Football Season 2014/15 – First pre-season games

Thursday 3 July 2014, Victoria Park

Pre-season seems to get earlier and earlier.  The World Cup is still in full flow when I attend my first friendly of the season at Victoria Park, Innerleithen.  Vale of Leithen of the Lowland League face Dumbarton of the Scottish Championship (that’s the latest nomenclature of the second top league in Scotland).

Very sad to hear that Vale are in deep financial trouble and are not far away from going out of business.  A new management team and new board members are trying to turn the club around.  Some attractive friendlies are hoping to attract some much needed funds.  The owner of local ice-cream parlour Caldwells forked out for new strips and other local businesses have been mucking in.


It’s therefore very disappointing to see such a small crowd in attendance.  I doubt there could have been more than 50 for the game which, although on a Thursday night, is during one of the World Cup rest days.  Do the locals want the club to survive?  Dumbarton don’t have the biggest support generally, so they were unlikely to bring a large number with them, but there seems to be more of them than home fans.

Dumbarton are in much better shape than the hosts. They finished a very creditable fifth in the Championship the previous year and former Hibs stalwart Ian Murray along with his about to depart to Hearts, assistant Jack Ross, seem to have “the Sons” overachieving.  Ironically, I saw Dumbarton in their last game of the previous season, up at Dundee, in the game which won Dundee the league.

Dumbarton brought a large squad with them.  Vale had several players still on holiday and featured just one player from the previous season’s squad. It always amazes me how lower league clubs have players missing due to holidays, but it seems a regular occurrence.  I expect they have full time jobs and are limited on when they can get time off/school holidays etc.

Dumbarton played an almost full strength team and when Jordan Kirkpatrick opened the scoring in just 4 minutes, it looked like a long night was ahead for the home team.  The away side knocked the ball about well and although Vale weren’t out of it, it was clear who was the team from a higher level.  The excellent Kirkpatrick scored a great individual goal for the second on 23 minutes and then set up Colin Nish for a third five minutes before half time.


Following a number of substitutions, Vale came a bit more into the game in the second half, but it was Dumbarton who completed the scoring when new signing from Morton Scott Taggart scored on 72 minutes.

Full Time: Vale of Leithen 0 Dumbarton 4

Admission: £5

Vale of Leithen: McMullen (Wilson 60), Sclater (Marshall 45), Gill, Elliot, Blaikie, Lynch (Anderson h45), Rixon (Brady 45), O’Brien, Ferguson, Morris, Tulloch.

Dumbarton: Lumsden (Grindlay 60), Van Zanten (Taggart 60), Linton, Graham, McLaughlin, Murray (Hopkins 72), Turner (Cook 72), Agnew, Nish, Kirkpatrick, Fleming (Megginson 60). Referee: Scott Millar.

Saturday 5 July 2014, Victoria Park

So two days pass until I am off on the road to Innerleithen again.  This time to see Vale of Leithen  play Hibs.  A lot of interest around this one as it is new Hibs manager Alan Stubbs first game in charge and the Sky Sports News cameras are in attendance.  Decidedly busier as well with 1,375 making the journey to Victoria Park.  There is even a tent selling hot food as opposed to the usual hole in the concrete wall, which is part of the dressing rooms.  Hilariously, some chairs have been placed in the undercover section of the ground.


Vale have what is reportedly their first ever full colour programme on sale and there is a raffle on the way in to win a signed Hibs shirt.

Vale have Penicuik Athletic forward Scott McCulloch, a former Vale player, up front as they are still short of players.  Hibs seem to have brought pretty much everyone still on their books.  A lot of youngsters and the remaining first team players following the exodus after their play-off relegation on the last day of the previous season.  They also have two trialists in tow.  We are told Hibs will have a first half 11, then an entirely different second half eleven

Both clubs wore new kits with Vale giving the first outing to the kit sponsored by Caldwell’s, while Hibs were clad in new all bottle green jerseys, in recognition of the famous 5.  I’d heard it hadn’t been well received and it certainly wasn’t easy on the eye.  I think I only saw one Hibs fan wearing it in the crowd which maybe tells its own story.  The first half was pretty much one way traffic but despite their possession, Hibs were not creating much.  A couple of Hibs fans behind me started singing “We’re gonna win the league”, with the score still 0-0.  Jason Cummings scored the opener for Hibs from close range


While the first half team was made up of a mix of 1st teamers and youngsters.  Despite the promised different 11 in the second half, Stubbs left a couple of the first teamers out for the second half, just in case things went wrong I assume.  Cummings also scored the 2nd then was taken off.  Liam Craig and Alex Harris scored towards the end as Vale tired, having played twice in 2 days.  In truth, Hibs were on top for the duration with very little threat from the home team.  A fine moment at the pie tent in the second half when one Hibs fan said to another “I can’t believe there isnae any singing.  Never heard us so quiet”.  His mate responded with “It was this quiet against Hamilton”.  (Who they lost to in the play-off final).


A large crowd and hopefully Vale will have alleviated some of their financial problems.

Full Time: Vale of Leithen 0 Hibs 4.

Admission: £7

Vale of Leithen: Mullen (Wilson 64), Sclater, Dickson (Rixon 68), Elliot, Blaikie, Lynch (Tainsh), Brady, McCulloch (Ferguson 75), O’Brien, Morris (McGregor 50), Tulloch.

Hibernian: Perntrou (Brennan 45), Buxton (Dunsmore 45), Martynuik (Booth 45), Stevenson (Forster 45), Nelson (Hanlon 45), Gardiner (Burke 45), Martin (Craig 45), Tudur-Jones (Harris 45), Cummings (Crane 60; Sinclair 80), Handling (Allan 60), Todd (Stanton 45). Referee: Gavin Ross.

Saturday 12 July 2014, 3G Arena (Netherdale)

I’m not entirely sure if the best way to spend your birthday is watching a pre-season friendly in Galashiels, but that was where I found myself for Lowland League Gala Fairydean Rovers against East of Scotland Football League First Division side Eyemouth United.


Gala joined the Lowland League from the East of Scotland Football League in 2013. At the same time the club changed its name to Gala Fairydean Rovers, following a merger between Gala Fairydean and Gala Rovers.

Eyemouth were previously members of the Scottish Football Association and were allowed to enter the Scottish Cup. Their most successful run in the competition was in 1959-60 when they reached the quarter-finals, eventually losing 2-1 at home to that year’s runners-up Kilmarnock.

Netherdale, or The 3G Arena has been the club’s home since 1929 and is located next to the rugby ground.  The ground’s stand was designed by architect Peter Womersley and built in the mid 60s. The stand has a capacity for 750 spectators and the ground as a whole up to 4,000. The cantilevered concrete structure is protected as a Category A listed building.

Both teams were short of players with Gala having half a dozen at weddings or T in the Park with Eyemouth having 9 players pulling out following the funeral of club stalwart Robin Aitchison the previous day.  A minute’s silence preceded the game which was observed impeccably by the 100 or so in attendance.

David Bonnar opened the scoring for the home side after 5 minutes and just two minutes later, Gibson made it 2-0.  Eyemouth were competitive, but had no cutting edge and Ross Aitchison scored the third with a great effort that went in off the underside of the bar just before half time.


Aitchison got his second of the game after 50 minutes and Dean McColm made it five with 20 minutes left.

An injury to Aitchison meant Gala played the last 18 minutes with 10 men, having used all their subs, but almost immediately, Ashley Langford made it 6-0 on his debut.

Aiden Lauder got one back for Eyemouth with a beautiful chip from 20 yards over the head of keeper Dodds with a quarter of an hour to go.  The Eyemouth keeper shouted that “The comeback was on” (and smiled to himself a little too much), but  Noble restored the six goal margin with 11 minutes left.

A goal bonanza, and not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, but Gala were clearly the better team.

Full Time:  Gala Fairydean Rovers 7 Eyemouth United 1.

Admission: £3

Gala Fairydean Rovers. J Dodds, L Stephen (K Hogg 46), D Thomson, G Robinson (A Commons 56), P Hossack, D Bonnar, R Aitchison, D McColm, J Gibson (A Langford 56), C Pinnons (R Noble 46) S Noble.

Eyemouth United. A Mutch, G Burrull, J Watt, R Wylie, D Burns, R Aitchison, A Lauder, M Scott (G Scott 59), C Lough, J Thomson & T Wyman.

Sunday 13 July 2014, Ferguson Park

Less than 24 hours after the previous game and I’m off to Rosewell to see Lowland League’s Whitehill Welfare take on the under 20 team of Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Accademicals.

The Junior club, Rosewell Rosedale, used to play at a park in the centre of the village, just to the south of St Matthew’s RC Church.  After the war this land was taken over for building houses, and the club moved over to its current location. The turf was provided by a farmer named Ferguson

Hamilton certainly seemed to have a few players that were well over 20 in their line-up.  Star attraction was Champions League winner and World Cup goalscorer Benni McCarthy lining up for Whitehill as a guest player.  Now 37, the South African is the brother-in-law of Whitehill’s right back John Hall.  Whitehill also have Penicuik’s goalkeeper Youssef Bejaoui playing as a guest, a former Whitehill player who left to sign for Cowdenbeath.


It doesn’t take the SPL new boys long to open the scoring with Jaison McGrath putting the Accies in front after just 7 minutes.

McCarthy didn’t look full of running but the ability was clearly still there and he scored with a bullet header, from a good way from goal to equalise in 14 minutes.

He continued to influence the game and gave a perfect lay off to former Ross County player Kerr Dodds who rifled home from 25 yards.  Dodds then shows great feet in the box after half an hour and finishes well to put Whitehill 3-1 up, which is the score at half time.

I’m sure everyone in the ground is disappointed to see that McCarthy has not come out for the second half, but he stays to watch his team mates after getting changed. Having a quick chat with him, I tell him that it was “some header”, to which he replies “Beginner’s luck”.  He also smells amazing(!)


Eamonn Brophy  reduced the leeway for Hamilton four minutes after the interval then equalised in the 59th minute.  McGrath then got his second of the afternoon to make it 4-4 Accies and The first of their trialists rounds things off with 9 minutes left.

Full Time:  Whitehill Welfare 3 Hamilton Accademicals 5

Admission: £5

Whitehill Welfare:  Bejaoui, Martin, Thom, McLaughlin, Hall, Dodds, Manson, A.Kidd, McCarthy, McIntosh Quinn. Subs Gallacher, Flynn, Noon.

Hamilton Accies:  Accies: Hill, Reilly (Hughes 55), McMann, Harrison, El Zubaidi, Smith (Trialist A 55), Armstrong (Trialist B 55), Simpson (Tierney 66), McGrath, Brophy, Docherty (c)

Referee: David Doig

Tuesday 15 July 2014, Ferguson Park

A quick return to Rosewell to see Whitehill Welfare up against Berwick Rangers of Scottish League Two.

For the second home friendly in a row, Whitehill have produced a programme, which is inexpensive at £1.  The content, however, is almost identical to the one for the Hamilton game.

Whitehill are along similar lines to their previous game (Sadly, Benni McCarthy free).  Berwick have brought “an experimental side”.  I expect they must have left their test tubes on the team bus.


Kerr Dodds opens the scoring with another goal for Whitehill in the 26th minute.  Thirteen minutes later Dean Carse gets the equaliser for Berwick.

A Tuesday night in Rosewell in July is clearly not the time to be outside at a football pitch, as a plague of midges appeared almost as soon as the half time whistle blows.  Astonishing how many there were and pretty much everyone seemed to be affected.

Most of the second half entailed fighting off the midges, but Danny Noon set up Steven Manson who restored Whitehill’s lead in the 62nd minute and they held on for a well-deserved win.


Berwick Rangers manager Colin Cameron told me he remembers Hearts 1998 Scottish Cup Final (which he played and scored in) “like it was yesterday”.

A good win for Whitehill.

Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 2 Berwick Rangers 1

Admission: £5

Whitehill Welfare: Young, McLaughlin, McDiarmid, W.Kidd, Thom, Manson, A.Kidd, Dodds, McGlashan, McIntosh, Noon.

Berwick Rangers: TBC


Saturday 19 July 2014, Ferguson Park

Yep, it’s Rosewell again for my third visit in less than a week to see Whitehill Welfare against Penicuik Athletic, in their first game since ending the season as winners of the East of Scotland Premier League (And going up to the East Superleague).

The nice weather has disappeared and the ground is surrounded in fog.  And even some rain!  A seat in the covered area is procured.  102 brave the elements of a Scottish summer.  Another programme produced by Whitehill and it is the same one again!!  I think only 2 pages are different.  Home manager Mike Lawson has returned from holiday and will be at his first home pre-season game.  It’s Penicuik’s first game of pre-season and Whitehill’s fifth.

The kick off was reported to have been moved from the advertised 2.30 to 2.00, but at quarter past 2 there is still no sign of the game starting.  The game had been moved back to 2.30 but they hadn’t told anyone.

Penicuik goalkeeper Bejaoui is “in Aberdeen” and Penicuik have in goals someone who appeared to be warming up with Whitehill before the start.  Whitehill full back John Hall is playing in right midfield due to him receiving staples in his head following a knock in his previous game. It is considered he won’t head the ball as much in this position.  Penicuik don’t pick him after 2 minutes up as he cuts inside and hits what looks like a weak shot which somehow goes past the keeper.  (Fix!).


Penicuik are back on level terms after 9 minutes when former Hearts, St Johnstone (etc) midfielder Neil Janczyk volleys home from close range on his debut.


A lovely move carves open the Whitehill defence and a through ball by Janczyk finds right back Greg Ross, who lobs the ball over the onrushing keeper to put Penicuik in front after 17 minutes.

Penicuik haven’t learned their lesson and John Hall finds himself through on the keeper who takes him out as Hall attempts to go past him.  A sending off in anything but a pre-season game and manager Lawson turns to the crowd telling nobody in particular that he would have “been going mental” that he hadn’t been sent off if it wasn’t a friendly.  Wayne McIntosh dispatches the penalty to put the teams back on level terms.

Almost immediately Lawson is going “mental” at a refereeing decision, but he doesn’t seem to see the irony.

The half ends with the teams all square in what has been an entertaining, competitive match.

Three substitutions at half time by Penicuik and it being their first game made the second half a bit more one-sided in favour of Welfare and they played some good stuff against a tiring Penicuik.  They banged in 3 goals in the space of 10 minutes with the completely unmarked McIntosh getting his second with a header from a corner  in 59 minutes and then seven minutes later, a long range effort from Darren McGlashan spins over the keeper’s grasp.  That man again Kerr Dodds completed the scoring in 67 minutes when he finished off a great passing move from Whitehill.

The mist got increasingly worse as the game progressed, but you could always hear Whitehill’s high pitched Wayne McIntosh complaining!


Both teams still have players absent, but Whitehill are shaping up well for the new season and Penicuik look like they have achieved a coup with the signing of the classy Janczyk.  Sad to see the perennially injured Penicuik striker Ryan McCallum not fit enough to take part.

Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 5 Penicuik Athletic 2.

Admission: £5

Whitehill Welfare: Young; McDiarmid (Trialist), McKenzie, W.Kidd, Thom; Hall, McGlashan, A.Kidd, Manson (Trialist); Dodds, McIntosh.

Penicuik Athletic: Trialist, Ross, Cunnison, Young, Dickson (Bunyan45), Burrell (Trialist B), Jancyzk, Lister, McCulloch, Killin (Trialist A 45), Montgomery.

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Kelis in Glasgow: Hungry for Success?

Kelis at the O2 ABC, Glasgow, 3o June 2014.


Kelis Rogers born August 21, 1979 better known as simply, Kelis. In the midst of this gig, she talks about her first appearance in this part of the world in 1999, while she was still a teenager. A bloke from the crowd shouts out that he was there and that she played Smells Like Teen Spirit at that early concert. After a brief chat with the bloke, she speaks to the band, I think trying to see if they could play that again and seems genuinely disappointed that they don’t know it well enough. Kelis isn’t your common or garden pop star.

Born and raised in Harlem, Kelis got her slightly strange moniker as a result of a combination of her father (Kenneth) and mother (Eveliss) names. In her youth, she sang in church choirs, and learned to play several instruments. At the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, she formed an R&B trio. She was introduced to Pharrell Williams and with his support, managed to land a record deal.


The singer-songwriter, who first rose to prominence on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s ‘Got Your Money’ in 1999, released her first album Kaleidoscope, also in 1999 and breakthrough hit Caught Out There gave her a number 4 single in the UK. This song appears to be absent from her set lists nowadays. Further charting releases Good Stuff and Get Along With You meant a solid debut album was in the bag.

Second album Wanderland didn’t maintain the success upon its release, despite critical acclaim in the music press in 2001 and she left her label that year.


Third album Tasty put her career back on track in 2003 with the quirky Milkshake becoming a huge hit and second single Trick Me was also a big European success. Further singles Millionaire and In Public kept the success going.

Kelis’s fourth studio album, Kelis Was Here, was released in 2006 with single Lil Star reaching number 3 in the UK. She was then dropped by her label in 2007. After she had left the label, they put out a fourteen track “Greatest Hits” in 2008.


2010 album Flesh Tone saw another top five hit in the UK with Acapella. 3 further singles were released from the album, with 4th of July (Fireworks) being the most successful.

Latest release Food came out earlier this year. And the title may pay a nod to her training to become a cordon bleu saucier.

She has won Brit Awards, Q Awards, and NME Awards, and was nominated for two Grammy Awards and has released six regular studio albums so far. Outside her native United States, she had 10 top ten singles in the United Kingdom alone.


She has collaborated with the likes of The Neptunes, Andre 3000, Enrique Iglesias, Nas, Bjork, Cee-Loo Green, N.E.R.D., Basement Jaxx and has even written for Cheryl Cole. (That’s a song, not her autobiography).

Given her history, it’s a bit of a surprise to find the venue far from full when we arrive. The tickets suggest “Plus Support”, but it’s that con where anyone turning up early is subjected to a “DJ” playing records. This is not a support act! In a first for my visits to the ABC, there is a curtain up pre-gig, which obscures the entirety of the stage. Is there some elaborate set behind the stage awaiting us?

As it turns out, no there isn’t. The curtains open just after 9 and Kelis and band take to the stage. (The venue had said she would be on stage at 8.30). One backing singer and two on brass. Both halved from her appearance at Glastonbury at the weekend just passed.


Kelis has her hair tied up in enormous bunches at the back of her head and has a very tight kimono style dress on, with split up the thigh. She is certainly looking in good shape and immediately proves that her voice is in equally good shape, launching into the beginning of the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good.

The venue has filled up a fair bit since I arrived, but it’s certainly not full. A decent crowd in attendance though and it is a Monday night, in the midst of the World Cup.

She tells us that we are going to be hearing some old and some new. (If the dress was any tighter we might have been seeing something blue). She launches into the latest album opener Breakfast, one of the many highlights on that LP. The crowd are really getting into it now, and even more so when Millionaire is played next. The band might have been trimmed since the weekend, but they are sounding great and the backing singer has a beautiful voice in her own right, perfectly complimenting Kelis’s smoky lead vocals. Keyboards, bass and drums complete the line-up.


As is the format with gigs, the set is a combination of the most recent album and old favourites, as she promised at the start. Kelis, however, can never be accused of being formulaic. We hear seven songs off the new album, but these are far from disappointing. While some of the instruments used in recording the new album are not in attendance, the band manages to recreate much of the sound, and it is an eclectic mix. While it would be easy to dismiss the music as R&B, it is so much more than that, and often not that at all.

Much of the set is done in her trademark husky tome, but the high note she hits on Cobbler is quite breathtaking. She sits down mid set, but this doesn’t reduce the quality, or interaction with the crowd. A fuller arrangement makes Milkshake sound like an almost different song and the trumpet on Trick Me is another twist. Acapella is given a more disco feel. The new songs sound very sing-along, and with extended airplay and more people hearing them, it is easy to picture stadiums joining in with them.


All too soon, we are hearing Feeling Good again, which is reprised as the outro to the beginning’s intro. Kelis returns with band to play one more song, Friday Fish Fry, and then announces with minimum fuss that she will be signing things after the show “if we want”. This wasn’t very audible and I don’t think many heard it. I did though and was delighted to meet her post show.


I’d recommend going to see Kelis if you get the chance. And have a listen to the new album. She is now selling her own range of sauces and piloted a cookery show on television in the United States. Who knows how much longer you might get the chance to hear her make music.


Feeling Good (Intro)




Trick Me


Forever Be

Get Along With You/Good Stuff/Glow

Lil Star



Jerk Ribs

4th of July (Fireworks)


Feeling Good (Outro)


Friday Fish Fry

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Wednesday 25 June 2014, Serenity Café, Edinburgh


Another angle to consider the implications of the independence referendum, this time looking at voluntary organisations and the third sector. Badged as a sold out event, we head along in plenty of time to this venue – the Serenity Café itself is a great space, split over two levels, with one level being a small hall used for these kind of events and the higher level is a café/bar with television (showing the World Cup). Maybe it’s because of the fact that there is a good match on, but it turns out that the venue is only half full by the time the panel take to the stage.

The evening is being sponsored by the Public Affairs Co-operative ( and is chaired by David Lee, formerly a senior assistant editor of The Scotsman and founder of David Lee Media & Events Ltd. He introduces the (for once, gender balanced) panel one by one allowing them time for opening remarks in between.

First up is John Finnie, MSP, an SNP member until 2012 when he resigned from the party following its change in position on NATO. He is now an independent MSP representing Highlands and Islands. His concedes that becoming an independent country will present its challenges but with challenges come opportunities. He then gives an overview of all the reasons why Scotland should be an independent country, but because he covers so many different areas it’s sometimes difficult to follow a story through the rhetoric. One point that did stick was that there are 140 seats in South East London, with only a handful held by Labour, so there isn’t a change that how Scotland votes is going to influence to outcome of the next UK election. He also says that each country must collaborate, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take charge of our own affairs. He concludes by quoting the first Asian politician in Scotland, Bashir Amid, who said that it’s not where we’re from but where we are going that matters.


Next up is Jenny Marra, Labour MSP for North East Scotland Region, who tells us that this is the fourth referendum event she has attended in as many days. Not surprisingly, she’s in the Better Together camp and starts off by reflecting on the name of this café – Serenity – and how the serenity prayer was on the mantelpiece when she was growing up. She quotes it, and adds that it sounds like a good starting point for all politicians. Jenny talks about how she has no emotional tie for the British state, her grandfather came over from Ireland and founded the workers union in the jute mills of Dundee.   She says that the referendum is about how to eradicate poverty and inequality to make Scotland better and that she’s voting NO as she believes that separation isn’t the answer to that. She countered a number of the arguments that John had put forward, asserting that Scotland didn’t need more powers, only investment and new ideas to be put forward. She believes there’s safety in numbers in terms of sticking together for things like currency and pensions and that if the outcome is a YES vote, then we will be looking at 3-10 years of uncertainty.


David introduced Lucy McTernan next. Lucy is Deputy Chief Executive for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and tells us she isn’t here to argue for yes or no. She gives us a wee history lesson, by saying that back in the day, when the question was on whether Scotland should be allowed to have a Parliament and some devolved powers, the SCVO voted for a Yes/Yes (Yes to a Scottish Parliament and Yes to tax raising powers) – there was a clarity that policy areas would all benefit from being handled locally. That isn’t coming across this time and everyone is divided about what would be best for the third sector and Scotland as a whole. She asserts that, whatever the outcome on 18 September, we need change. She is encouraged that the referendum has encouraged debate right across Scotland and people have become really engaged on the issue and she doesn’t want that to stop after we’ve voted – she thinks we should ride the tide of engagement. That’s why the SCVO is going to be working on voter registration campaign in the run up to the referendum, to ensure that as many people as possible can actually have a vote. She talks about inequalities, telling us that 870,000 people in Scotland (17% of the population) are living in poverty – as are a fifth of all children in Scotland. She finishes by recognising that the third sector will have a critical role in knitting societies together regardless of the outcome of the vote.


Finally, David introduces Andy Myles, Advocacy Manager at Scottish Environment LINK – his previous roles include NHS manager, CEO to the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Special Adviser on environmental issues to the Scottish Government. He was also a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention on the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Andy reminds us that he is there on behalf of his organisation so he is not putting forward the case of either camp, regardless of his own personal views. He grabs the attention of the audience by stating that he thinks constitutional change is 10 times less important than climate change. He agrees with Lucy, that this isn’t just about having more powers – it’s about deciding what kind of Scotland we want to see, creating change and hearing people’s voices. He tells us that his organisation published their own aspirational document 2 years ago on constitutional change and sent it to both campaigns. Despite reminders, it is only very recently that he has received responses from them, which have been published on the website and are very disappointing. He finishes by pointing out that the RSPB has 75,000 members which is more than all the political parties in Scotland, so it’s really important that the civic sector plays its part and keeps demanding answers from the politicians.


David opened the floor to questions, including some that had already been submitted. The first was that a number of organisations have chosen to remain neutral, but how can they continue to make their visions and concerns heard? Andy agreed that it’s the role of the third sector to raise their voice on behalf of their members, but he did feel that sometimes it was those with the quietest voices that seemed to get the biggest proportion of funding from the Government. Lucy added that a lot of this has been artificial and has become the perception via the media and politicians – it’s about ensuring that you are clear when you say something whether you are saying it in representation of your organisation, or whether it’s a personal view – those often get mixed up in the media. That often deters others from speaking out.

John was asked about the time taken for the two campaigns to respond to Scottish Environment LINK’s paper. He believed that it shouldn’t have been too challenging for both campaigns to have come up with something a lot quicker than they did. He added that it was perfectly acceptable for both sides to have been lobbied in that way, but not acceptable for the time taken to respond.

Jenny concentrated on the reluctance of people to speak out in the third sector, citing an example from one of the universities, who have a neutral position, but some people are worried about research funding, so presumably charities are in the same boat. She adds what’s good about the referendum is that it is engaging people in so many different sectors. She says that she doesn’t think it’s the role of the two campaigns to come up with the answer to policy questions, but it is up to them to answer the practicalities around the constitutional questions.


The next flurry of questions are all about funding and tax. Here are a few of the main points:

  • Lucy agreed that funding is always an issue and that it was difficult to say whether the referendum was having a greater impact on that this year, although there did appear to be a delay in organisations receiving their grant offer letters. This made it even more difficult to plan for future years.
  • Corporation Tax – John said he didn’t want a mini version of what the UK currently does with this, but that he would want a completely different system. Jenny added that whilst she agreed with John around the risks of cutting corporation tax, she didn’t think a different rate for different parts of the same island was a workable solution.
  • Andy’s contribution was to point out that our resources are finite so we can’t have infinite growth – we need to start growing and measuring our society in a different way which isn’t just about economic growth.
  • What about donors in London? Are they still going to be able to contribute to chosen charities should they wish to do so? It was generally agreed these were the types of things that would go into the negotiation pot if there was a yes vote. John added that where there’s a will there’s a way when it comes to sorting out the negotiations around assets and capabilities.
  • The third sector organisations would be heavily involved in the practical steps should the vote be yes (although there should continue to be engagement and involvement if it’s a no vote too). The general consensus was that we all wanted a more inclusive, more equal society and community ownership would be a way to achieve that. The traditional models of community ownership was also something that didn’t have to be followed, with a reference being made to the way in which Hearts (transitioning into a fan owned club) had taken the decision to dump Wonga as one of its sponsors.

The next two questions were about social enterprises and Jenny talked about how she had asked why Remploy could not be given the contract for manufacturing some of the uniforms we use in public service, but that public procurement seemed to block this. She asserted that having a stronger Scotland, with more devolved powers but as still part of the UK, may in future allow this type of contract to be awarded in this way.

When asked about whether they were optimistic for the future, Andy said he was extremely optimistic – that we have the chance to decide which constitutional settlement will help us most to push forward with our ideas and visions for a better Scotland. Lucy added that she felt there was a huge amount of optimism in the third sector, but that we had to start helping ourselves and each other.

David then brought the debate to a close. This was an interesting debate looking at the question of independence from another angle. Having attended many of these types of events now, it’s clear that the question of independence is engaging people from across Scotland. At the end of the day, going back to the Serenity Prayer feels like the best way to sum up this one:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

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Devine Brown? An evening with Sir Tom Devine

Scotland’s Past and Scotland’s Present

McEwan Hall, University of Edinburgh, 16 June 2014


Sir Tom Devine is often referred to as the leading authority on the history of modern Scotland. He is the only historian recipient of Scotland’s supreme academic accolade, the Royal Medal, presented by the Queen and his career spans over 45 years and the Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh (he’s retiring from the University of Edinburgh where he is the senior research professor). He has written many books on Scotland’s history (The Scottish Nation, first published in 1999 which charted the history of Scotland from 1700 until near present day, actually outsold JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, for around a week or so at least). He has also lectured on many subjects and to many audiences ranging from 400 school pupils at the annual Christmas lecture of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to inmates at Barlinnie.

Sir Tom has won all three major prizes for Scottish historical research (Hume Brown, Saltire and Henry Duncan Prize Lectureship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the British Academy – the only UK humanities or social science scholar elected to all three of these national academies in the British Isles.

I could go on listing other honours, awards and accolades that Sir Tom Devine has obtained over the years, but there would be no room to talk about the event which was held to mark his “retirement”. I will mention that the latest honour to be bestowed upon him is his knighthood, with that announcement being made in last weekend’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list.


The high regard in which Sir Tom is held is obvious – to have former Prime Minister Gordon Brown squeeze in this event before he has to travel to Africa (he leaves the event towards the end in order to catch his flight) is testament to this. Gordon Brown begins the evening by reading out tributes to Sir Tom from Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Leader Ed Milliband, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, and the leaders of Scottish Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Ruth Davidson, Johan Lamont and Willie Rennie respectively.

We learn about how Tom recognised history as the “Queen of all disciplines” early on in his university career. He’s in the middle of telling us about how he made the distinction between generalisations and evidence based data, when Gordon starts to have issues with his microphone – due to him being very expressive with his hands which is also moving the device. Tom quips that we all know that Gordon and microphones don’t go together!

Tom talks about how the pendulum has been swinging from Britishness to Scottishness since the 1950s and how no-one can tell where that duality will split in September (did you know we are having an independence referendum?) – his feeling is that anything could happen, which is brilliant for his trade. He remarks on how Scotland and England have always been a bit of an odd couple, but have got on “tolerably well” – apart from perhaps in the 1980s when there was a certain antipathy towards the Southern English, as a result of what he calls “Tory types”. The deindustrialisation in the 1980s proved to be a turning point, as that was when UK government radical economic policies were at odds with the Scottish people’s will. This alongside the weakening of Scottish institutions such as trade unions and Presbyterian churches resulted in a vacuum which was ultimately filled by nationalists. There was general agreement that if you took the 1980s out of Scottish history it would be unlikely there would be a Scottish Parliament now. In answer to a question from Gordon about whether Tom was surprised that 50% of young people between the ages of 14 and 17 who had been surveyed said that they would prefer to have a UK curriculum and exam process rather than a separate Scottish curriculum, Tom remarked that young people change, which is just as well, as they can be “comprehensively intolerable” – cue knowing laughter from the 500 strong audience.

We were then treated to an interesting discussion on the variables – the what ifs – within Scottish history, for example what would have happened if James VI hadn’t died early, what if the French had invaded in 1745/46, if Charles had won at Derby, if there had been no Margaret Thatcher. He talked about what if the political heavyweights who, when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, had decided to move to Holyrood, rather than staying in London, would we be having a referendum now?


Roles were swapped and Tom interviewed Gordon. We were treated to some amusing anecdotes including when Gordon was at university and he used to type his essays. His tutor said that Gordon’s work had finally convinced him that typing could be as illegible as actual writing could be. His background in studying history meant that his first thought when the recession hit in 2008 was how in the 1930s governments were slow to act and to bring in the rest of the World. This resulted in him going to the US to persuade President Bush that this was a worldwide problem and that international powers had to work together. At first President Bush told him he should be speaking to the Treasury Secretary (but that he was very tired and was not able to tell the President what to do). He remarked that whilst he managed to persuade people to meet and to take responsibility for alleviating the crisis, economic growth still needed to be encouraged. He also talked about how he had obtained admittance from a senior person within the Royal Bank of Scotland who, the night before the collapse, told him they were only just beginning to understand that risk that they had been taking.

It was at this point that Tom opened the floor to questions for Gordon from the audience, remarking that he was honoured that Gordon had agreed to attend this event as not only was he about to fly to Africa, he had turned down an invitation from the Secretary General of the UN to be in New York. The first question was about the Iraq War and Gordon agreed that “peace” had not delivered what the Iraqi people had expected. In response to a question about how do you define Scottish nationalism, Gordon replied that the challenge we all need to meet is to reconcile a strong national identity with the need to engage with the rest of the world. He cited a visit to the International Monetary Fund meeting in the US, he had been met by a demonstration where one of the banners read, “Worldwide Campaign against Globalisation” – ahem.

Jim Naughtie, journalist and broadcaster then took over the reins for the final part of the evening where the audience were invited to put forward the questions to Tom. Jim asked Tom if he had decided how he was going to vote – Tom replied that he had indeed decided to vote. More seriously, he intimated that he will be keeping his intentions on which way that vote will swing to himself as he feels it’s necessary for his trade to be as truthful as it can be to the details and nuances of the issue – his trade can tell truth to power that way, at least as far as they can see it, and can also tell that truth to the media too.


Jim asked if this was Scotland’s greatest decision since the 18th Century. Tom replied that in 1707 the decision to unite England and Scotland was not a democratic one, so in a political sense this decision is definitely up there with the one 300 years ago. In answer to a question about how significant having Alex Salmond as the First Minister and Leader of the SNP, Tom referred back to the earlier discussions around variables or what ifs – what he called “accidentalia” and said that undoubtedly the return of Mr Salmond to Scotland from the UK Parliament was significant, as he was a charismatic leader with a clear vision. Tom agreed that the Iraq War was a major factor in the change of the political landscape both within Scotland and the UK and that he believed that a lot of people will base their September decision on external rather than internal factors and topics. Jim rounded off by asking Tom what big questions he was leaving behind – the Scottish involvement in the slave business and tracing the track of Scottish migrants within the British Isles as opposed to overseas were areas which he thought were ripe for research. Tom remarked that in the 1960s the modern history of Scotland was less studied than the history of Yorkshire and it had been his privilege to work in a period where you didn’t have to ask “what do we study next?” It’s not really about the answers, more about getting to the right questions that should be asked.

Finally, Jim invited Tom to reflect on the problems and opportunities that a No or a Yes vote might present in September. Tom said if it was a Yes vote this was easier to answer – so much business to be involved in, so many discussions to be had as we just didn’t have the information to be certain on what would happen. He said it would be fascinating to see how Scotland worked out its reaction to that. He felt that there was too much focus on what the Yes campaign weren’t telling us, in terms of what ifs, as it would be impossible to tell. If it was a No vote, he said there would be a lot of Yes supporters who would be incredibly disappointed. It was therefore important that promises made before the referendum around new powers must become a reality.

A very enjoyable evening and nice to see Gordon Brown relaxed and amusing. Sir Tom was fascinating as ever, and Jim proved to be an able deputy when the former PM had to shoot off early.

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Val McDermid – Cross? (And burn)

Val McDermid

Central Library, Edinburgh, 22 May 2014


Sign on the way in (above).  With Val’s surname wrong.

I got my card marked by Val McDermid last night. I should point out this is not the first time. I saw her at the Edinburgh Book Festival two years ago when she and her good friend Professor Sue Black, from Dundee, were doing an event about forensics in crime novels. It was a great event, where during the Q&A session, I asked a question which made a joke at Fife’s expense (Val being from Kirkcaldy), something which Professor Black found quite amusing. At the book signing after the event, I met Val, who had taken it all in good spirit and written a nice wee message in my book “best wishes fae Fife”. (Professor Black sought me out to shake my hand.) So last night’s marking came because we followed her up the stairs in the Central Library, and spotted she was carrying a glass of red. Cue my tweet “Crowds gathering at Central Library to hear @valmcdermid She’s been spotted with wine. You can take the girl out of fife... Tweet sent, we settled down to listen to Val in conversation with Christine Hamilton, a consultant whose business specialises in cultural and creative industries policy research.

Christine started by asking Val about Northanger Abbey – the Jane Austen novel which Val has recently re-imagined into a contemporary setting, as part of the Austen project. She said that of all the Austen novels this was the one that she found most interesting, because of its satire. She talked about how she went through each scene, having on one side of a page what Austen had done and on the other side what she could do in a contemporary world. The only parameters she had been given was to stick to the original plot and keep the original characters – the rest was up to her, which meant she could have a lot of fun. She talked about how she chose Edinburgh and August – Festival time – to set the book and why she located Northanger Abbey in the Borders. A challenge was how to write young peoples’ dialogue, and thinking about how to pick out the words that are still going to make sense in 20 years’ time. That was why “nice” became “cool”, although it’s a judgement call as to what’s a trend and what’s a fad. It’s these things that help a book to age well – although she did admit, when asked about how difficult it was not to write in a dead body once in a while, that there were a number of characters she would have loved to have killed off!

Christine moved the conversation onto the new Tony Hill novel Cross and Burn and how Val would manage to get the two main characters (Tony and Carol Jordan) back in the same room again, when their relationship seemed to have fragmented so much at the end of previous book, The Retribution. She said that by the time she had got to the end of that book, she knew how to get them back together – using their key principles, Carol’s passion for justice and Tony’s belief that people can redeem themselves. She acknowledged that it was quite like walking a tightrope at times, but that she had always seen the crime genre as a way to challenge and change things, and an opportunity to take chances. The title Cross and Burn is about which bridges are the ones which should be crossed and which should be burned. However, Val told us, that the art department wanted to know the title of the book well in advance of it being finished and the first draft cover came back with a fiery cross on the front – not quite right.


Val was asked whether she ever got upset when writing her books. She said that she has a different relationship with the books than that of the reader, so she doesn’t get upset by hers, but has in the past got upset by others (Denise Mina’s Garnethill for example scared her. I was a bit surprised at that. She is from Fife remember. She must have seen similar herself). She knows what is going to happen next in her book and tries to give the reader just enough to set their imaginations working and, hopefully, surprise us along the way. She talked about how other writers talk about the characters “taking over” – “no, they don’t!” she says – what you allow them to do sometimes surprises you, but it’s not Toy Story with Woody and Buzz coming to life.

We found out that, because of the TV Series Wire in the Blood, Val has taken on some aspects in relation to the character of Tony – she says Robson Green, who plays Tony in the series, is very close to how she pictured her character. The other actors are not how she sees her other characters. That’s why Tony now has a blue plastic bag in the books. Because a lot of her books are written around Tony’s thoughts and that having Robson just staring into space and frowning wouldn’t make for good TV, the idea of having a whiteboard was developed, and that is now included more in the books too. Val had the audience in stitches when she told them the story of how the character, Paula, became an issue for a scriptwriter on the series. Paula originally only had a few lines, but Val asked the executive producer whether she could develop that character further in other books, which was agreed to. It wasn’t until later that she found out that the scriptwriter was upset with her because he “had named her after his wife, but you’ve made her a lesbian!”

Val is extremely busy – not only is she working on the next Tony Hill book and a (she thinks) standalone crime novel (called The Skeleton Road), she is also writing a non-fiction book on forensics and has recently moved to Edinburgh – or “moving to the big city across the water”. She also talked about how she is supposed to be writing another children’s book to follow on from “My Granny is a Pirate” but that there are certain words that you can’t use in these books – things like “killed” or “dead”. This was a story that she had made up for her son when he was little.


The non-fiction book is for the Wellcome Trust who are re-opening a museum in London in the autumn and the book Crime Scene to Courtroom is to accompany this. In order to obtain accuracy for this book, Val called upon her friend Professor Black (as mentioned earlier) as well as lots of experts on things like blood splatter and facial reconstruction – she said that she got lots of information and if it doesn’t fit into this book, she will certainly be using it in one of her crime novels in the future.

Then questions were invited from the floor:

  • What was it about Garnethill that scared Val – just the hideous things that happened to Maureen, the main character;
  • Why was Val nasty to Tony in The Retribution – she needed him to suffer and to have all the things he really loved taken away from him, although she took no pleasure from it;
  • The influence Robert Louis Stevenson had on Val – she had read a classic comic version of Treasure Island when she was about 7 or 8, which she was entranced by and then read the original. The language he uses is lucid and short on complexity and she often still reads it and is struck by how he uses narrative to powerful effect;
  • Had she joined Edinburgh Libraries yet – if there was a form, she’d fill it in, stating that if it hadn’t been for public libraries she probably wouldn’t have been a writer;
  • Her recent forays into quizzing – Val’s been on Celebrity Mastermind, Pointless and won Only Connect with Claire Balding (although she tells us at one point she pushed “National Treasure” Claire out of the way, but that thankfully that clip landed on the cutting room floor). She also takes pride in the fact that, since she left Northumbria, her quiz team down there hasn’t won, and that she will shortly be representing Scotland in the Round Britain quiz.

Val talked about her time in Oxford and how she hadn’t realised until very recently how people had been keeping an eye on her and making sure she was okay when she was there. She talked about how different things were down there (she had to learn to speak English, coming from Fife with a very different dialect) and regaled a highly amusing story about her first visit to an Italian restaurant. Val says they don’t have pasta in Fife (unless you count spaghetti hoops) so she ordered a pizza and when this round thing appeared in front of her she argued with the waiter saying “that’s not a pizza” – according to Val a pizza should be “half circle and covered in batter!”


I’d encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to try and attend an event that Val is speaking at. She is hugely entertaining and is full of fantastic anecdotes. Given that she has now seen my tweet and I have a response telling me about my card being marked, I may have to go in disguise next time.

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The Independence Referendum and Entrepreneurship

The Independence Referendum and Entrepreneurship

Edinburgh Business School, 20 May 2014


Another week, another independence referendum debate – this time at the University of Edinburgh Business School and looking at how the entrepreneurial landscape in Scotland could be affected by the independence debate. The event was being sponsored by law firm MBM Commercial and the panel was:

  • Bill Jamieson (Chair) – award-winning journalist whose specialties were financial journalism and economics. Until 2012, Bill was Executive Editor at The Scotsman. He has launched the website Scot-Buzz, which supports enterprise and business start-ups.
  • Dr Angus Armstrong, Director of Macroeconomic Research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Prior to joining NIESR, Dr Armstrong was Head of Macroeconomic Analysis at HM Treasury and was closely involved with stability measures to mitigate the financial crisis. He was also the Chief Economist Asia and managing director at Deutsche Bank.
  • James Barbour, Director of Technical Policy, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). He oversees the work of several ICAS technical committees and provides assistance on overseas contracts on accounting, auditing and ethical matters, particularly in developing nations.
  • Iain Gray, Member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999 and previously a maths and physics teacher. Mr Gray worked as an aide worker for Oxfam. As an MSP, he held four different Ministerial posts, including Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning and spent four years as a Special Adviser to the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Darling. Mr Gray was leader of the Labour party in the Scottish Parliament from September 2008 to December 2011 and is currently the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth.
  • Professor Brian Quinn, CBE is a well known economist and financial commentator who has held many senior executive and non-executive director roles involving international finance and economics. He also runs a financial consulting business and between 1964 and 1970 he worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He joined the Bank of England and rose to Deputy Governor in 1995 and is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland and is an adviser to the World Bank and IMF. Professor Quinn has written three papers on Scottish Independence for the David Hume Institute.
  • Cally Russell, entrepreneur and CEO of start-up Mallzee, a personal shopping app business based in Edinburgh. In their first year, Mallzee has raised over £500k and been named one of the six apps to change the way the world shops by Yahoo. Cally has a degree in Politics and International Relations from Dundee University where he has written about financial autonomy. He is a finalist in the 2014 Young Scot of the Year awards and has been named in the 2014 Ones to Watch listing by The Scotsman.
  • Andrew Wilson, Charlotte Street Partners. Mr Wilson was a civil servant and bank economist who was elected as a Member of the first Scottish Parliament in 1999. He served as the Shadow Minister of the SNP for Finance, Economy, Transport and Lifelong Learning and is a columnist for The Sunday Mail. From 2003, he held a number of posts at RBS Group, before moving to WPP and then launching Charlotte Street Partners this year. He writes and broadcasts regularly including a weekly current affairs Scrutiny column in Scotland on Sunday.

Bill kicked off the debate with a “simple” question – if Scotland were to gain independence, which currency are we going to use? Views varied across the panel (it wouldn’t have been a debate otherwise, would it?) with Andrew Wilson saying it should be Sterling, Brian Quinn saying he couldn’t see how that would be possible (and perhaps not desirable or feasible either) and how the only other option would be a separate currency, which would take time and require institutions to be set up which don’t exist at the moment.


Next one was about what additional financial incentives could Scotland introduce to attract start-ups. Cally Russell’s talked about Ireland, where they use the same sort of tax systems but these are backed up with capital. He referred to a lot of companies using Ireland as their HQ in Europe because of the tax relief available. James Barbour added that ICAS strived to make Scotland the best business environment. It would be important to first work out revenues and resources and he also referred to the recent tax avoidance issues which had come up in Ireland. Angus Armstrong contributed by talking about his work in HM Treasury during the financial crisis. There was a need to make sure competition didn’t impact on the other side of the border.

In response to the next question about personal taxes, Andrew Wilson said this was something people would need to take into consideration when they were voting – it would be up to the Scottish Parliament to work out how much people should pay. James Barbour added that if we had to replicate what’s set up in the UK, there would be costs associated with that. He pointed out that only 13,000 in Scotland pay the higher rate of tax. Cally’s point was that there was a need to create the jobs to attract the higher rate of tax payer to Scotland. Iain Gray’s belief was that there would need to be a greater fiscal tightening than what currently needs to happen across the whole of the UK.

Bill opened the floor to the audience. The first two questions were about the tax system in Denmark, where the questioner had worked on the minimum wage, which was better paid than a student job in Scotland and why don’t the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour all get together on the issue of devo max, as he believed that that would get the vote of the majority, if there was more information about it. Iain Gray explained why devo max wasn’t on the ballot paper (because it affects not just people in Scotland), but that it would be useful to know what the guarantee is to develop it further, as all the main parties agreed to that.


There was a comment next from an audience member who said that he believed a currency union was the best option and that he would vote yes, and trust in people like the panel members to take everyone through it. Then, finally, a woman got to speak (given the male dominated panel and questioning up until that point, some of the audience were beginning to get a bit restless about this). However, Bill referred to her as the “woman in the necklace” – much hilarity ensued! She asked about what would happen to the NHS in an independent Scotland. Cally replied that Scotland already had a separate NHS and was sharing resources already around the world. Iain Gray added that the NHS was a good example of something which was completely devolved and worked well, given what was happening in England. But, he said, he felt that it was a greater creation across the whole of Britain and these types of achievements, carried out at a UK level, would be what would help people make up their minds during the referendum.

Other questions from the floor included:

Comparisons with countries who broke away from the Soviet Union joining the Euro; the Norwegian model; the need to take risks, as we would in business; workforce and tuition fees. The most interesting responses to these were on the currency union where Brian Quinn pointed out that we would be starting from a different position and that there could be a transition to the Euro at some point, should Scotland be allowed to join the EU. Andrew Wilson interjected with the point that 150 countries had become independent since the Second World War, if it was so difficult to do then why had they bothered. On the training question, Cally said that education should be about the ability to learn and not about the ability to pay. Angus Armstrong commented that the Scottish Government should be congratulated for its investment into Early Years as the biggest challenge was to reduce inequalities.


Bill Jamieson brought the debate to an end by highlighting the work the panel had carried out and where to find their internet pages, adding that for every document we’ve all read on the subject, we should ask John Swinney whether we can all get an extra vote. The debate was then summed up by Dr Geoff Gregson, lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. To be honest, by that point, everyone was starting to leave (there had been an announcement that wine and canapés were being served next door) – a shame when others were still trying to hear what the summary contained.

I really enjoyed this debate, which surprised me, given that the financial aspects of the referendum can be a bit dull. But, as Dr Gregson said at the end, the decision people make on 18 September will be driven by how they wish to live, with a set of values and a vision.

I feel I should also make comment that I don’t think I’ve been to an event before where there have been so many ignorant people. On coming and going to the venue, going to the toilet etc, despite holding the door open for many people, not one person said thank you. This was replicated when letting people into the row I was sitting in. I’m not sure what this says about those with an interest in finances in Scotland, or whether it reflects on MBM Commercial, who had many employees there, but whoever they were, they were not very polite.

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Doug Johnstone: A Dead Beat?

Doug Johnstone

Looking Glass Books, Thursday 1 May 2014


Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist who grew up in Arbroath and now lives in Portobello, Edinburgh. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and has written six novels, the latest one – The Dead Beat – being the one he was promoting at Looking Glass Books. The last time we saw Doug was at the 2012 Edinburgh Book Festival, promoting his fourth novel, Hit and Run, which was selected as a Fiction Uncovered winner.

We knew this was going to be no ordinary book reading when we saw Doug heading into the bookstore with his guitar case. I should explain that Doug also has a musical history as a singer/songwriter with several bands including Northern Alliance (who have released four albums) as well as recording an album as a fictional band called The Ossians, the title of his second novel. He also released a solo EP Keep It Afloat in 2011 (and has a few copies of this on sale tonight).

Allan Guthrie (a crime novelist and as he described himself, “literary agent to the stars”, well, Doug anyway) is hosting the evening and starts by setting out Doug’s background. He came on board as Doug’s agent to represent Smokeheads, the third novel. Doug explains that Smokeheads was a different type of book to his previous writings. He talks about how he had written a “Moby Dick for the 21st Century” book prior to this, which still sits in a drawer somewhere, with Smokeheads being the antidote to that. He finds that the more fun he has writing a book, the better it is at the end.


Allan moves onto ask about the new book The Dead Beat which is about *** MILD SPOILER ALERT *** a girl called Martha who gets a job on the local paper writing obituaries and where she takes a call from someone who then appears to shoot himself whilst on the telephone. Doug thinks his idea for this book came from him reading Legend of a Suicide by David Vann, where the father figure is suicidal but never follows through on those feelings. He was also obsessed at the time with reading obituaries – an “oasis of niceness” in the middle of a newspaper which tended to be full of critical news stories – where he could imagine what these people were like during their lives. All this led to what Doug refers to as the “exciting incident” which lots of novels build their stories from.

When asked about where Martha came from, Doug says she was kicking around in his head – a young woman, with mental health issues. He had her name for years, but didn’t have a story for her. He talks about how he plans when writing a book, and it always fascinates me to hear how different writers prepare and write in different ways. Doug is one who will spend a month or two planning – with notes, files ideas that get changed or chucked away. He has a list of scenes and tends to think in a “film way” and believes that these days writers are just as influenced by storytelling on TV and in film, while writers in days gone by would have been by other books. He’s not one of these writers who goes into great detail when describing the background, people or environment, much preferring to portray what’s happening in as few words as possible. He even has characters which, once stories or scenes start to develop end up changing from one sex to the other. (Without the operation.)

This is the first time that Doug’s main character has been female and he talked a little bit about writing from a female point of view. In Tombstoning (novel No.1) he had one character of each, and hadn’t really considered that it would be a concern, so he really didn’t think about writing in a different way. As an aside, he tells us that the only complaint he’d had about Tombstoning (from a certain group of ladies in a certain upmarket part of Edinburgh) was that the sex scene wasn’t long enough!


Martha has mental health issues, and Doug told us that he has a friend who works as a mental health nurse. Martha undergoes ECT, which is quite a controversial treatment, however, he tells us that in some cases where a medical solution has been difficult to find, this treatment seems to really improve patients’ states of mind.

The Dead Beat plays out against the background of 4 separate gigs which took place in the early 90s, which stemmed from Martha’s parents generation. The gigs were Nirvana at the Southern Bar, Soundgarden, Afghan Whigs and Teenage Fanclub. He was at the Nirvana gig, where his band were asked to play when it looked like Nirvana weren’t going to turn up – they turned it down! He said he hadn’t felt particularly nostalgic going back and listening to this music, but that it had been interesting to hear it again.

Allan then asked about whether his interest in science influences the way he writes. Doug reckons that it’s more his analytical ability that affects him – he likes to do his own editing and move stuff around – a bit like a logical puzzle, and getting all the bits to fit. He doesn’t think there’s a great difference between science and art – both require creative geniuses and each feed into the other.


After reading Chapter 1 from The Dead Beat, Alan opened the floor to questions:

  • Asked about how long it takes to write a book, Doug says he takes around 8 months from start to finish before it goes to Allan and then the publisher – he’s managing to write a book a year at the moment;
  • Does he like writing short stories or novels the best? He likes both but they are different disciplines. He thinks the novel, as a bigger project, is a better medium for him.
  • Could Hit and Run be made into a film? Smokeheads is under option for a film. Hit and Run – there are positive noises being made about it being developed for a mini TV series. Who would Doug cast in some of his main characters? He reckons Martin Compston would make a good Billy from Hit and Run. Was there potential for Hit and Run to be set outside Edinburgh? Doug says he wouldn’t be unhappy about that, although it might be difficult to recreate it.
  • His books have moved on from Scottishness being integral in his writing (as it was in The Ossians) to concentrating more on individual personal crises.
  • He can’t listen to music with lyrics when he writes as he finds it too distracting.

Doug then tells us a bit about the history of the bands he has been in and tells us he’s going to finish the event by playing a few songs. We are treated to two covers, The Concept by Teenage Fanclub (a personal favourite) and The Lemonheads’ Alison’s Starting To Happen. Doug finishes his mini set with one of his own songs I Used To Be A Drummer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. We bought the new book, which Doug very kindly signed for us, and on the way out we picked up one of the CDs too.


This was a slightly different book event, but a very enjoyable one.

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