in place.

The former minister told peers that Scotland would not have a viable central bank, or be able to print money in a crisis and be a lender of last resort.

It status would have changed from that of "partner" to "dependency".

Lord Lang said it was time to put the "politics of grievance behind" and turn the "challenge of separation into the opportunity for reinvigoration" with a "new unionism" that united the UK and brought constitutional stability to it.

Speaking of the break-up of Britain proposed in the referendum, he said: "This destructive, negative and irreversible process does not need to happen.

"There is a positive alternative for Scotland and all of us within the UK."

Labour former Scottish first minister Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale said devolution had not only been right for Scotland but good for Scotland.

Lord McConnell said he had always believed that a strong devolved parliament which had real legislative powers provided the "best way forward" for Scotland and the UK.

"We need to move from the divisive and rather negative debate that has been taking place in Scotland to a well-informed, high-level debate over the next six months that allows people to make the right choice," he said.


Page 3: 13:25

Liberal Democrat Lord Steel of Aikwood, a former leader of the Liberal party and presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, said the issue of independence was one of principle rather than pragmatism.

He said: "The debate in the three years in which we have been discussing this matter has tended to focus on the issue of whether Scotland would be better or worse off as an independent country.

"But I would argue that that is not the right question. If it is the right thing to do to separate off from the United Kingdom and become independent then surely the cost of doing it is immaterial.

"The question is, is it the right thing to do and I would argue not."

Labour former defence and Scotland secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton said the UK had a "unique" trust in intelligence matters with the United States.

He said without the intelligence the country would be "much hampered in containing the 21st century threats we face".

"It is essential to our security," he said. "It is improbable that an independent Scotland, particularly one intent on unilateral nuclear disarmament, would enjoy the same relationship."

Tory former chancellor Lord Lamont of Lerwick warned: "Scottish independence would diminish what remains of the UK in the eyes of the world.

"It would be the end of Britain. It's often forgotten that the name Britain only came into existence after the Act of Union and the name makes no sense if the northern part of this island were to be removed."

Lord Lamont said the loss of Scotland would diminish the UK internationally and have an effect on "our standing on international institutions" with fewer votes in the EU.

Turning to the financial implications, he said: "Independence without your own currency is a very constrained form of independence."

If Scotland had its own fiscal system determining its own deficit, it would have an effect on the rest of the UK, the Bank of England and monetary policy, he added.

"If Scotland runs an excessive deficit ... that will have an effect on interest rates for the rest of the UK. So there would have to be some agreed fiscal limit on borrowing by an independent Scotland."

An independent Scotland would have to pay a higher rate for borrowing "simply because it would have no track record and there would be uncertainty about what sort of fiscal policy it would follow".

Lord Lamont warned: "Ripping the blue out of the Union Jack would be a wretched business which would do nobody any good at all."

Labour former Scottish secretary Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke said an independent Scotland would have "porous borders", which would be extremely difficult to secure with implications for the security of the rest of the UK.

"We are talking about separation and we are talking about divorce," she said, adding that it is often the weaker party that comes out of it worst.

Former leader of the Scottish Conservatives and MSP Baroness Goldie said the partnership between England and Scotland was relevant and a success.

"Don't think that the independence referendum is Scotland's business alone," she told peers in her maiden speech.

"The whole of the UK is affected by this debate. Wherever you live in the UK, if you value it, then we all need to step up to the plate to keep it. We are better together and now is the time to stand together."

Labour's Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, a former defence and Scotland secretary and secretary general of Nato, said the campaign for independence was "surreal".

"We are not some oppressed colony," he said. "We are not as Scots discriminated against, we are not disadvantaged inside this union.

"In fact, Scotland is the second most prosperous part of the United Kingdom after the south east of England."

He said Scots played if anything a "disproportionate" role in British life.

"We are not some persecuted minority yearning to escape oppression," he added.

Tory Baroness Neville-Jones, a former security minister and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, warned about threats of cyber attacks and organised crime.

"The whole of the UK benefits from the security umbrella which runs from the centre, but this of course would change and it would change radically in the event of independence," she said.

Tory former sports minister and ex-chairman of the British Olympic Association Lord Moynihan warned about the impact on British sport.

He said the nation owed a "huge debt of gratitude" to Scottish athletes for the contribution they made to Team GB in the London Olympics and other events.

"To break the bonds which connect us would be deeply damaging to the wider interests of British sport ... and not just the athletes of Scotland would be the losers," he said.

Democracy Direct (6 October 2013)

Now here's an exercise in direct democracy I would love to see repeated in the UK - a popular vote on whether to abolish or keep the House of Lords.

In Ireland the second or 'revising' chamber chamber is the Senate and for some reason Irish voters decided to retain their Seanad - whereas I would be confident that UK voters would dump the overblown, bloated beast also known as the House of Lords.

Most people know by now that the House of Lords is stuffed full of retired MPs and establishment worthies - many of whom have retired on generous public pensions - yet still they have their noses in the trough and are allowed to claim £300 per day in a tax free attendance allowance. 

Why this £300 a day should be tax free is anyone's guess, but the people claiming the dosh are lawmakers for goodness sake - so how can 'noble' lords expect ordinary people to live by one set of rules when they make up their own rules to suit themselves.

More ridiculous still is the fact there are more lawmakers in the House of Lords (760) than there are in the House of Commons (650) - and if voters in the UK ever get the chance they will no doubt dump this retirement home for 'over the hill' politicians and Church of England bishops - while saving the country £20 billion a year into the bargain.    

Seanad vote: Public vote to keep Irish senate

The Seanad Éireann (Irish senate) is the upper house of the Irish Parliament

Voters in the Republic of Ireland have rejected a government proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (upper house of the Irish parliament).

The Fine Gael Labour coalition government proposal was supported by Sinn Féin and was lost by a narrow margin, with 48.3% voting in favour of abolition, with 51.7% against.

Total turnout in the election was higher than expected at nearly 40%.

The Seanad has existed for more than 90 years.

The current Irish government had argued it cost too much to run and that its abolition could have saved Irish taxpayers as much as 20m euros (£16.92m) a year.

Opponents wanted it retained and reformed, saying it played an essential role in holding governments to account.

More than three million people were eligible to vote on whether or not to abolish the Seanad.

Shane Harrison - BBC Dublin correspondent

“While those defeated will be disappointed and temporarily politically diminished they will, probably rightly, suspect that damage won't be long-standing because voters are much more concerned about recession-related issues than the fate of the upper house.”

Voters were also able to decide on whether or not to establish a Court of Appeal and implement other changes to the courts system.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had claimed the abolition of the Seanad would create a leaner, more effective and more accountable system of government.

Opponents, led by the largest opposition party Fianna Fáil, said the Seanad wass necessary to serve as a government watchdog and to hold cabinet ministers to account.

BBC Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison said the result would be a disappointment for Edna Kenny.

"Abolition was very much the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny's idea and he has been criticised by Sinn Féin - his temporary ally during the campaign - for his failure to debate the issue with opponents on radio and television," he said.

"Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and his colleagues will not be happy that voters in party strongholds in Dublin, rejected their recommendation.

"The vote was much better news for Fianna Fáil, the only major party to oppose abolition and suggest the Seanad should be reformed."

Independent senator Katherine Zappone said it was important that senators now held a meeting with the prime minister to come up with a way of ensuring that the upper house was reformed.

Birkies and Lords (10 June 2013)

The BBC Panorama programme which exposed the disgraceful behaviour of Tory MP Patrick Mercer is being shown tonight - and I for one will be watching.

The likely outcome is that under such intense scrutiny and in response to public anger - the House of Commons will be forced to bring in a 'power of recall' so that the voters can get rid of MPs who behave badly - without having to wait until the next election comes along.

Yet that will still leave the House of Lords and all of its 'noble' peers untouched - all 831 of them even more than the 736 which existed under the last parliament.

Apparently the House of Lords costs the country around £10 billion a year to run - and that's as close to a pain-free cut in public spending as you'll ever get - so I'd start chopping straight away.  

For anyone unfamiliar with A Man's A Man - 'birkie' means a foolish posturer and 'cuif' is an old Scots word for a feckless person. 

Abolish the Gravy Train (4 June 2011)

Martin Kettle - writing in the Guardian the other day - made a strong case for abandoning plans to reform the House of Lords - and for just abolishing the second chamber altogether. Here's a summary of what Martin had to say:

"The democratic case for reform is that laws should always be passed by elected representatives and by no one else. It's an impeccable democratic position. It's the way things work done in most other democracies.

Low public esteem for all politicians, whether elected or not, means the (reform) proposal to send another 300 identikit politicians to Westminster is also a hard sell, even though it also means eventually chucking out most of the absurdly large current number of 831 mainly appointed peers.

These plans will fail. A survey by the Times this week showed that four out of five peers – and nearly half of the Lib Dems in the Lords – are opposed to Clegg's reforms. Most peers also think the Lords works perfectly well the way it is – not surprising, given that most peers are political traditionalists and placepeople who can earn a daily £300 tax free merely by crossing the threshold of the chamber.

Ministers still insist that the government will go the final mile to whip the bill through both houses and will use the Parliament Act to drive it on to the statute book. But it won't happen.

Increasingly, the real political choice on the House of Lords is between keeping it the way it is, albeit with lower numbers, and abolishing the second chamber altogether. They seem to manage with just one chamber in places as diverse as Sweden, New Zealand and the state of Nebraska. The state of Maine may be about to follow suit after a vote this week. Why not Britain? What would be so wrong with a single-chamber parliament?"

The answer to the question is - nothing, of course - because that's what we have already in the Scottish Parliament - which has no need of a second 'revising chamber'.

We should get rid of the 'gravy train' that is the House of Lords - and the 831 peers who can claim a daily £300 tax free allowance - just simply for turning up.

Don't believe the old dinosaurs like former Labour Deputy Prime Minister - John Prescott - who has gone to the Lords on a final salary, Deputy Prime Minister, pension.

Sweep these chancers all away - and the public purse will save a small fortune.

"Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord" (7 June 2013)

Robert Burns hit the nail on the head in his famous poem - 'A Man's A Man'.

"Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord

What struts, and stares, an a' that

Though hundreds worship at his word

He's but a cuif for a' that"

The House of Lords is still packed to the rafters with knaves and fools - 736 of them as of April 2010 - 89 more than the 647 strong House of Commons - with more to come as the new government brings in plans to 'reform' the system.

The last Labour government had plans too - but after 13 years in power the second chamber was and remains largely unreconstructed - dominated by retired, unaccountable, second-rate politicians.

Insult is about to be added to injury as the likes of John Prescott and Michael Howard are invited to don their ermine robes.

John Prescott, former union rep, class warrior and deputy prime minister - will continue to have his nose in the public trough - along with Michael Howard, former Tory leader and Home Secretary - once famously described as 'having something of the night about him'

At a time when the public finances are in such a dreadful state - the best thing to do with the House of Lords would be to abolish it altogether.

Who needs a second chamber anyway?