Archive for June, 2015


June 27, 2015 3 comments

‘Andy Burnham pledges half-female shadow cabinet as Labour leader’

Guardian headline.

Are we back to Caitlyn Jenner here?

Or is the potential new leader saying that in his Shadow Cabinet ability and suitability will be secondary considerations?

Categories: Politics

Poor substitute?

June 22, 2015 1 comment

I read this morning that the runners and riders are now in place for the leadership and deputy leadership elections in the Scottish Labour Party.

Labour is not alone in running simultaneous leadership and deputy elections with completely different cast lists. Whatever the party, the practice means that losers in the senior vote remain just that, and are excluded from consideration for the deputy slot. Also, by definition it means that none of the deputy candidates are considered good enough to run for leader.

So why do it? How does it add to the electability of any party? Would it really damage democracy to allow the chosen leader to anoint his or her own deputy, the person with whom they believe they will work best, rather than have them potentially saddled with a number two whom they neither like nor trust?

Categories: Politics

Happy birthday, Princesa

Mia is five today. Go, Miss Pie, go.

Categories: General, Pics

No left turn

This might shock a few people.

I was a member of the Conservative Party for much of my adult life and voted that way in the majority of the polls since I cast my first General Election ballot in 1966. I did so because at that time it suited the shape of my political philosophy; pro free enterprise, against public ownership, but pro health and welfare. But through all those years, I was a strong believer in the right of Scots to manage our own affairs, within  the context of a United Kingdom if possible. That is to say I wanted to keep the Queen but cut as many ties with Westminster as possible. In 1978, and again, 20 years on, I voted for devolution.

In 1997, I was content with the inevitable coronation of Tony Blair, because he was committed irrevocably to a Scottish Parliament. I was content with that outcome, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy at all that year. On May 3, the  day that Tony and Cherie moved into Downing Street, I was widowed. It was shattering, and politics were irrelevant at that time; everything was irrelevant at that time.

A few months later, as I began to adjust to my new status, I found myself reappraising my life completely. I became a full-time novelist. I began to spend more time working in Spain. I reviewed all of my personal values, my belief structure, everything. I resolved to be a different man. I resolved to be a better man.

It was against that background that I took a fresh look at my political allegiance, and came to the conclusion that the Tory Party and I had reached an impasse. I was fully committed by that time to an independent Scotland, and the Conservatives, or what was left of them, were implacably opposed. So I called Mike Russell, who was then the Chief Executive of the SNP. He invited me to visit him in his office. We talked about the Party and about what it meant. I remember very clearly him saying, ‘Belief in Independence is the sine qua non for membership.’

And so I joined, publicly, to the public sneers of someone I’d thought was my friend, and yet who lacked the courage to put his name to them, preferring to be quoted as ‘A Conservative Spokesman’. I joined a party that made me feel comfortable, because it was a broad church, but one with a single God, Scotland the Nation. I wasn’t naive. I had no unrealistic expectations, I didn’t believe that Alex Salmond would ever achieve an absolute majority in Holyrood, and so secure a formal independence referendum, recognised by a Tory Prime Minister. If you’d told me that Nicola Sturgeon would lead the party in securing 56 Westminster seats out of 59 in 2015, I’d have asked you what you had inhaled or ingested.

Yet it all happened. The broad base of its membership united in protest. Not, in my view, against the referendum result, but against the way in which it was fought, and against the Scottish politicians who were perceived to have betrayed their own people by allowing themselves to be swept aside by their collaborating London leadership, culminating in the notorious vow. That’s what I signed up for, and viewed in simple terms, it’s a triumph.

What I didn’t sign up for was a leadership of the hard left. I didn’t join a party whose leader puts her own political philosophy above the prime objective, Scotland the Nation. I didn’t join a party whose Westminster front-man declares that the SNP is the real HM Opposition. That’s not Nicola’s right, and it’s not Angus Robertson’s job.

The First Minister’s function is to deliver in Holyrood the manifesto that saw Alex Salmond elected in 2011. She has no role in Westminster. The SNP parliamentary group shouldn’t be seen as her puppets, and it isn’t there simply to make Labour look bad. It is there to deliver independence by agreement, or more realistically, to secure the best possible post referendum settlement from a Tory government with an absolute majority.

It has become fashionable to deride Alex Salmond, now that he’s out of meaningful power. Those who do so forget that his great skill and indeed his great challenge was to draw into the SNP people from across the political spectrum, and unite us behind a common cause. He didn’t do that by linking metaphorical arms with Len McCluskey and his ilk or by stupid grand-standing.

Very quietly, the Scottish Conservative Party, which I predict will soon ditch that name and return to being the Scottish Unionists, is reinventing itself under a hitherto derided leader and a very capable deputy. Scotland will never be a one-party state. If the present SNP leader focuses on supplanting Labour as Scotland’s left-of-centre Party, she may be in for an unpleasant surprise in next year’s Holyrood Election.

Stay on message, Nicola and Angus, and remember that you represent all of us who put you where you are . . . or where you think you are.

Categories: Politics


There is a very nice piece on Skinner and me in a newish magazine called ‘This Is Rotary‘. It’s produced not only for Rotarians but for a wider audience, with the aim of spreading the word about the movement.

The article is the work of Joy Chatters, who produces the magazine with her editor husband, Herbert. It’s based on a conversation that she and I had a few weeks back, over Skype. That technology is very useful, but it isn’t perfect, and can lead to misunderstandings. Against that background, and with no criticism of Joy, I’d like to make one small correction to the text. The American writer I regard as the true father of the crime genre, is not Hammond Innes, but Dashiell Hammett.

Categories: General


June 20, 2015 1 comment

I shared on Facebook earlier  this morning a BBC story about an English university that is spending public money introducing and re-branding ‘All-gender Toilets’ for the ease and comfort of what it says is ‘a growing population of Trans students’.

In a statement, the University of Northampton said the move was designed so that “there will be no situation in which two people of any gender identity will be in the same room, ensuring they can feel comfortable using the space”.

Hopefully a further statement will be issued explaining what the f*** that means.

Anyway, in the course of absorbing this nonsense, I could not help but notice that ‘LGBT’, a term with which I am familiar and comfortable, has now become ‘LGBTQ’.

‘Hold on a minute!’ I exclaimed, and set to work researching. It seems that there are alternative interpretations of the brand-new ‘Q’. One says it means ‘Questioning’; the other translates it as ‘Queer’, a term in the course of being ‘reclaimed’.

Whatever, I want to make it clear; it has nothing to do with me.

Categories: General

The sods never give up

Just had this text message from Vodacrap, for the umpteenth time in the last two months. It cost me to receive it:

‘Welcome to SPAIN. As you’re in our Europe Zone 1 it costs 18.7p/min to make & 4.9p/min to receive a call. Texts are 5.8p & picture messages 19.8p. Opt in to Vodafone EuroTraveller (by calling +447836115555 for free) & you could save money by using your UK minutes, texts & data abroad for just £3 a day. For terms & info: or call +441635691700. For emergency services 112. Enjoy your trip.’

This is my reply:

‘F*** off you rapacious bastards. EuroTraveller is a con.’ Send one text or receive one short call and it will cost you £3, a flat charge but also a minimum.

Undelivered, of course, but I get to share it through the magic of the blogosphere. Less than two months and I can blow out Vodacrap for good.

Categories: General

Loud mouth

In three weeks, the Scottish Open comes to Gullane. Golf Club members have been asked to act as volunteer helpers, and I’ve put my hand up. The Chief Marshall wants me to do two shifts as a buggy driver, taking players and their caddies to the first tee.

When the proper Open came to the village two years ago, and Phil Mickelson won, I was pleased for old FIGJAM, as were most serious golf followers. I didn’t rate his long-term sidekick, Bones Mackay, though, for his on-course attitude.

Traditionally the caddy has three duties, turn up, keep up and shut up. Phil’s bag man was fine at the first two, but it isn’t part of his brief to shout rudely at the galleries, as he did from the very first hole. I won’t mind having Lefty in my buggy, but I may be  tempted to run over Bones’ foot.

Categories: Sport

Off colour

I watched a little of the coverage of the US Open first round. My immediate reaction was that golf normally involves things called ‘greens’. Dunno what they have at Chambers Bay, but green they are not.

Categories: Sport

Single jeopardy

June 18, 2015 1 comment

The subject of drug testing in sport confuses the hell out of me sometimes. For example, today i’m strugglimg to understand how Mo Farah was allowed, allegedly, two strikes, ie two missed drug tests, while in football, Rio Ferdinand was banned for eight months (it coukd have been two years) for missing a single test.

Indidentally the best way Mo can fight back against the Daily Mail, and the rest of the racist Britush media who seem to be jumping on the ‘Let’s destroy a hero’ bandwagon, is by winning every race he runs this year, then insisting on being tested with each tesult made public thereafter.

Categories: Sport

Bluebirds fly

I’m pleased with the continuing popularity of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, my Amazon exclusive non-mystery title. Politics is always popular and believe me it’s fertile ground for comedy.

Categories: General

Tiger who?

A habit has crept into modern journalism, one which I find annoying, but occasionally risible: that is, the insertion of explanatory words in brackets in direct quotes in news stories. I suspect that it is a product of the new age, where most journalists use mini-recorders rather than old fashioned Pitman’s shorthand.

Its purpose is to make the speaker’s meaning absolutely clear. Fair enough I suppose, but the golf writer who inserted (Woods) after Tiger while quoting Rory McIlroy this morning really did test the bounds of silliness.

Categories: Sport

Bada Bing

June 16, 2015 4 comments

Woke up this morning, got myself a gun . . .

Well, not quite, but I did go into full Tony Soprano mode when I read the lead story in today’s Herald, headed ‘Fears over “toxic” team of surgical consultants’ and realised that it referred to the Vascular Surgery Department at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Here’s a sneak preview of next year’s Skinner novel, Private Investigations. It’s dedicated to a man called Dave Lewis, and his colleagues. He is a consultant surgeon in the ERI vascular unit and last year he and his team saved my wife’s life. She was under their care for a year, being monitored for a detected abdominal aortic aneurysm, a condition for which all men over 65 are now offered screening, but which also occurs in women.

Patients can live with a Triple A quite happily without needing surgery, but if they do, top level surgical skills are required. There are two possibilities in the latter circumstance. One is a keyhole procedure similar to a stent, where a tube is inserted in the ballooned artery to narrow it from within. The other is full-on intervention, highly complex life-threatening surgery, given the location of the problem.

I’m no mug. At the very start of the journey, when the condition was diagnosed and we were referred to Mr Lewis, I checked him out. I was more than happy with what I found; he’s one of the global leaders in the field. He explained the situation clearly at our first consultation and kept a close eye on Eileen throughout. Monitoring of the condition was regular and thorough, under the care of Neil Mitchard, our excellent practitioner nurse. When it did go symptomatic, and we went straight to A&E armed with a letter from our GP, Dave was there, waiting for us. He said that invasive surgery was necessary, urgently; however he would not operate that night, but wait until next day when he had his full team around him.

The operation took four to five hours; when it was over he called me from theatre, to say that it had gone as well as he had hoped, and that the patient was expected to make a full if lengthy recovery. Note: he called me, he didn’t delegate the task to a junior member of the squad.

That’s my experience of this so-called ‘toxic’ unit. But it’s not my only experience of the NHS and its internal politics.

Back in the 70s, as a civil service information officer, I had media relations responsibility for an extremely sensitive unit. In its relatively small management team, there were two senior consultants who would not speak to each other, literally. Ten years later, as an independent practitioner, I had as a client an NHS Trust. Some of the relationships between its management and its consultants would have been more suited to a primary school playground. There are rivalries within the NHS? Of course there are; they’re endemic. But are they ‘toxic’?

The Herald cites an independent report by two English consultants, which it says was commissioned by NHS Lothian. It quotes descriptions of ‘forceful and at times aggressive behaviour’. It says that consultants actively look for errors in each other’s work, taking notes and recording occurrences. To me, that is no bad thing; it demonstrates that there is no complacency in the department. But it goes on to claim that a ‘gang culture’ exists, with some of the consultants believing that one of their number is favoured by management.

It quotes a case in which a patient died. In fact routine major vascular surgery carries a fatality risk of maybe one in ten; in Triple-A emergencies, where it has ruptured, those are the survival chances.

Let’s consider the management which commissioned this report, and ask some questions. Why did NHS Lothian find it necessary to ask two men from far away to study and report on the behaviour of fellow professionals? Is its own control so inadequate?

The medical director of NHS Lothian is quoted as saying, among other things, that it did so ‘to ensure patient safety’. I’m sorry; that is an outrageous statement.

It implies that in some way patient safety was at risk, in a department which saves lives, my wife’s included, on a daily basis, and whose staff are regarded as world leaders, in a centre of excellence. During Eileen’s care we were told by a professional with no axe to grind, ‘If I had this condition there is no place I would rather be treated than in Edinburgh Royal.’

I must make it clear that I am not criticising the Herald, not for one second. It reported on a document that came into its possession, and it is entitled to call it as it sees it.

However there is one enormous elephant in the room, or in this case the operating theatre. How did such a sensitive, disturbing report ever come to be leaked?

At the beginning and end of the day it is the considered, but subjective view of two individuals, no more than that. There will be counter-arguments that have not been aired. And yet it has the protential to do far more damage to patient well-being than it could ever prevent.

At various locations across central Scotland right now, there are people who are in the care of the ERI Vascular Surgery Unit, at the same stage of their treatment that my wife was exactly one year ago. Every one of them will be alarmed by that report, yet in my experience, there is no need; they could be in no better hands.

I suggest that another enquiry is needed, far more urgently than the first, into the management that was unable to deal internally with bickering between its professional staff and which then allowed the fall-out to splash all over the public domain.

Categories: General


June 14, 2015 1 comment

The tiny town of Casavells from the roof of its palace. Immaciulate

Categories: General

Who are you, then?

June 14, 2015 2 comments

Encountered this guy this morning on a terrace in the Palau de Casavells. Very small and very shy. I’m not sure whether he’s a chick or an adult from a mini owl species. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.

Categories: General


June 13, 2015 1 comment

I am no lover of seagulls, and I would like the people in the house opposite ours to evict the rowdy family that has parked itself on their roof but there are places where sea birds do belong.

Seen this morning while we were having a coffee. That rock is a little island, home to families of seagulls. Often kids jump off the outcrop on the right into the water, no harm there. The four idiots in the photograph climbed on to the top, where most of the nests are, waving sticks to scare the adult birds off. God knows what happened after that.

One of the group was dive-bombed by a bird as he clambered down. He was scared, but got off lightly. If anyone broke into my house and threatened my kids, I’d bloody shoot them, no questions asked.

Categories: General


Thanks to the nice lady doctor at the Primary Care Centre in L’Escala, who patched me up after i did something really stupid and  rearranged three toes. Nothing broken but lots of blood.

Categories: General

Here comes the knight

Sir George Ivan Morrison, Sir Gareth Owen Edwards: about bloody time.

Sir Lenny Henry, Sir Kevin Spacey; why the hell not?

Sir Henry Angest: no way.

Categories: General


June 11, 2015 4 comments

In my search for a smile, I found a story forecasting that Lenny Henry is to receive a knighthood when the Queen’s Birthday Honours list is published on Friday, with smiling comments by the man himself.

Such leaks from the Cabinet Office have happened before, but it is apparently unprecedented for one to be confirmed by the alleged recipient.

In that new climate, therefore, I can reveal exclusively . . . I’m not on it.

Categories: General


June 11, 2015 5 comments

Having breakfast this morning, scanning BBC, Sky, the Guardian on my iPad. Eileen asked, ‘Is there any good news?’ Had a really good look; couldn’t find any.

Top story on Sky was of a British tourist who is under investigation for indecent behaviour in Malaysia as one of a group who stripped off on top of a sacred mountain. If there was ever a definition of a slow news day, that is it.

Categories: General