Sunday, 16 September 2012

Was Hillsborough A One-Off?

David Cameron has taken much credit for the tone in which he delivered his apology in the House of Commons, to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. Commentators have said that not only was Cameron's tone "just right", but that the way in which it was received in the House did credit to the MPs, as they made known their outrage at the hypocrisy and mendacity of the South Yorkshire Police, who were in charge of crowd control at the time. The media in general has howled its outrage, while The Sun has been shown up as the rag it has always been. After 23 years, the families of the deceased have been vindicated, having fought a lonely battle throughout that period, in order to clear the names of not only their own lost relatives, but of Liverpool FC fans in general. Since the disaster, the families of the deceased have had to run the gauntlet of abuse normally reserved for those who are prepared to fight their corner and face up to the establishment. They have been accused of vindictiveness, of being bitter and twisted, only interested in compensation, as those with most to hide, used every avenue open to them to smear the reputations of those who had already lost those dearest to them, and who were already suffering a pain which no amount of compensation would assuage.

I have no intention of re-visiting the events of Hillsborough as they have been well aired since the publication of the report which damned those responsible. I am more concerned to comment on the culture in this country, which allowed it to happen, and to ask why it has taken 23 years to get to the truth. On the radio programme, "Call Kaye" on Wednesday morning, one guest on the programme was a serving policeman, who was at pains to counter the claim, made by another caller, that police cover-up is the norm in the UK. He expressed his own sense of shame that what had happened had been the consequence of police mendacity and was quite adamant that the guilty parties should now be prosecuted. He was equally adamant that what had happened was the exception rather than the rule. I would beg to differ.

The irony, which seems to have been overlooked by the bulk of the media, is that Cameron's audience in the first instance, the Honourable Members of the House of Commons, included some of the biggest hypocrites, chancers and liars in the country. How many of those who shouted their outrage the loudest, were guilty of fiddling their expences and flipping their houses the most often? How many of them like David Laws, lied about their expenses claims and made thousands of pounds from the taxpayer? Laws has just been brought back into government by David Cameron, as a Minister of State in the Department of Education, therefore despite being "gui;ty of at least six breaches of the rules over a considerable period of time", (theft in anybody else's language) according to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, he is still eligible to serve as a government minister. Alistair Darling "flipped" his house four times in four years in order to claim expenses on two houses at the same time, claiming, "it was all done according to House of Commons rules". Public contempt for their actions and for MPs as a class, has been increased by the fact that a handful of some of the least well known Members were successfully prosecuted, as a sop to public outrage, while the biggest offenders such as Darling, Laws or Jacqui Smith were never even charged.

There have been a large number of miscarriages of justice in the UK, over a long number of years, and many of them have involved police lying, not only in order to get the original conviction of those accused, but in order to cover up their mendacity. There can be very few who have not heard of the tragedy of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, ten people whose lives were totally destroyed by the falsification of evidence to get convictions. The accused men in the Birmingham case in 1974, were subjected to regular beatings, both while in the custody of the police and while on remand. They were deprived of food and sleep and subjected to the kind of treatment normally associated with prisoners in the hands of the state police in totalitarian regimes, not a modern, democratic and civilised state like the UK. A total of fourteen prison officers were charged with assault but aquitted. In 1977, the Six brought civil claims against the West Midland Police Serious Crime Squad (later disbanded for regular falsification of evidence) but the case was struck out by Lord Denning. Police Superintendent George Reade and two officers where charged with perverting the course of justice but never prosecuted, therefore although the Six received compensation, no one ever paid any penalty for the injustice to which they were subjected and the sixteen years they spent behind bars.

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven are perhaps less well known cases but are almost mirror images of the Birmingham Six case. A total of eleven people, one a seventeen year old girl and another a fourteen year old boy, served up to fifteen years in prison, after having had confessions beaten out of them and police evidence, later shown to have been falsified, which should have been thrown out at trial. Despite a recognition that the police evidence was corrupt and despite a public acknowledgement of same by both Douglas Hurd and Tony Blair, together with a public apology from the latter, no public official was ever prosecuted. The case of Harry Stanley in 2005, shocked the country when it learned that Mr Stanley was shot in the head by officers from the Metropolitan Police who had been told that "a man carrying a shotgun in a blue plastic bag" had just left a public house. Eyewitness accounts said Stanley was not looking at the police when he was shot, although the police testified he was pointing the parcel at them as if it was a shotgun. The parcel contained a chair leg. In July of the same year, Metropolitan police also shot Jean Charles de Menezes, mistaking him for a terrrorist. Again, police statements differed radically from eye witness accounts of both the behaviour and demeanor of Menezes, who was shot in the head seven times, while being held face down and helpless. In both cases, juries were instructed at the following inquests that they could not bring in verdicts of "unlawful killing".

Scotland has had its own miscarriages, some better known and "celebrated" than others, with that of Oscar Slater being perhaps the most celebrated of all despite having taken place in 1909. From the outset, it was recognised that Slater's conviction for murder was unsafe and his initial death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but even that did not end the disquiet and at a secret inquiry in 1914, detective John Trench revealed evidence that had previously been witheld. Trench was sacked, discredited and framed by his own force but he had taken documents from the original inquiry which his widow passed to Conan Doyle in 1919 after Trench's death. Slater was eventually released in 1927 with compensation of £6,000 but his name was never properly cleared. More recent cases are those of Paddy Meehan, who served seven years for a murder he did not commit, in 1969, before later being pardoned, and Shirley McKie, who was falsely accused of having a part in a murder in 1997, which was being investigated by the police force in which she served as a Detective Constable. Amid charges of police attempts to smear her, McKie was charged with perjury and acquitted in 1999 but then sued the Scottish Executive. On the morning the case was to be heard in 2003, she was offered and accepted damages of £750,000 and the case was dropped.

All of the above - by no means a complete list - involved cases where police were either shown to have lied or were accused of lying but the police are only one part of the establishment which have been responsible for miscarriages of justice or false accusations. In the area of child protection, the UK is second only to the USA, in the number of false accusations and miscarriages of justice, where the medical profession and social work departments have been prepared to lie, not simply to cover their own negligence or stupidity but to gain convictions of completely innocent parties. The cases of Angela Canning, Sally Clark and Trupti Patel are well known for the mistakes of the "experts" Southall and Meadows, and then the attempted cover-up of those mistakes by the authorities. Cleveland and Nottingham are places which became notorious for the hysteria created by "experts" who saw sexual and child abuse in every home and school in the two counties. By far the worst case, however, of official hysteria and mendacity took place at Shieldfield in Newcastle in 1994. Two nursery nurses, Dawn Reid and Christopher Lillie were cleared by a court of child sexual abuse, the judge throwing out the case on the morning of the first day of the trial, stating that the case should never have been brought to court. That did not satisfy the nurses employers, Newcastle Council, which set up its own inquiry and a report was issued in 1998, which condemned the two young nurses as child abusers of the worst kind.

Both were forced to leave Newcastle, quite literally in fear of their lives, such was the hysteria created by the report, backed by such luminaries as Esther Rantzen and Bea Campbell, who claimed over 350 children had been subjected to the most horrific abuse and sold to a paedophile ring. Ever ready with a headline, The Sun, under the banner, "Help Us Find Those Fiends" offered a cash reward to anyone who could tell them where the nurses were located. Reid and Lillie successfully sued Newcastle County and were awarded the maximum £200,000 each, despite the efforts of the social workers and the psychologist who compiled the report, to manipulate the words of children, some as young as three years of age. The presiding judge was so concerned about the conduct of one "expert witness" Dr San Lazaro, that he reported her to the GMC with a recommendation that they examine her fitness to practice. She was admonished, despite the admission by the GMC that they had sufficient evidence to charge her with professional misconduct, on account of her pleading "overwork". The children received "counselling" for abuse that never took place and their parents were given compensation to console them for having to deal with the non-existent abuse. The total cost to Newcastle Council was an estimated £4 million. Scotland's equivalent were Orkney, Western Isles and Ayrshire (twice). Over 2,500 families have contacted the British False Memory Society as a consequence of having been falsely accused of child sexual abuse but that is only a fraction of those who have been affected.

Having been through that particular nightmare myself, I can vouch for the fact that in all of the cases with which I am familiar, the mendacity of the authorities in question were a major factor. In my case, the only public body which acted with any degree of professionalism was the police, while every other individual involved, from doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, their supervisors, their employers, expert witnesses and a Scottish Government Cabinet Minister, lied and continued to lie over a period of fourteen years. People have asked why it took so long for the truth of Hillsborough to come out. That is easy to answer. Public bodies have a bottomless pit of public money which they are willing to spend either in order to keep the "problem" out of court, which they successfully managed to do in my case for almost eleven years or, to hire their "expert witnesses" who can always be relied on to tell whatever story, or take whatever line, is required of them. In my book "Unbreakable Bonds" I not only give a detailed account of the lies that were told, I name each and every individual who told them.

Those of us on the independence side of the referendum debate, have always hoped that an independent Scotland would offer us the opportunity to build a Scotland free of the corruptions associated with the establishment of the UK. Nothing I have seen of the behaviour of the SNP in government and the other main parties in opposition, gives me any great hope that those expectations and aspirations will be satisfied. I have already given an account of my attempts to have the SNP Government change the law on third party duty of care, which gives a general immunity to public authorities and those employed by them, thereby denying any redress to certain categories of victims of negligence, mendacity or wilful wrongdoing on the part of public bodies and their employees. The Labour, Tory and Lib/Dems were totally disinterested and did not even reply to correspondence. The intention of the SNP Government to introduce legislation, which will abolish the need for corroboration in Scottish criminal cases and allow an accused's previous convictions to be known to a jury, whether or not they have any relevance to the case being tried, will further reduce protections in Scots law and make miscarriages of justice more rather than less likely. No one should be surprised if the authorities - in whatever guise - take advantage of the changes when they are introduced. Colin Boyd, as Scotland's Lord Advocate at the time of the McKie case is on record as stating that "expert witnesses should always be immune from prosecution - even if they give false evidence".

The public outrage at the report on the Hillsborough disaster rings rather hollow after 23 years. The examples given here are only a small selection of the many miscarriages of justice that have taken place in the UK over the years. We live in a state where the establishment acts with an arrogance which can only be explained because they know they have defence mechanisms, paid by the public purse which makes them almost untouchable. Very few individuals can afford to take on public bodies in the courts because the expence is horrendous and they can spend any amount of public money defending the indefensible. Even if that obstacle can be surmounted, the difficulty of getting information can be just as insurmountable, as their lawyers find every opportunity to delay, obfuscate and even obliterate important information. In my case, the social work department destroyed every single original note, claiming it was "standard practise". Unfortunately the public are rarely interested in miscarriages unless they directly effect them and even more unfortunately, as the families of the Hillsborough victims have found to their cost, they are very quick to accept the official line - whatever it is and however unbelievable it appears at first sight. The media plays its part as there are always useful idiots to do the establishment's bidding and push the official line, whatever it is. Investigative journalists - real investagative journalists - are hard to find.

Was Hillsborough a one-off? Not by a long way.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Hypocrisy Of The Union And Unionists

A few weeks ago we were expressing horror at the fact that thousands of Greek parents were giving away their childen because they could not afford to feed them. The blame was being laid squarely at the door of the euro and the fact that Greece should never have joined the single currency. Opprobrium was heaped on the heads of Greek politicians and, quite rightly so, some of the biggest offenders lost office. The loss of political office however, was as nothing compared to what the Greek people were losing in terms of their dignity, self-respect and even their families.

We now learn that thousands of Scots are in exactly the same situation, as unemployment has increased, forcing many of our country men and women to rely on the charity of the churches, which have been providing food parcels to people whose only crime is to be unemployed. Not only are they unemployed, they are left at the mercy of our bureaucratic system which determines who does and who does not get benefits. Bureaucrats have never been known for their sensitivity in dealing with those who rely on them for their every means of sustenance. I can still remember when the dole queues snaked around the interiors of the most soulless buildings imagineable and the poor unfortunates who were there to "sign on", were separated from those who decided whether or not there was a job for them, by a solid mesh fence. The way the least able and the least likely to find work - any kind of work - were treated, was nothing short of despicable. Nothing will strip a man or woman of their dignity quicker, than a spell on the list of the unemployed. It is only a matter of weeks before they see themselves as being "unemployable", purely and simply because they lose faith in themselves, because their confidence is stripped from them, as rejection follows rejection and job applications are not even acknowledged.

There is nothing new about high levels of unemployment in Scotland. There is nothing new about the SNP campaigning against job losses and in the early years of the first Thatcher government the party was rarely off the streets. In the first twelve months of her being in office, as Vice Chairman in charge of policy in the SNP, I organised demonstrations in the four major cities in Scotland, as well as giving the workers at the Lee Jeans factory, our full-hearted support in their fight against the factory closure. The party fought hard against the closures of the steel mills in Scotland, a legacy of Heath's deal with the Common Market, supported the miners in their fight against pit closures and supported the initiatives of the STUC, as the trade unions in Scotland did their best to fight unemployment. Gordon Wilson and I had several meetings with the TUs and management at Ravenscraig and for the first time ever, we had formal discussions with the STUC.

In July 1986, an economic summit met in Glasgow to discuss Scotland's economic situation, under the auspices of the STUC and Strathclyde Regional Council. It included representatives from Scotland's political parties, the Trade Unions, industry and commerce, the churches and local government. I had a long chat with Cardinal Tom Winning, who for the first time as far as I was aware, made his interest in independence known to the SNP. There was nothing very new about this type of response to Tory governments. The STUC convened an "Assembly on Unemployment" in Edinburgh in 1972 with unemployment at 85,000; a "Convention on Unemployment" in Glasgow in December 1980 with unemployment at 250,000 and the "Economic Summit" in July 1986 with unemployment at 480,000. As on each of the previous occasions, a standing commission was set up, of which nothing more was heard after the 1972 and 1980 meetings and although an SNP suggestion that we meet each year for the next four years  was agreed, the end result was much the same.

The STUC produced a discussion document, "Scotland - a strategy for the future" which included proposals which were a radical departure from the anodyne documents of the past. For example it said, "A directly elected Scottish Assembly, with independent revenue raising powers is carry out the scale of the regeneration envisaged in this paper." It then went on to say that in order to protect the UK (including Scottish) companies, a future government should "limit shareholding by foreign bidders.... " and "set up a specifically Scottish watchdog". Some of the proposals could not have been completed without Scottish independence, something which seemed to pass unnoticed by the document's authors. The introduction states, "The final programme for recovery, while part of an overall United Kingdom plan must never-the-less be geared to suit specific Scottish needs", while the conclusion points out, "Scotland is not a poor country. We are the fifth largest oil producer etc etc..."

Why take this quick romp round recent Scottish industrial history? For no other reason than to show that nothing in the past thirty odd years has changed, other than the fact that the Trade Unions have disappeared to all intents and purposes. The same anodyne statements are being made by the Labour Party in Scotland, statements which are just as empty today as they were thirty years ago, although thirty years ago Brian Wilson, the Labour Party's arch Unionist and anti-devolutionist, would not have been seen dead as a Trade Envoy for a Tory government.  Mind you, was there any real difference between the Tory governments of Heath, Thatcher and Major and the New Labour governments of Blair and Brown? When Darling became Chancellor in June 2008, UK unemployment stood at 1.72 million and when he left office in May 2010, the figure stood at 2.47 million. Osbourne has increased the UK jobless figure to 2.56 million. In May 2008, the month before Darling took office, unemployment in Scotland stood at 105,000 and by September the same year it was 112,000. In May 2010 the Scottish figure had climbed to 216,000 and currently stands at 214,000 although the figure in December 2011 went up to 231,000 and Scottish figures in the early part of this year tended to buck the UK trend, something which analysts find it difficult to explain.

In 2009, when the unemployment figure in Scotland stood at 157,000, experts predicted that the Scottish figure would peak at around 230,000 by the end of 2011. The same experts also predicted that it would be 2017 before levels of unemployment in Scotland returned to the levels of 2008 or, 105,000. In spite of the history of unemployment over the past thirty years and before that, albeit that Scottish unemployment during part of that time, was lower than that of the rest of the UK, Unionists and the "No" campaigners insist in suggesting that an independent Scotland will have a difficult time. They have no answer to the current problems for the unemployed in Scotland. They have no shame at the fact that Scots are having to live on food parcels, something which should be inconceivable in the fifth highest oil-producing country in the world. The STUC commented on that fact nearly thirty years ago but neither the TUs nor the Labour Party in Scotland were prepared to allow the Scottish people to enjoy the fruits of their own resources. They preferred to lie and hide the details of the McCrone Report from the Scottish people, in order to save the Union. What is so special about the Union of the UK, that many Scots would rather see their children live off food parcels and charity than live in an independent Scotland?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

New Figures on Drink Consumption But Same Old Arguments

It was announced last week that for the first time since records began in 1994, the amount of alcohol sold in Scotland has fallen. Health officials have warned however, that consumption of alcohol in Scotland is still 10% higher than it was 18 years ago and 20% higher than current consumption in England and Wales. There could be several reasons for this, some cultural, some economic, but the new figures have done little or nothing to persuade the usual suspects on either side of the "Minimum Pricing War", to re-examine their positions. If anything, they have simply been spun by each side, in order to show they were right all along.

It would be a gey queer person who claimed that alcohol is not a problem in Scotland, that it has not been a problem not just for years but for generations. I would suggest that the problem now is far greater because of the number of women who think it is perfectly socially acceptable to be seen falling around drunk out of their skulls, in pubs and clubs, public transport and the streets. I can remember when very few women would allow themselves to be seen drunk in public and those who did, rightly or wrongly, were looked down on by their family and neighbours. I have no intention of rehearsing the problems that excessive alcohol consumption can create because the person who cannot see them for themselves must be wilfully blind. The argument about Minimum Pricing is worth re-visiting however, since government policy based on a false interpretation of the available statistics, is bound to fail at best or at worst, creat another set of problems without solving the original problem with alcohol.

It is claimed that studies have shown that consumption is directly affected by price and, it makes sense to increase price so that consumption will fall. The theory then goes on to claim that the number of hospital visits will be cut by 3,000 a year, the number of deaths will be cut by over 500 a year and the number of crimes will be cut by more thousands a year. Those figures are based on assumptions that the theory is correct, not on any factual evidence. It is assumed that those who are the problem drinkers, the thugs who cause mayhem, the ones with the health problems, will alter their drinking habits as a consequence of the price hike. Dream on. Problem drinkers by definition, do not alter their drinking habits, even in spite of legal penalties, health penalties and broken families and why those who want to solve the problems cannot see that, is quite beyond me. The image of the "wee hard man" who drinks nips and pints is well known in Scottish culture and any man that cannae drink is no a man. That type of drinker could no more say what a unit of alcohol costs than fly in the air.

None the less, Peter Rice, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems proclaimed, "The latest NHS figures show as the cheapest alcohol has increased in price, its sales have decreased and overall alcohol sales have also decreased. What clearer demonstration can we have of the link between unit price of alcohol and its consumption? And how outrageous is it for the industry to deny that such links exist?" Minimum pricing has not yet been introduced, therefore it can hardly be responsible for the reduction in alcohol consumption. Mr Rice goes on, "Many studies have shown price increases have a substantial impact on reducxing consumption and lead to significant health and social benefits". The main study in the UK is that which was carried out by the University of Sheffield in 2008 and applies only to England, although it is the one which is used to justify the policy of minimum pricing. The study states, "there is substantial uncertainty in the available evidence and need for further research." It also confirmed that no study has been made of price increases on specific groups of drinkers, therefore there is no evidence of what effect price increases have had on those with a drink problem or, who can be classed as problem drinkers.

That is also true of the study in the USA, "Effects of Price On Alcohol Consumption and Consequences" but at least that study did make a distinction between "demand" and the "quantity demanded". A change in price will have an effect on the quantity demanded of a good or service but it will not effect the general level of demand. It is that distinction, on which policy decisions by a series of Chancellors of the Exchequor in UK governments, have been determined. Increases in tax on alcohol would have been counterproductive and total revenues would have fallen, if the general level of demand was effected by an increase in price brought about by an increase in taxation. The concept is known as the elasticity of demand, which means that the percentage change in the quatity demanded will be less than the percentage change in price, thereby leading to an increase in revenue. When the policy was announced a few weeks ago, a Canadian spokesman from Toronto was interviewed and when asked if the policy worked he said, "It definitely does because when we increased the unit price of alcohol, although sales were down, revenues still went up".

What that should have told him was that the policy was a failure, as sales may have gone down but not by enough to have a major effect on problem drinkers, as total revenues still went up. As elsewhere, Toronto had no idea if those who had decreased their consumption, were those who were causing the problems associated with excessive consumption of alcohol. Just to add to the mix, other "experts" now claim that "gangsters will double their trade in illegal alcohol, to the value of £500 million". Where do they get the figures? From the same place as all the other "experts" in this so-called debate get theirs, from some other "expert's" febrile imagination, although this "expert" goes by the name of an Edinburgh-based think tank called Front Line Policy.

If consumption of alcohol has gone down in Scotland, does anyone know why? The short answer is "No" because there has been no study done but it is likely to have something to do with the fact that the country has been in recession for the past few years, that the general level of income has gone down in many households as unemployment and part-time working has increased. In the majority of households in Scotland which do not have a problem with drink, people will have re-assessed their spending patterns and the odd bottle of wine or spirits will no longer be purchased. There will also be fewer nights out and less spent when they do go out. In other words the majority of people in Scotland do not have a drink problem and when economic conditions deteriorate, whatever alcohol that was drunk, is no longer drunk. Has that helped to solve the drink problem that Scotland does have? Not really, as the people who are drinking less did not have a problem in the first place. Will it change the mind set of the protagonists on both sides of the argument about minimum pricing? On the evidence so far, the short answer is "NO". Those who are against, are more against because they now see no necessity for it as consumption has already fallen. Those who are "for", are even more "for" because they aver that the correlation between price increases and consumption are now proved, despite the price increases having yet to be implemented.

Perhaps one day it will be accepted by both sides that those who have a drink problem in Scotland, will not have that problem solved by hiking up the unit price of alcohol. Those with a substantial problem will do without food and other goods, in order to buy drink and the higher the price is hiked, the more of other items will be sacrifised in order to buy drink. It may suit politicians to claim success or those who do not understand basic economics, however sincere their belief in what they are doing. Alcohol will continue to be a problem in Scotland until we change the culture, not the price

Saturday, 1 September 2012

"Anybody Moves and the N***** Gets It"

Anyone who saw the Western spoof "Blazing Saddles" by Mel Brooks, is unlikely to forget the scene when the newly appointed black Sheriff of Rock Ridge, in an attempt to avert a riot by the racist residents of the town, puts his six shooter to his own head and declares, "Anybody moves and the N***** gets it".

When the SNP announced it intended to forge ahead with legislation on same-sex marriage, my wife and I were watching the news on TV and I started to laugh as that image came to mind, with Alex Salmond in the role of Sheriif Bart. While the First Minister has not been without his critics, on the way he has approached the independence campaign, the media - at least the more up-market parts of it - have generally been complimentary. In fact, for some months he escaped any criticism at all, as the history of the SNP was re-written and he was lauded and applauded as the "best" politician in the UK not just Scotland. As the campaign has begun to unfold and the SNP has adopted the strategy of trying to persuade the Scottish people that Independence means "little or no change", serious questions are now being asked about not just the meaning of "Independence" but the leadership qualities of the First Minister.

Will the attempt to ditch the SNP's long-standing anti NATO stance, with the implications for its anti-nuclear commitment, be the final straw for many party members? There has not been such open hostility to the party leadership's initiative since the days of the '79 Group. Many party members, who remained totally silent while the leadership signed away large tranches of Scottish sovereignty to the EU, who saw nothing wrong with allowing London to control monetary policy and interest rates in an independent Scotland, despite its recent abysmal history in that field of economics, have suddenly found their voices and said "enough is enough". It seems that some principles are more important than others and for some party members, being true to their anti-nuclear principles is obviously more important than being true to their commitment to independence.

Be that as it may, should the First Minister and his defence spokeman, Angus Robertson, not have seen it coming or, are they so used to a supine membership that they just assumed it would do whatever the leadership had decided was good for the party? Had the membership not been told that some focus group somewhere, had expressed some reservations about an independent Scotland coming out of NATO, thereby leaving us wide open to attack from - well London perhaps, as the rUK debated whether or not to bomb our airports just in case some terrorist group somewhere decided to do it first. Did the focus group actually name a potential enemy, just waiting for our membership of NATO to end, so that they could strike? We have to assume that the First Minster and his defence spokesman at least, have identified the potential enemy and will announce who they are to the world and its dug, at SNP Annual Conference in Perth this month.

A number of party members have let it be known that their membership is at stake if the leadership gets its way and membership of NATO becomes party policy for the first time in almost four decades. Despite assurances to the contrary, they see membership of NATO as the first step in accepting Trident or its successor on the Clyde. If that was not enough for the leadership to contend with, legislation on same sex marriage was quickly added to the mix of potential "deal-breakers" for party members. The Chairman of Gordon Wilson's old constituency Dundee East, has already very publicly, tendered her resignation after 47 years of unbroken party membership and more will follow. Again, someone who could accept the signing away of Scottish sovereignty, could not accept same sex marriage. She still intends to vote "Yes" in the independence referendum but her SNP membership is ended. Several letter writers to a number of national newspapers, have made it clear they may not be far behind.

Alex Salmond and the SNP have taken both plaudits and abuse in almost equal measure because it is not just the Catholic Church which is opposed to same sex marriage, although that church has been the most vocal critic. For whatever reason and despite their well-known opposition, the Islamic community, the Chruch of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland have not been prepared to put their collective heads above the parapet to the same extent as the Catholic Church. Perhaps even more than the issue of NATO, same sex marriage could prove to be the stick that broke the Independence camel's back. Tom French of Equality Network said, "It is increasingly clear that the Church has an anti-gay agenda that it wants to impose on the rest of society." The Catholic Church's opposition to homosexuality is not new, it has been made very openly for generations, as has the opposition of the other churches. What the Church fears is that the views of Mr French will be imposed on the Church, despite assurances to the contrary. We are reminded by Mr French et al, that we live in a democracy, but it would seem that it does not apply to the Catholic Church, which under the principles of democratic government, has every right to state its views and even campaign to have them implemented.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government has stated, "We intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships because we believe it is the right thing to do".  The spokesman continued, "We are equally committed to protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression and ensuring that religious celebrants opposed to same sex marriage do not have to solemnise same sex ceremonies". Are those words totally meaningless or is the assurance given in the sure and certain knowledge that once the law is passed, the Churches will be obliged to adhere to it? If that is the case, Salmond has unleashed something for which he will be very sorry. If no Catholic priest is to be compelled to conduct a religious ceremony for two homosexual or lesbian people who want to, in their eyes, have their union blessed and sanctified by their church, what is the point of the legislation? Civil Partnerships enjoy exactly the same rights as partners in a civil marriage, under the 2004 Act of the Westminster Parliament, therefore what is to be gained, in a practical sense, through same sex marriage?

Equality legislation in the USA caused Catholic charities which placed children for adoption, to close their doors in a number of states. In 2010, under the civial marriage laws in the District of Columbia, a Catholic charity in Washington closed down rather than place children with same sex parents. Catholic Care, which serviced Leeds and Middlesbrough, lost its legal battle in April 2011 and othe charities in a similar situation have either closed their doors or broken away from their diocese, rather than flaunt the law. What will the Church(es) do if a same sex couple choose to push the issue - and there is almost bound to be one? The Church, if it adheres to its principles and doctrine, can only refuse. And then what? Will the end result be the withdrawal from the Church, of the right to conduct a marriage ceremony? The Labour Party used to claim that the SNP would close all Catholic schools and I can imagine what the less scrupulous will do with same sex marriage, despite the support currently being given by Labour and other political parties in Scotland.

What possessed Salmond and his advisers to pick two such divisive issues to debate within two years of the far more important referendum on independence? NATO is seen as a vote winner among the waverers for independence, although no more than a handful of the electorate could point to a potential enemy for an independent Scotland or explain who is being deterred by our current membership of NATO. For the sake of allaying some indeterminant fear, among an unidentified body of possible "Yes" voters, the leadership has decided to alienate a sizeable number of the party's membership. If enacting same sex marriage is "the right thing to do" what practical benefits are being bestowed on gays? If the Church is not going to be obliged to marry them, what is the purpose of the legislation?

If the SNP actually beileves the change in legislation is the "right thing to do", do they intend to take that attitude with all legislation? I have tried to get them to change the law on Third Party Duty of Care, where the current legislation allows innocent parents and other third parties to be the victims of miscarriages of justice and suffer severe dislocation in their lives but are denied the right to see their persecutors brought to justice because they are granted a general immunity from prosecution. I was referred to a House of Lords decision of 2005, which stated that "falsely accused, innocent parents are a price worth paying". It would appear therefore "it is the right thing to do" in only some cases. I have no strong views on same sex marriage and feel that when homosexuality became legal, there is no logical case can be made against same sex marriage. A religious objection is somewhat different and logic does not come into it.

The SNP annual conference should be worth attending this year, if for no other reason than the members might be given an explanation why the leadership decided to cut the feet from the party's independence campaign, before it even got started.