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sectarianism

by the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton
Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council

The world has endured many faces of prejudice; it is a master of disguise, but strip away the mask and there is only one identity: fear. Dave Scott, campaign director for NIL by Mouth was quoted in the Herald earlier in the week saying of sectarianism “Put simply, it is ‘fear of difference’ and we need to explore every avenue open to us in order to understand these fears and break this depressing cycle of bigotry.”

Sectarianism isn’t about “them and us” – we are all one in this.

I think he is spot on. Sectarianism is, when stripped of its mask, just another face of fear; however, the manifestations of this fear are complex. Sectarianism in modern Scotland is not predominantly religious, but is a web of political, cultural and social misunderstanding embedded in parts of Scottish culture. The only way to counter this type of prejudice is through relationship and bridge-building in communities.

The Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church work and stand together in their condemnation of sectarianism: we say “Not in our Name.”

Sectarianism isn’t about “them and us” – we are all one in this. Together, we must do as much as possible to show that we are united in our approach in trying to eradicate sectarianism, not least to help undermine those who seek to abuse religion, to foster hatred.

The real changes will come through relationship as it is in common tasks that we break down barriers that are built on perceptions of difference. The experience of those trapped in their own prejudice will only be changed when they encounter themselves out of their fear, and that can only happen when they discover their neighbour in those once perceived as “other.”

There is also a need for sensitivity and balance on the part of the Church. The temptation to overreact to opposing views – seeing sectarianism in every comment – must be resisted. We all have a right to voice opinion in the public square as long as that voice is not one of hatred.

Tolerance and respect must be the hallmark of our encounters and explorations in a modern Scotland.

Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 <em>Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill</em>

Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
All we ever hear about in football is technology and the desire to use it to make refereeing decisions right. Proof today that all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily mean the right decision will be arrived at.

Referee Alain Rolland stunned everyone by producing a red card to dismiss Wales captain Sam Warburton early in their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

No one I know said Rolland got it right, except the International Rugby Board (IRB).

“Alain Rolland’s decision to issue a red card was absolutely correct,” said referees manager Paddy O’Brien. Well they and he would say that, wouldn’t they?

Of course, Rolland made his decision on his own, without consultation, and quickly. But would it have been different had he asked an assistant or the TMO (television match official)? Based on what every expert who saw it a second time said, I have to think “yes”.

Sunday
On every poster or ticket for a car race or rally there is a simple warning. It reads: “Motorsport is dangerous.”

On Sunday those dangers were exposed in the most horrendous and devastating form when British driver Dan Wheldon was killed when he was involved in a 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Indy 300, the final race of the 2011 season.

Drivers had warned prior to the race that the track wasn’t big enough to take a 34-car field, where Wheldon – who had been unable to secure a regular drive this season despite winning the Indianapolis 500 – started at the back of the pack.

Had he succeeded in crossing the line first, he would have received a $5 million bonus (later rounded down to under £200,000). Not that this was a contributory factor in his accident. He was a racer who wanted to race.

Wheldon, married with two young children, was still relatively unknown in the UK outside the motorsport community, but he was twice a winner of IndyCar’s biggest race, the Indy 500, winning around the Brickyard in 2005 and for a second time just five months ago.

His death, the first in IndyCar since 2006, meant there was no celebration for Scotland’s Dario Franchitti who won the overall IndyCar championship once again, but who had warned in advance that he thought this race was an accident waiting to happen.

It also reinforced, for those many millions who might easily have forgotten, that motorsport, entertaining as it might be, can be a deadly business.

Wheldon’s death shocked the world. But where in the world of motorsport should he be placed?

A glance at the record books shows him third after Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the list of Brits to win the Indy 500. Certainly, a talent lost.

Monday
Gough, McCoist, Cooper, Young, Gascoigne, Laudrup, Butcher, Morton, Waddell, Johnstone, Cox, Goram, Thornton, McPhail, Albertz, Caldow, Shearer, Johnston, Brand, Millar – oh, and Baxter. And if I’ve missed anyone from that list, well, I’m sorry. But the reality is you are just making up the numbers.

Because everyone else who has ever donned the light blue, royal blue or lilac blue (for those who wore the not-guaranteed-for-one-machine-wash Admiral number) comes second to one man in the list of Rangers greats. Because he is the greatest.

Not me saying that about John Greig. The club, the fans, and players past and present have acknowledged that fact. Unfortunately, it would appear the new regime at Ibrox is not quite as accommodating.

Today Greig resigned as a director of Rangers, marginalised in his position by the new owners.

The majority of those who every other Saturday (occasionally Sunday and not always at three o’clock) turn up at Ibrox to see their team can take loss, debt, sheriff officers, HMRC, dodgy results, dodgier players, court orders by previous “establishment” figures, freezing of assets and unbalanced reporting.

But alarm bells really started ringing on Monday amongst the red, white and blue ranks when Greig, and former chairman John McClelland, quit the club.

That someone like Greig has seen it proper to call time on the club he loves (next to Hearts) brought everything of what has gone before to a head. “What is going on?” was the question, if not directly asked today by Rangers fans, then certainly one that crossed their minds more than once.

Craig Whyte has invested in – or inherited – a ticking, toxic, financial time bomb.

He might make it safe. Or he might need others to help. But keeping the support informed and onside, I would have thought was a must. And having the “Greatest Ever Ranger” walk out the door is hardly going to endear Craig Whyte to many Gers fans who still see him as a Motherwell boy made good who can afford a very expensive Rangers tie.

Tuesday
Top of the league, glamour friendly with Liverpool next, and Rangers make the headlines by withdrawing “all co-operation” with the BBC over what it said were “repeated difficulties” with the broadcaster this season.

Much of this stems from when a news reporter gatecrashed a football-only press conference to confront new manager Ally McCoist – on the eve of his first league match in charge of the champions – on the issue of sectarianism.

Not the done thing, and a tactic that left some experienced heads within BBC Scotland Sport shaking.

While that was patched up, the proposed documentary to be aired this week is viewed by Rangers as “prejudiced muckraking exercise” – another example, perhaps, of what they perceive to be biased BBC reporting deemed “neither accurate nor fair”.

Fair comment, some would say. Others would call it siege mentality mixed with a soupçon of paranoia.

The BBC, meanwhile, said it denied the allegation and placed “absolute value” on its “accuracy and impartiality”.

Is that the same kind of “accuracy and impartiality” which saw a wee weather lassie refer to Ibrox as “Castle Greyskull” (actually home of the He-Man good guys), or tagged a photo of one-time Gers midfielder as Kevin “c***” Thomson”, or labelled a picture of Nell McAndrew modelling the new Rangers kit as “the hun”? Or is that paranoia, albeit examples seen by thousands?

The notion that Rangers don’t do bans is of course true only to a certain generation who have, for the most part, only ever had to deal with people such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, who would tell you to your face what problems they had, leave you in no doubt as to their feelings, then drop it and move on. Sir David Murray was in much the same mould.

But others can recall when banning orders were a regular occurrence under former manager Graeme Souness. James Traynor, then of the Herald, was one such target.

His sports editor, Eddie Rodger, decided two could play that game, and would only use pictures of Rangers players wearing the club’s old kit – or worse (or better) still, use ancient pics of people wearing CR Smith-sponsored jerseys when Rangers were backed by McEwan’s Lager (or “Pish Lager” to dedicated readers of Not The View). Traynor was soon reinstated.

Could a similar tactic work for BBC Scotland? Not really. Not when you place “absolute value” on your “accuracy and impartiality”. And the fact that Gers supporters, for all their Sky and ESPN packages, still pay your wages.

Story about bigotry – captions with orange parades or guys with Rangers gear on.

Story about football violence – picture of Rangers supporters.

Story about Hearts fans booing a minute’s silence when the Pope dies – picture of Rangers fans.

Wednesday
Wales coach Warren Gatland receives a mixed response to his claim that the Welsh coaching staff considered cheating during semi-final loss to France.

Gatland admitted that, with Warburton sent off and prop Adam Jones injured, they talked through the possibility of feigning injury to another prop, which would have led to uncontested scrums.

Wales decided equally quickly to play by the rules. But Gatland’s comments dismayed the IRB, baffled others and were praised in other quarters.

If you considered cheating, and don’t, why tell anyone?

And if you considered cheating, and don’t, are you an upholder of morality, or someone whose morals who should be questioned for what you thought in the first place?

Me, if I was going to do it, I’d have done it. And if not, I’d have kept my mouth shut – unless it was full of fake blood.

Thursday
Peace in professional snooker doesn’t last very long.

This week, Ronnie O’Sullivan, the three-times world champion and arguably still the biggest attraction in the game, claims the game’s governing body is “raping” him by making ranking points available for smaller tournaments.

The language is emotive. Stephen Maguire is another to sound off, saying he feels like a “prostitute” turning up to play because he has to.

O’Sullivan’s problem is that he doesn’t want to play in the Players Tour Championship events, of which there are a dozen and which have a first prize of £10,000. More importantly, however, they carry ranking points.

And points win prizes in snooker, because with them you can stay in the elite top 16. Without them, you need to qualify for some major events.

So for good attendance, and a few good runs, you can push yourself up the rankings – great is you are a lesser, journeyman pro, not so great if you are one of the star turns. It’s a bit like asking Frank Sinatra to play Cleland Miners’ Welfare as a way of keeping his Las Vegas gig.

Still, Barry Hearn, leader of the snooker circus for more than a year now, can continue to do it his way, because the players, many of whom voted him into office, gave him the mandate to do things his way.

The players, when getting rid of the previous regime wanted two things; more money and more tournaments, the latter without really specifying what kind of tournaments.

There is more money. It’s just that it’s shared around differently. And there are certainly more tournaments. So they got what they demanded, although now they might appreciate exactly what is meant by “beware of what you ask for”.

Friday
France name the same team as beat Wales for the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Sunday. Well, not exactly.

Because on Sunday, Alain Rolland is only a touch judge.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Ibrox Stadium <em>Picture: Thomas Nugent</em>

Ibrox Stadium Picture: Thomas Nugent

“Scotland’s shame”, “a stain on football”, “a national disgrace”: sectarianism has been called all these things and more. But what no one seems any clearer about is what should be done to tackle it.

Rangers fans unfurled banners at their home game with Kilmarnock last week which declared: “SNP – weak on criminals, tough on fans.”

Just a couple of days before, Celtic fans had paraded similar banners at Celtic Park bearing the slogans: “Our songs are not illegal. We will not be criminalised. We will not be silenced.”

The fans of Rangers and Celtic who are objecting so vigorously to the proposed new laws believe they are being punished disproportionately to the fans of other clubs. They also believe they are being criminalised and victimised through no fault of their own.

The letter sent by the Bishop of Paisley, the Right Reverend Philip Tartaglia, to Alex Salmond today – warning that the SNP could lose the support of Catholics as a result of the proposed new laws – is just the latest escalation in a war of words which has been raging since the election.

Senior politicians in both the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties have admitted publicly that they are virtually powerless inside the parliament chamber.

They no longer have the votes to overturn a Scottish government decision – and, without a revising chamber to amend or reject legislation, the SNP administration can do virtually what it likes.

Instead, the opposition parties know that they need to mobilise opposition outside the parliament if they are to put a dent into SNP plans.

They know that if they get so-called “civic Scotland” involved, this might force SNP ministers to change tack, if only because they will not want to go against perceived public opinion in Scotland.

The Old Firm fans who are objecting to the anti-sectarianism legislation are hardly the traditional embodiment of civic Scotland, but they are as important – if not more important – than any group of academics or judges or business leaders.

This is because Mr Salmond likes to see himself as an ordinary football fan, as does justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and several others senior figures in the administration.

They don’t want to be vilified and caricatured in the stands at Celtic Park or Ibrox – but that is what is happening and that is why the current furore over the sectarianism legislation is causing such concern in government.

They know that football fans are not usually political, and only get involved on rare occasions when it really matters. In fact, one of the last times Scottish football fans were overtly political was when sections of the Hampden crowd jeered Margaret Thatcher when she handed over the Scottish Cup to Celtic captain Roy Aitken in 1988.

So what on earth is going on? Sectarianism burst into public consciousness earlier this year with the letter bombs sent to prominent Celtic supporters, with the attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon at Tynecastle and with the touch-line bust-up between rival Old Firm managers.

With such an obvious problem in the media spotlight, Mr Salmond decided that something had be done. But – and this is where things started to go wrong – the solution sought was quick, hard and ill-thought-out.

It appeared as if it didn’t really matter what was done, just that something was done and was seen to be done. As a result, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill was born.

There was confusion at the outset. Rangers fans sometimes sing God Save The Queen. Would singing the National Anthem become a crime? No one seemed to know.

What about other songs? Songs which have deep roots in the respective cultures of Roman Catholic and Protestant Scotland. Would they become criminalised, too? Ministers wavered. It would all depend on the context, they said.

But there was another, more fundamental, question hanging over this legislation, a question that has come storming back now: was it really needed?

Various experts have argued – with some authority – that we already have all the legal equipment we need to confront sectarianism, but it isn’t used properly and with sufficient rigour.

Then there are the football authorities. There is a very strong argument for forcing them to act, just as the Turkish authorities did last month when they banned all men from a game: with great success.

There does seem a straightforward and easy to answer to all this. Hit the clubs where it really hurts.

If the fans of any club sing offensive songs then the club should be punished in league terms – docked a point every time it happens – or the club should be hit in the pocket and made to play the next game behind closed doors.

There is a growing belief among football supporters, among middle-ranking police officers, among opposition MSPs and within the clubs themselves that the solution to the sectarian problem lies with the football authorities: as long as they are strong enough to face up to it.

Odd as it may seem, football fans are a generally self-policing lot. If the club they love is going to lose points or if they are going to have to miss the next home match because of idiocy from one section of the support, they will turn on the wrongdoers and make sure they stop.

Mr Salmond showed his willingness to listen back in June when he delayed the anti-sectarianism bill admitting there were problems with it. His ministers would listen, he argued, and the bill would come back in a better shape.

But the concerns now being expressed by the clubs, the churches and the fans are that not enough has changed.

This is a bill that the SNP administration could carry through the parliament without anything blocking its path. But, if ministers do so, they will lose a section of the country that they want to keep, and they will pass a piece of legislation which may well be flawed and might be unnecessary.

Despite the lack of an effective opposition at Holyrood, the SNP government faces a test on this issue, a test which it needs to pass if it is to make real strides in tackling sectarianism.

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Unwelcome Down Under <em>Picture: Oldmaison</em>

Unwelcome Down Under Picture: Oldmaison

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
The first Old Firm game is near. Side-step those eggshells, lips sealed, low profile, best behaviour now and all that, because the world is watching – or at least our police and politicians are. The wham.

The Daily Record splash their back page with a mock-up of Neil Lennon and the HM Revenue & Custom’s cartoon taxman, asking who would be the most hated at Ibrox tomorrow.

Hate is an emotive word, albeit a word used repeatedly throughout society when describing everything from a mild dislike of peas to a loathing of getting up for school in the morning.

And there were plenty of ways the Daily Record could have worded their headline and so steered clear of those looking for an excuse to cry wolf, when actually the reality of making the comparison could have you crying laughing.

A mistake, a wrong call, a misjudgement was made at the Record, from lowly sub-editor upwards, that meant the line was printed. And in time, it was an error they would apologise for.

Keith Jackson, who wrote the story beneath the headline, was pilloried in some quarters, not for writing the headline, but for making an innocuous reference to what was little more than a great many were thinking, and chuckling about.

When a Roman Catholic, and someone who would be considered a society pillar, sends you a text message saying the HMRC had taken over Rangers and renamed Ibrox the “Inland Revenue Arena” – so that Gers fans, when asked where they were going, would reply “Up the IRA” – do you (a) fall out with them, (b) report them or (c) see the funny side, even if the said organisation ranks considerably higher than peas on the distain-ometer.

The irony is that the Record and countless other newspapers will have printed must worse, and dismissed any such calls for a public “sorry”.

I mean, Neil Lennon himself said a few months ago that “It’s called humour” and that we should get over it. Or is humour selective?

Sunday
Helicopters, horses, polis by the division, vans by the score. And a new yellow-jacket brigade, with clipboards, are seen in and around Ibrox for the first Old Firm clash of the season.

Representatives of the Procurator Fiscal are in tow with the anti-sectarian cops, on hand to advise if not to judge on what a punter could or should be charged with if found singing or shouting something that could be deemed sectarian.

There were quite a few such punters floating about, certainly more than four – that being the number of fans out of a crowd of 50,000 arrested on charges of sectarianism in and around Ibrox on Sunday.

Justified presence, or paranoid overkill?

Of course, with sectarianism levels negligible, we were quickly told that domestic abuse levels were up at the weekend. All because of an Old Firm game?

I am not making light of the threat and dangers of what is a cowardly, hideous crime as domestic violence.

But what next are the Old Firm going to be made feel responsible for? Poor dietary habits in the west of Scotland because they eat from chip and burger vans? Increased carbon monoxide levels from supporters’ buses?

At times, if not laugh, you do need to smile.

Rangers take the spoils, the honours and the plaudits – but, more importantly, the points from the first derby clash of the year against Celtic.

The Old Firm game is built up as the greatest rivalry in the world. I think there are others. I mean, if what went on between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade 20 years ago could be seen to spark a war on independence, then you have to think Glasgow’s finest are maybe second division.

But that doesn’t mean to say people from afar aren’t interested.

Wayne Rooney, just hours before he fell on his arse at Old Trafford, tweeted “Gonna watch 1st half of Celtic Rangers. Come on the hoops.”

This upset some Gers fans, but later the “Come on the hoops” line was found to be nothing to do with Celtic, but an instruction to Coleen to bring him his favourite spaghetti …

Monday
The Daily Record headline and the 4–2 pasting the previous day have some Celtic fans incandescent with rage. And their fury spills over when the Record issues its apology.

This is not seen as a sorry note, more a confirmation that the Record had some underlying agenda against Celtic.

Rather than call the paper’s switchboard, these days punters get online, or show their prowess with social media circles, with Twitter now used as the best platform on which to vent one’s frustrations.

Countless of the Parkhead faithful exercised their thumbs and tweeted their feelings, many in the direction of the Record’s electronic editors, bombarding @dailyrecord with their bile and less-than-complimentary comments.

All of which will have come as a terrible shock to those @dailyrecord, which from their Twitter profile suggests “Covering Morris County, N.J. Breaking news, blog updates, traffic and more.”

Some unsuspecting journalist would have been deluged with abuse, probably sitting there wondering just how bad the traffic must have been for someone 3,000 miles away to call him a “dirty orange bastard”.

For those planning similar tirades, send your thoughts to @daily_record. Morris County folks ain’t interested …

Dorin Gioan, the Romanian defender who – unlike compatriot Daniel Prodan – appears to be able to play, is trending on Twitter with his #GoianFacts. A harmless bit of fun (for the most part), where many showed just how unfunny Jeremy Clarkson’s “Some say” Stig introductions are.

My favourite Goian Fact was the he sleeps with the light on, not because he’s afraid of the dark, but because the dark is afraid of him.

Later in the week, Goian found out that kids, especially Scots Bairns, ain’t so scared of the Romanian.

Tuesday
Scottish sports minister Shona Robison steps in to a row where officials at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand have reportedly outlawed bagpipes from stadiums.

As we know, Scottish sportsmen have been unable to perform at the highest level when unable to hear our famous national (if stolen from Arabia) instrument.

David Wilkie had piped music plumbed into the Olympic swimming pool in 1976, Stephen Hendry had the band of the Scots Guards in his dressing room at the Crucible, while the late Colin McRae had Subaru engineers make the turbo on his car sound like the strains of reed and bladder.

So it was vital this matter received priority treatment, with a letter of complaint sent to John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, by Scotland fan and piper Matthew Strachan, 32, a GP from Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.

“After spending considerable money getting to New Zealand to support my country, I was shocked to hear bagpipes were not allowed in the stadiums,” Strachan wrote.

“I’ve played the pipes in most of the UK stadiums and also in France during the last World Cup and they have always been gratefully received.”

Not sure whether market research would substantiate that claim. But he felt a victim of the tournament organisers who have banned several items from stadiums, including umbrellas, vuvuzelas, gang insignia, and flagpoles longer than 80 centimetres (31 inches).

They have also banned, somewhat strangely, “car parts”. But rightly so.

I well recall one night with Scotland in Paris almost losing an eye when someone was trying to get a tune out of an Austin Allegro exhaust system …

Wednesday
My interest in the League Cup, or the Scottish Communities League Cup to give it its full name, reaches fever pitch – to the extent that I attend the Pavilion Theatre to see Singin’ I’m No A Billy He’s A Tim. Very, very funny, but only for those who have an equal sense of humour and irony.

On the football pitch, Rangers appear hungover as they lose to Falkirk, thanks – in ice hockey parlance – to an assist by Neil Alexander. Hearts also go out, following Aberdeen’s demise the previous evening when they lose on penalties to East Fife.

Aberdeen fans are furious at losing this vitally crucial game. Will that be why just 3,964 turned up at Pittodrie to watch it?

Maybe those lack of fans highlight the apathy for this tournament these days. Those on European duty get a bye to the later rounds, the bigger clubs use fringe players rather than their big guns – and, for smaller clubs, it must often cost them more in electricity than they take in gate money.

I mean, can anyone tell me the last winners of the tournament from outside Glasgow? For years, it has been devalued, not even carrying a European place for the winners.

But that detail is minor and lost on Dons fans still shouting for a change of manager at Pittodrie. And they should be listened to, for they haven’t done that in the past, much.

At some point in time, some Aberdeen fans will realise what a complete freak of circumstances brought Alex Ferguson to the club, and that the chances of that happening are less than once in a lifetime, probably more like once in several generations given where Scottish football especially finds itself.

And listen up. There is every chance Manchester United might find life difficult post-Fergie. It would be interesting to hear them, then.

Dons fans have moaned and complained about managers ever since Ferguson left for England. Craig Brown is the latest under fire. But he’s going nowhere soon, even if there are calls for a return from Jimmy Calderwood – you know, they guy hundreds of Dons supporters wanted to see the back of a few years ago.

And I always wonder just how many of those fans sounded off, booed and jeered the man who, having collected League and Scottish Cups, was just a clean sheet away from taking Aberdeen to the championship – one Alex Smith.

Where is he now? Oh that’s right, coaching at Falkirk …

Thursday
Rugby World Cup matches are like buses. Nothing, then one at a time, then a bundle come at once. Today we’re limited to just one again: South Africa the holders against Namibia, near neighbours in the truest terms.

I for one don’t buy the idea that Namibia only gained independence so those not good enough to play for the Springboks could play international rugby somewhere else …

Friday
For me the story of the week had to be news of two eight-year olds filmed in a cage-fighting contest.

This had everything, from the scantily clad ring girl to a moronic audience – who had bought tickets at Greenlands Labour Club in Preston – cheering and whooping every hold, punch and kick. Absolutely sickening.

While I admire those who participate in combat sports, and have covered everything from world championship boxing and karate to championship judo and wrestling, I cannot watch cage or ultimate fighting. While it has a place in the sporting world, I find it barbaric.

Ironically, Sky Sports this week showed scenes from the tribute dinner held on behalf of Michael Watson, a superb young fighter who nearly died in a boxing ring, when medical facilities were badly lacking in such contests.

Watson, a supremely fit fighter, almost paid the ultimate price for chasing his dream, but knew all the risks involved with his sport.

But here we have willing parents pitching their kids into an environment from which they might not walk out again. This was never entertainment. This was exploitation of the highest order.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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<em>Picture: Stefano Brivio</em>

Picture: Stefano Brivio

A senior Treasury minister has banned the word “unionist” in an attempt to foster more positive language in the fight against Scottish independence.

Danny Alexander, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MP and chief secretary to the Treasury, has told his officials not to use the word because it “plays into the hands of the Nationalists”.

Mr Alexander, the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, is one of a number of ministers who believe that the anti-independence campaign will have to come up with better, more positive language if it is to defeat the Nationalists in the referendum battle.

His decision to phase out the word “unionist” in his dealings with the referendum reflects a growing acceptance inside the UK government that the term is old-fashioned, difficult to understand and has associations with both Northern Ireland and sectarianism which they are keen to bury.

“If you have to explain what a word means, it’s probably not a good idea to base a campaign around it,” one government source said.

Instead, the slogan “Scotland in Britain” is expected to spearhead the campaign against Scottish independence.

Alex Salmond’s Scottish government is already well underway in preparing for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 or 2015.

The anti-independence camp has been struggling for some time in trying to work out how best to combat Mr Salmond’s separatist message, but it now appears as if some limited progress has been made.

David Mundell, a Conservative minister in the Scotland Office, explained the thinking behind the new approach.

He said: “We have to run a relentlessly positive ‘Scotland in Britain’ campaign that appeals to the whole of Britain. We have to stress the benefits of being together. That is the task we all face and we have to bring clarity to the debate.”

A senior Conservative source added that the term “unionist” sometimes carried echoes of the conflict in Northern Ireland, sectarian divisions in the west of Scotland and was often misunderstood by members of the public.

The new approach is also being backed by Scottish Labour figures, many of whom have never liked using the term “unionist” because it is part of the title of their political rivals – the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party.

A Labour spokesman said: “The vast majority of people don’t see themselves as nationalist or unionist, most are entirely comfortable being proudly Scottish and proudly part of the UK.”

But he added: “The referendum will not be won or lost on words used to describe the campaigns, rather it will be won by those bringing a positive message of what Scotland gains from being an integral part of the UK.”

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John Lamont <em>Picture: Scottish Conservatives</em>

John Lamont Picture: Scottish Conservatives

John Lamont is not the sort of MSP one would expect to indulge in deliberately aggravating behaviour, but that is what this mild-mannered, studious-looking Tory was accused of doing yesterday.

His crime? To raise the issue of Catholic schools during a parliamentary debate on sectarianism. This is the remark that got him into so much trouble: “The education system in this part of Scotland [the west] is effectively the state-sponsored conditioning of these sectarian attitudes. And I say this as someone who believes, as a Christian country, we should do more to promote Christian values in our young people and support religious education in schools.

“Clearly these attitudes are being entrenched at home and the wider community in these small pockets of west central Scotland.”

Now, just consider for a second what Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, said when explaining the way police would interpret various forms of behaviour under the new anti-sectarian laws.

Appearing before the justice committee on Wednesday, Mr Mulholland said: “It [the bill] is not intended to criminalise the singing of national anthems in the absence of any other aggravating behaviour. It is not intended to criminalise the making of religious gestures without any aggravating behaviour.”

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And he used this as an example: “If someone at an Old Firm match were to leave the Rangers end and run across the pitch and, in front of the Celtic fans, was to sing the national anthem then the context of that may be – arguably – criminal because the intention is to cause public disorder.”

The way Mr Lamont was being treated yesterday suggested that he had committed the parliamentary equivalent of “aggravating behaviour” – that he had, in effect, run across from the Rangers end to sing God Save The Queen in front of the Celtic end.

It was not, apparently, that he had raised the issue of Catholic schools that had shocked Holyrood, it was the context in which he had raised them that was important. He had raised the issue of Catholic schools during a parliamentary debate on sectarianism – and, more than that, he had suggested that Catholic schools were one of the root causes of sectarianism.

Indeed, it was almost possible to hear a collective dropping of jaws right around Holyrood the moment the words “state-sponsored” and “sectarian attitudes” were out of his mouth.

“He’s going to get pelters” was the general impression along the media corridor, and that is what happened.

MSP after MSP lined up to attack him in the chamber, the Tories distanced themselves from his remarks and Roseanna Cunningham, the community safety minister, expressed her “astonishment” at his comments.

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was appalled and indignant at what west of Scotland Labour MSPs would regard as political suicide had it come from them.

A church spokesman said: “These remarks are both inflammatory and insensitive, the Catholic Church rejects and repudiates them entirely. As a matter of urgency the Conservative Party should issue a reassurance to Scotland’s Catholics that Catholic schools enjoy the support of the Conservative Party.”

But why were Mr Lamont’s comments so frightful and why was it that the context made them so outrageous?

Is there a place to discuss the role – and effect – of denominational schools in Scottish society? If there isn’t, there should be. And if a parliamentary debate on sectarianism – which should be trying to explore all avenues and properly debate all the manifestations of this issue – isn’t the place, then where is?

The “state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudes” was the phrase that everybody reacted to, but it is worth going a step further back and considering Mr Lamont’s remarks in the round.

This is what Mr Lamont said before that. He recalled his time growing up in a non-denominational school in Kilwinning, in Ayrshire. He said tensions with a local Catholic school resulted in some pupils throwing eggs and stones at buses.

“The segregation of our young people has brought them up to believe that the two communities should be kept separate,” Mr Lamont said.

He argued that the education system of west and central Scotland had “produced many, if not all, of those who are responsible for the shocking behaviour we have witnessed in recent months.”

And it was then that he made the comment about state-sponsored sectarianism.

It may well be that Mr Lamont is totally wrong in his remarks, that there is absolutely no thread at all linking Catholic schools and the festering prejudice, suspicion and ignorance that blights both sides of the sectarian divide. But if there is even the slightest hint of reality anywhere in his comments, then Scotland, as a society, should be brave enough, mature enough and fair-minded enough to debate it.

It is not a question of wanting to see Catholic schools disappear, rather of whether the attitude taken by some in society to Catholic schools – from both sides of the religious divide – perpetuates and intensifies religious prejudice in later life.

From what I could interpret, Mr Lamont was not suggesting that Catholic schools fostered sectarianism by teaching religious intolerance. What he seemed to be suggesting was that the existence of these schools bred hatred from others – borne out of ignorance.

Most people in Scotland can recite at least one anecdotal example of sectarian prejudice that comes from an ignorant approach to schooling. I know of one person who moved from the Hebrides to Glasgow and, as an adult, was asked by her neighbours which school she went to.

When she replied “such-and-such high school”, she was pressed again. “No, which school did you go to? Was it Saint such-and-such high school?”

However, the reaction to Mr Lamont’s remarks showed that this is one issue that politicians, decision-makers and commentators don’t appear to want to touch. It is as if it is too volatile, too risky and too difficult an area to get into.

But, if Scotland is to address sectarianism, really address sectarianism, then our political leaders should not be scared to look into every part of Scottish society in an effort to find answers. This does not just mean discussing the role, value and effect of Catholic schools, it means there should also be a debate, a proper debate, about all faith schools – including specialist Muslim schools, too.

It may well be that everybody involved decides that faith schools are good, positive forces for our society, and that they should not just be continued but encouraged – but we should not be scared of the debate.

Religious prejudice has declined massively in Scotland over the last few decades – but, as with all prejudices, what there is, is based on ignorance. For that reason, if for no other, then we should embrace all attempts to delve deeply into the issue, not shut it off because it is “too risky” a subject.

If we fail to debate it, then we shall never show the maturity as a society we need to tackle it properly – and that, surely, is the real aim behind the anti-sectarian legislation currently being considered by parliament.

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<em>Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos</em>

Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Manchester, red or blue, had cause for celebration today. A point secured at Blackburn winning United the Premier League title, a goal at Wembley enough to give City their first FA Cup win since 1969. So all happy, then.

Well, not everyone. The last ten minutes at Ewood Park was a bit of a farce, as United settled for the point they needed and relegation-threatened Blackburn for the point they wanted. It was reminiscent of several years ago when Rangers won the title at Easter Road (or, more accurately, Celtic lost it at Fir Park) when Hibs didn’t want to concede another goal or they would have missed out on Europe and Rangers weren’t interested in adding to Nacho Novo’s strike.

City’s win over Stoke City gave them their first pot since the League Cup in 1976. Seems like yesterday!

Of course, if I’d spent £350 million assembling a team, and my goalscorer Yaya Touré was on £220,000 a week (mental arithmetic says that’s £10m a year, which is mental), I’d be expecting to not only win the FA Cup, but the Premier League, the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, Horse of the Year Show, Crufts, a Grammy or two, an Oscar, the US presidential election and the National Lottery at least several times over.

Maybe that shows how easy pleased some people are…

Sunday
It was billed as “Helicopter Sunday”, a day when the ever-changing drama unfolding in Kilmarnock and the Parkhead area of Glasgow deemed air travel as the quickest form of transport.

But the reality was that the SPL could have saved themselves a small fortune in aviation fuel and delivered the silverware to Rugby Park on foot.

Those who had wondered all these years what was actually said in Celtic’s pre-match huddle will be keen to know that, on Sunday, the final words were “Rangers are one-up!”

Not true of course, as the games kicked off simultaneously just to add to the occasion, with the outcome also known simultaneously less than seven minutes later. The title was going back to Ibrox for a 54th time, making it three-in-a-row, and a fitting send-off for Walter Smith.

Kyle Lafferty, much maligned at times, grabbed the match ball with a hat-trick, taking his tally to seven goals in the last six games and maintaining his record of scoring on the last day of the season, just as he did at Tannadice and Easter Road.

Playing away on the final, title-deciding day of the season in three consecutive years? That might be considered cause for a conspiracy in some places.

Lafferty’s goals were important. But arguably no more vital than those from Kenny Miller who hit 21, a phenomenal contribution when compared to the SPL’s other goal machines, especially given that he only lasted half a term before bailing out of Ibrox for Turkey.

Celtic did pick up a trophy on Sunday evening, when Emilio Izaguirre – who already had the Scottish PFA and Premier League awards on his mantelpiece – was similarly honoured by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. Better than Allan McGregor over a season?

I don’t think so. Not even by a point…

Monday
Honestly, you wait for one bus to run over a trophy, then two come along in the space of a few weeks.

Copying the example set by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, who managed to get the Copa del Rey lodged under a double-decker, Ajax goalkeeper Marteen Stekelenburg fumbles the Eredivisie plate with similar consequences. Admittedly, it does look like a very ornate wheel trim, but there was no need to do this to it.

Stekelenburg is a target to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, which could force his transfer fee up by a few million. Not because he’s worth it, but with the number of trophies United win, insurance cover could be astronomical…

Tuesday
An historic day. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, visits Dublin – which, by chance, would also host the Europa League final the next day.

Not the usual thronging crowds around for a royal visit, and what did go on was kept in check by the Garda. Of course, if you look at the bigger picture, their job was made a lot easier, not by a lack of interest, or detailed intelligence, or assistance from their British counterparts, but by PSV Eindhoven.

Elsewhere, there appears to be some consternation emanating out of Rugby Park over the number of Rangers fans who filled the stadium for Sunday’s game.

I assume they were Rangers supporters, based on the attendance being 16,173 against a season’s average of just 6,427 (figures courtesy of the SPL’s own website).

Kilmarnock expressed regret at the number of away fans present in home sections at Rugby Park, putting their unhappiness down to safety, segregation and security issues.

It should be noted this had nothing to do with Kilmarnock being unable to charge Rangers supporters, who had bought empty “Kilmarnock” seats, an extra fiver. Of course it didn’t…

And talking of Old Firm fans, Celtic manager Neil Lennon urged supporters to stop offensive songs, saying: “In recent times, there has been a re-emergence, from a small minority, of some of the singing and chanting which is simply not acceptable.”

These songs have at times been inaudible to the human ear and can usually only be picked up by TV and radio effects microphones around the pitch.

BBC Scotland’s Bigotry, Bombs and Football documentary, scheduled for the following evening, highlighted the measures being taken by Strathclyde Police, and both Rangers and Celtic, to curb sectarian behaviour.

Reporter Reevel Alderson revealed that in three years, across their entire area, Strathclyde Police have arrested 800 people for sectarian behaviour. In the past seven seasons, Rangers have banned 548 supporters for a similar offence, and in the past five seasons, Celtic have banned six season-ticket holders for sectarian or offensive behaviour.

Does this mean that (a) Rangers should police Strathclyde, (b) Neil Lennon has drawn attention to a problem that doesn’t exist, or (c) Mark Twain (or was it Disraeli?) was right about lies, damned lies and statistics?

Wednesday
Talking of Strathclyde’s finest, their long-running investigation into alleged match-fixing allegations against snooker players Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett is at an end.

Bookmakers alerted authorities to “irregular betting patterns” around the match, which took place during the UK Championship in Telford in November 2008. They had taken numerous bets on the outcome of the match being 9–3 in Maguire’s favour.

Maguire won by that margin. But suspicion was raised by a black missed by Burnett which would have made it 8–4.

And since then, both players have been subjected to scrutiny, rumour-mongering and innuendo.

But all of that should now be put to bed. A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “Following a full and comprehensive investigation the case was reported for the consideration of Crown Counsel who, after careful consideration of all facts and circumstances, decided there is insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution.”

I spoke to both players ahead of the recent world championship, where it was plainly obvious that neither had anything to say, other than how sick they were, because they had nothing to say in the first instance.

I’m guessing here, but after two-and-a-half years, and regardless of the online accounts across Scotland opened on a particular day, you would have thought something would have come to light – if there was anything to come to light.

I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that this news comes just a week after Taggart was made redundant.

Even so, you have to wonder what the game’s governing body is scheming up when WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said; “We are treating this case very seriously. We will now be given access to the evidence connected with the case, and our disciplinary committee will review that evidence thoroughly.”

And who do they have on that committee. Hercule Poirot, Jack Regan, Miss Marple?

Or do World Snooker want to bid against Rangers to police Strathclyde?

Thursday
And it’s congratulations to Gary Anderson for winning his first televised PDC title, landing the Premier League with a 10–4 final win over world champion Adrian Lewis at Wembley.

Given the venue, and given the reception Lewis got in Glasgow a few months back, I’m sure he glanced over his shoulder a few times to see if there were any advanced divisions of the Tartan Army making a pilgrimage back to their old haunts.

Brilliant as Anderson did in winning, and in finishing runner-up to Lewis in the world championship final, it’s sad he maybe isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

If you asked most punters to name a Scots darts player, how many would answer “Jocky Wilson”? But then again, he did make it big.

Friday
London 2012 organisers reveal that they have received more than one million requests for seat tickets for the Olympic men’s 100 metres final – yet only 8,000 will get to carry the Olympic torch for a mile on its journey around the UK. So further enhancing our reputation of being a nation of armchair sportsmen and women…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament


This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

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Stenhouse <em>Picture: Kim Traynor</em>

Stenhouse Picture: Kim Traynor


The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. David McLetchie is a former leader of the Scottish Conservatives and is standing for re-election in Edinburgh Pentlands.

Wednesday 20 April
The prime minister joins the campaign and speaks at a rally in Inverness attended by 300 people and meets Save Lossiemouth campaigners. He is well received at both events. The organisation is spot on, whereas before he entered Downing Street it was all a lot more fluid. I have noticed a big difference between an opposition politician and the leader of the UK government visiting us, that’s for sure.

After a constituency visit it’s across the city to The Tun, where I take part in a panel discussion on the constitution for the Scotland at Ten radio programme hosted by Sarah Paterson. I’m in the studio with Sarah and Fiona Hyslop and the other three panellists are in a Glasgow studio. It’s all familiar territory which we could do in our sleep.

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Sarah comments at the end that it’s all very polite – which it was, but it’s quite difficult to have an animated discussion with someone 50 miles away. No one wants a radio programme to degenerate into a rammy of people talking over one another where the listener can’t distinguish who said what.

Thursday 21 April
David Cameron does well in his Good Morning Scotland interview, which is a good start to the day. He is pictured by the Clyde with Ruth Davidson, who is our no.1 candidate on the Glasgow list and who we hope will succeed Bill Aitken.

Ruth has a background in broadcasting and a sparkling personality. She is quite open about being a lesbian and tells a wicked joke or two, but beneath that bold and breezy exterior there is a serious and intelligent young woman, who I think will be a great asset to us in the parliament.

I have the afternoon off to attend the funeral service of my friend and neighbour Iain Sinclair in our local parish church. Iain had been fighting bowel cancer for the last two years and showed tremendous courage and strength of character throughout. He lived life to the full and was great sportsman, reflected in the huge turnout for the service. His wake is at the Grange Club and is a lively gathering full of people sharing stories and jokes about Iain which he would have relished and enjoyed. I miss him.

Friday 22 April
Good Friday – the first of the four public holidays between now and election day, but there is still work to be done delivering my constituency newspaper before we break off early to enjoy the rest of the day. My sister-in-law Anne from Bridlington in Yorkshire is staying with us for the holiday weekend.

Nationally, Annabel [Goldie] rouses my jealousy by getting a tour of the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston, where she launches our economy manifesto. It’s a credit to Derek Brownlee, our finance spokesman, who spent many painstaking hours fully costing our entire four-year spending programme. There’s no point promising something if you can’t deliver it, although try telling that to the SNP. The economy manifesto is well received, but in all honesty I think the big media turnout has more to do with the teacakes and caramel logs on offer.

Saturday 23 April
Out in Stenhouse and Saughton with a team of helpers. These are new parts of the constituency, so I am keen to make an impact here – but it is hard going in the teeming rain and not for the first time I am grateful to everyone who signs on to help not for any personal reward or glory but simply because they believe in the party and what it stands for. As a candidate, you can’t say thank you enough, no matter how elevated you may be.

In the afternoon I watch Hearts blow a three-goal lead against Motherwell and end up hanging on for a draw. Talk about momentum shifts – Labour must know exactly how the Hearts players feel.

Sunday 24 April
Present Sheila and her sister with Easter eggs inscribed with their names before heading off to party HQ to do an early morning interview with Bernard Ponsonby who is providing the pool coverage for the broadcasters. A token question about testing the three Rs in primary schools which is our topic for the day, then it’s on to questions about the polls which show the SNP as having a commanding lead over Labour.

The Labour campaign is in disarray and I say so. They have deliberately chosen to blur dividing-lines between them and the SNP and have spent all the campaign so far attacking us in a rerun of 2010. Labour should have said they did not support a council tax freeze and framed a choice between them and the SNP.

Our media team identified today as the day to announce we were now actively targeting Liberal Democrat list votes, as we enter the last ten days of the campaign. There is a degree of media scepticism, as journalists enquire why any Lib Dems disaffected with the UK government would vote Tory, but this misses the point. Annabel has had a great campaign and people have warmed to her. Our canvassing returns suggest an opportunity to bolster our list vote with former Lib Dem voters, so we’re determined to seize it.

Monday 25 April
Another holiday and some more campaigning in the morning for me before I take the afternoon off to have a game of golf with my son James. He is in sparkling form – I am well below my best and he wins comfortably. Roll on the summer recess when I can get my game in shape.

Talking of outdoor pursuits, today Annabel launches our sports and healthy living manifesto – fit4life – with rugby legend Gavin Hastings and education spokesperson Liz Smith. The three pass a rugby ball about for the cameras and it’s almost perfect until one person drops it. The culprit is not Annabel, nor Liz, but possibly the finest full-back we have ever produced. I would like to have seen the odds on that outcome.

Tuesday 26 April
I am at Leith FM this morning to record an interview for this local radio station in my capacity as the leading candidate on the Conservative list for Lothians. Some would see this as an insurance policy, and there are a fair number of critics of the list system and the way candidates are selected and ranked in order on the list. In our case, you have to be a constituency candidate before you can be considered for the list.

The purpose behind this rule was to ensure that all candidates had to work on the ground and there were no free riders who could expect to breeze into parliament without contributing to the campaign. Our list order is determined by a ballot of party members in the region, and this took place six months ago. The system does tend to favour incumbents who work hard and are well-known and respected in their areas, but that’s not exactly a crime.

The interview ends up being conducted in the peaceful sanctuary of the Leith Dockers Club, next to the Leith FM studio, because workmen are banging away in the main building and the noise interferes with the recording. Fairly standard stuff, but it takes well over an hour to do.

I have strong local connections as the product of a mixed marriage – mother from Leith and father from Edinburgh. I attended Leith Academy primary school and am proud of the fact that last year Leith Academy celebrated its 450th anniversary. It was a great school for me. Only three marvellous teachers in seven years of primary education and never in a class with fewer than 40 pupils! Education is all about the quality of the teachers and their ability to educate and inspire.

Back to Pentlands for more local campaigning before I travel to Glasgow in the evening for a Newsnight Scotland special edition on the constitution, where I am one of a seven-strong panel. Late-night live political programmes at the end of a long day are an occupational hazard for politicians. No wonder people become a cropper or stumble under interrogation.

However, this event is pretty plain sailing. A lot of focus on an independence referendum to which we are opposed, but on which both Labour and the Lib Dems are distinctly wobbly. It’s pretty plain that the overwhelming majority of Scots don’t want independence, so why we should waste time on this when there are far more important decisions to be taken in the next parliament is not obvious. It’s typical of the willingness of politicians to be diverted to sideshows.

Wednesday 27 April
I visit Stevenson College with Liz Smith and meet the principal Brian Lister and staff and students to discuss the funding issues which affect them. Our visit coincides with an announcement that agreement has been reached in principle for Stevenson to merge with Jewel and Esk College to form an Edinburgh super-college which will have over 20,000 students.

Brian is a bundle of energy and ideas and provides great leadership to Stevenson. One of his biggest concerns is that the determination of other parties in Scotland to avoid tuition fees or a graduate contribution for higher education will mean a real squeeze on the college sector, even although colleges are capable of delivering degree courses far more cost effectively than universities.

Stevenson offers a degree in music in conjunction with Abertay and we visit one of the recording studios where a group is recording its version of the Beatles classic Eight days a week. Brian suggest this as a policy to boost productivity. I feel as if I am already on such a schedule.

There’s a bizarre row between Labour and the SNP over who-ran-away-from-who in an Ayrshire Asda. Labour say the first minister scuttled off when they arrived, the SNP release so-called “damning” footage which they say claims Iain Gray ran away from Alex Salmond. Notwithstanding the fact that Iain Gray has form for running away, the footage doesn’t actually prove anything. It’s pretty pathetic and I say so in a media release. As a politician, you have to cherish the times when you truly hit the nail on the head and this is one of them.

In the afternoon sunshine I canvass homes in the Cherry Trees in Balerno – a group of streets which live up to their name and where the trees are in beautiful full bloom. The positive results set me up nicely for a hustings meeting in Fairmilehead Church with the other Pentlands candidates – Ricky Henderson (Labour), Gordon Macdonald (SNP) and Simon Clark (Lib Dem).

We each give a four-minute opening speech to an audience of 50 and then its question time chaired by the local minister. We cover sectarianism, denominational schools, transport priorities, policing, universal free services, climate change and nuclear power and how people should use their second vote.

It’s all very polite, but the last question does give me a chance to slate the SNP for its false assertion that the second vote determines who is first minister. Alex Salmond is not the president of Scotland, however much he may want to be the new Papa Doc. I tell them and this goes down well. Return home for a late supper of pasta and to discover that Barcelona have just beaten Real Madrid. There is no end to the sacrifices I make for the cause.

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Craig Thomson's running style? <em>Picture: Teenytoon</em>

Craig Thomson's running style? Picture: Teenytoon

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
One thing about American sport is its ability to throw up the unexpected, which more often than not revolves around unbelievable amounts of money.

Currently the 32 NFL teams are involved in a dispute between team-owners and players over a new pay deal.

NFL players negotiate collectively via their union. But having failed to reach agreement, they were “locked out” by the owners, although that would be overturned by a federal judge later in the week.

The problem is a simple one. Over $9 billion comes in to the NFL in revenue, of which the owners take just a billion and players split about 60 per cent under the current agreement. Not surprisingly, the players want more.

Put into perspective, the English Premier League has an income in excess of £2 billion. So you can see why people are willing to hold out for what they believe they are worth.

That also applies in baseball, where the Major League is taking over the day-to-day running of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of “deep concerns” over the famous club’s finances.

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Owner Frank McCourt is another locked in a bitter legal battle. In October 2009, the Dodgers fired their CEO, who didn’t like it one bit.

But unlike others who might have gone for unfair dismissal, Jamie McCourt – Frank’s wife – mounted an alternative challenge, and filed for divorce.

Well, it is America…

Sunday
Old Firm day in Glasgow. Ready to roll with Nuremberg Trial VT, NATO forces at the ready, the UN building in New York booked in advance. Nine arrests, none for sectarianism.

I can only assume therefore that the punter huckled into Ibrox before the game, held by two cops wearing “anti-sectarian unit” fluorescent vests, was arrested by fashion polis in disguise.

The game to was event-free, discounting the shove on David Weir by Georgios Samaras, the Greek escaping with a yellow card having been mistaken for Jesus by referee, Craig Thomson – a man whose running style has been shaped by someone into schooling dressage horses.

What was evident is that Allan McGregor is the best Scottish goalkeeper around by a mile, typified by his stops from Daniel Majstorović and Samaras from the spot.

But just when you think the day has passed, out pops Celtic manager Neil Lennon to pay homage to the supporters who have supported him, and then have a bit of a jape with the Gers fans, pretending he couldn’t hear them by cupping his hands behind his ears.

Oh how everyone laughed, or was at least supposed to.

“Don’t ask me about that,” said Lennon. “It’s called humour, all right?

“Don’t distract away from my team’s performance,” he said after becoming the distraction. “Don’t even write about it. You have the photographs I’m sure, but it is just a bit of fun.”

And I’m sure he saw it that way. But, given this is the man who earlier in the week was being sent letter bombs, it was at best a slightly misconceived gesture in the eyes of most neutrals.

Of course, neutrals don’t cause mayhem and grief. In some people’s opinion, Lennon’s actions would have fringed on incitement, while others would happily use it as another excuse to buy a stamp.

Remember, in all of this, there are those who would find a humorous angle in death. And they are not all playful jokers or comedians.

Monday
There wasn’t a Sheffield stonemason employed to knock out “Entered 22 April 1986, exited 18 April 2011″ into a suitably sizeable piece of Scottish granite, because no one was quite sure whether he had gone or not.

Stephen Hendry lost his second-round tie against Mark Selby 13–4, the kind of scoreline he once inflicted on others. That performance, or the result in itself, would not have sparked the great Scot into a decision on his future. Selby would have beaten just about anyone in that form.

It wasn’t until later in the day, when Ding Junhui managed to squeeze past Stuart Bingham, that the seven-times world champion had an idea of what next season would hold, as a player.

Ding’s win meant Hendry kept his top-16 berth, although he isn’t exactly enamoured by the constraints of qualifying in the modern era.

Having spoken to him at length recently, it’s obvious he has a very clear plan of what his future will hold, and how he will hold it.

Commercially, Hendry’s name alone is an earner – and, being more astute than some gave him credit for, he’ll do just fine taking and making his own decisions, although he will still have one or two trusted advisors to turn to.

Of course, the unknown and the unknowing led to many writing obituary-like epitaphs and tributes to his time on the table, some reading as if he’d been potted beneath the green stuff rather than played his last shot on the green baize. Much of this the man himself would have found rather embarrassing – and definitely amusing given that, by Thursday, he had announced he’d be coming back for some more.

One box that does await Hendry is the BBC commentary booth, where he can impart his knowledge to those who can find the once-prominent wallpaper with balls live behind the red button.

Something he would have said after his Selby beating (because he’s said it before) was that the trophy doesn’t get handed out on the first or second Monday. As Selby found, when he lost to Ding.

Moving on to the other table, and it is apparent that some of the players are peeved to say the least that there is no maximum break prize on offer in Sheffield.

When Cliff Thorburn made the first maximum in 1983, he pocketed a £10,000 bonus. More recently, in keeping with the numerical configuration of the achievement, £147,000 has been the norm – more often than not swollen by another top-up from the high-break prize on offer.

So when Ronnie O’Sullivan made £165,000 from his max in 1997 – in just five minutes 20 secs – he basically made more profit per minute than BT.

Not so now. Mark Williams was the most vocal in bemoaning the lack of a prize, while Graeme Dott, having sunk nine blacks, apologised to the audience when he went for a blue to win a frame rather than what should have been another black to win a fortune.

Times are hard in every sport. Earlier this season, we had O’Sullivan having a running conversation with referee Jan Verhaas when on a maximum at the SECC, and only potted the black under protest when he found out just four grand was on offer for the perfect frame.

A few years ago, O’Sullivan shared his Crucible cash with Ali Carter who made his own maximum. I doubt if anyone has been remotely interested in playing the perfect frame in the last fortnight – other than O’Sullivan, who would have wanted (until his demise) to go one better than Hendry on that score – although we’ll need to wait another three or four years at least, or even longer, to see if anyone comes close to Hendry’s benchmark of world titles.

Tuesday
Word is out that more than a dozen MPs are to sign a Commons motion calling for Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish to be knighted.

The motion was tabled by Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram because of what he said was Dalglish’s “outstanding contribution” to British football, and because it would be a “fitting tribute” to the families of the 96 fans who were killed at Hillsborough in 1989.

Dalglish was manager then, and earned gratitude and respect for the way he represented the city and club in the aftermath of the tragedy when he made sure the club was represented at all of the fans’ funerals and attended many of them in person.

I have no problem with Dalglish being put forward for such an award. Many of his achievements as a player and manager are unsurpassed. And in bringing solace and comfort to dozens of berieved families, he is also deserving of a suitable tribute.

But, as I’ve said before, where I have problems with the honours system in this country is how these things are decided. More often than not, it’s by canvassing more support, albeit from well-minded individuals, than someone else who might be more deserving.

Why did Matt Busby become ‘Sir’ and Jock Stein didn’t?

Why did Jackie Stewart, a three-times world champion, collect his knighthood after four-times runner-up Stirling Moss?

Or why is Stephen Hendry – seven-times champion of the world – able only to put MBE after his name while six-times winner Steve Davis is an OBE?

And what, if anything, did Rangers management or players receive in terms of commendation for carrying out the same painful duties as Dalglish when 66 died at Ibrox 40 years ago?

Or were there fewer political points to score then?

Wednesday
Horse racing mourns the passing of Sadler’s Wells, who died at the age of 30 at his home in Coolmore, where he had lived since being retired in 1984.

So what had he done since giving up his race days?

Well, as son of Northern Dancer, his offspring included champion racehorses Galileo, Montjeu, High Chaparral and Yeats, with grandsons Hurricane Run and Rip Van Winkle maintaining the great legacy.

That earned him the title champion sire 14 times in Britain, champion sire in France three times plus once in North America, producing over 293 stakes winners and 74 individual Group One winners before retiring from breeding in 2008.

A spokesman said he died of natural causes. Boredom, I’d say…

Thursday
Organisers of London 2012 have revealed that they received applications for more than 20 million tickets from 1.8 million people for the Olympic Games.

Organisers have also said more than 50 per cent of the 645 sessions will go to a random ballot and that 95 per cent of the applications are from the UK.

There has been strict and stringent policing of the entire ticketing process to prevent touts and corporate organisations getting their hands on the cherished briefs.

I am sure they have checked and counter-checked every application rigorously. Which means no doubt that three months after the games, we’ll find someone had a few more than should have – probably 300,000 more.

Friday
Bad enough that Craig Whyte’s intended takeover of Rangers is delayed by yet another shifting of the goalposts, but the Ibrox club find themselves €40,000 poorer and with their fans banned from their next away tie in Europe after sanctions placed by UEFA for sectarian singing in a match at PSV Eindhoven.

No one can condone such behaviour, and it is not as if Rangers’ travelling support haven’t had sufficient warnings over their behaviour.

Fined £13,300 for chants and £9,000 for attacking the Villarreal team bus in 2006, then £8,280 for their behaviour during a match against Osasuna in May 2007, a year before the notorious away-day to Manchester which was followed a year later by a fine of £18,000 being imposed for violence when the club played Unirea Urziceni in Romania.

Or do they think these fines and penalties are like parking tickets?

UEFA also gave Rangers a suspended ban on its fans for a second away game for a probationary period of three years. However, they steered shy of closing Ibrox to supporters, which would seem the next logical step if this illogical flouting of public decency continues.

But – and there will always be a but when it comes to UEFA – I for one am always sceptical about the governing body when it comes to even-handedness in punishing clubs.

Just how observant are these UEFA delegates who observe from the stands? Obviously, not observant enough to ask why PSV supporters saw fit to wave Irish tricolours at Ibrox. Of course, they might have been Indian flags and they were joining in a chorus of Delhi’s Walls.

Going back to 1998, were the monkey chants aimed at Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker not audible enough for the UEFA delegate ahead of the tie with Croatia Zagreb?

I await with interest to see the wrist-slapping Real Madrid get for the racist behaviour of their fans – which most observers have said is persistent – against Barcelona, and how Europe’s football judges see the fracas between both sets of players after this ill-tempered encounter.

We don’t get much European football compared to some nations. But when you tot up how many times our clubs have fallen foul of UEFA wigs over the years – Rangers more times than they care to remember, Hearts over breaching broadcasting rights and Celtic’s infamous replayed game with Rapid Vienna – we seem to come under the spotlight more than some repeat offenders across the rest of Europe.

Still, things might be brighter around Ibrox should Mr Whyte’s takeover take place next Tuesday. Or not, as will probably be the case, again…

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