Thursday, 15 May 2014

Does Scotland Exist?

On the 18th September 2014 there is a referendum in Scotland where people will be asked to tick a box (Yes or No) to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

Currently, however, the media has become obsessed with the European Union, the Euro, the Pound, being ‘British’, passport controls and borders, immigration, businesses leaving en-masse, the SNP and Alex Salmond.

One question that hasn’t been discussed and one that really should be posed before asking if Scotland should be independent is ‘Is Scotland a country?’ Yes or No.

I ask this because the way one thinks about Scotland itself is integral to how one might vote.

Do you think Scotland is just a region of the UK in the same way Yorkshire is?

Do you think Scotland is a country in the same way France is?

According to the UK Government’s own legal advice (published 11th Feb 2013) Scotland doesn’t exist anyway so perhaps it’s all moot. What? I hear you say. Doesn’t exist?

Point 35 of the document says ‘as a matter of international law England continued, albeit under a new name and regardless of the position in domestic law, and was simply enlarged to incorporate Scotland.

Point 37: it is not necessary to decide between these two views of the union of 1707. Whether or not England was also extinguished by the union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger either into an enlarged and renamed England or into an entirely new state.

Now, I’m sure many people will be shocked to read this and may even struggle to believe that it is actually true. After all they never saw it on TV News reports or splashed across all the newspapers at the time. Well, they would be right; it was neither reported on television nor featured in newspapers. But why? Perhaps it is because the mainstream media are almost exclusively pro-Union and this is the type of revelation that needs hiding (not in the McCrone Report sense; that was the Government that secreted it away) but in a way that the public just don’t know about it.

How many people would just accept being told that their country no longer existed in international law?

So back to my question. Is Scotland a country? If you think it is not and it is therefore just a ‘region’ of Britain or the UK (or indeed England) then the box you would tick would be No.

If you think it is a country then the box to tick on this question would be Yes.

This makes the independence question on the 18th September 2014 a little easier; if you think Scotland is not a country then ‘No’ it shouldn’t be an independent one should it?

However, if you think Scotland IS a country (and hasn’t been extinguished as per the UK Government legal advice) then the answer should be easier to answer. Should.

However, some people will say it is a country, that they are Proud Scots, but they believe another country (i.e. England, or Britain if you prefer) should remain the source of decision making (Westminster). What other country on the planet has a people that believes that they themselves are not capable of running their own affairs? Can you imagine France voting to have all their decisions made for them by Germany? And their parliament moved to Berlin?

Would Norway happily have all their decisions made for them in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital?

Indeed, can you imagine people in England agreeing to have government moved to Holyrood in Edinburgh and all decisions made there?

Because, surely if you think your country is a country then the default system is sovereign independence. Sovereignty: the authority of a state to govern itself; a self-governing state.

But then again perhaps you agree that Scotland really was extinguished by the Act of Union.

- - - 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Caledonian Texas

I had the immense pleasure of visiting Texas in 2009. I stayed in Round Rock near Austin the State Capital and had a couple of weeks exploring the area taking in Georgetown, Waco (in particular the excellent wee Zoo there) and had a wee jaunt down to San Antonio which is famed for The Alamo.

What I found was incredibly friendly people proud of their Texan heritage and streets that seemed impervious to litter. I have always experienced a warm welcome when visiting the USA but one thing I didn’t expect on this trip was the wealth and depth of Scottish influence within the State.

The Lone Star State

I will only be able to scrape the surface here but some of the main facts I found had me surprised I never knew about it; perhaps schools in Scotland should be looking at informing pupils of more of the Scottish influences and contributions worldwide.

Austin is the State Capital, named after Steven F Austin (1793 – 1836) who on receiving a grant, originally given to his father, was able to bring 300 colonists to Texas. Over 40% of those original colonists were Scots.

The State Capitol building in Austin was financed by ten men from Scotland. Incidentally, I love the fact that given ‘everything in Texas is bigger and better’ the State Capitol building was built to be bigger than the national one in Washington DC.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (1793 – 1886) an Ulster Scot led the call for Texan autonomy from Mexico and set about recruiting a force to support it.

His ancestry is said to go back to Houston, Renfrewshire.

 In December 1835 a group of Houston’s volunteers took the Southern Texas town of San Antonio. They set up at a former mission called the Alamo. When in March 1836 Texas declared independence Houston was commander of the armed forces.

The Mexican response was to send an army to besiege the Alamo. We know that there were 189 defenders and that almost one-third of those were Scots or of Scots heritage including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie (of the Bowie knife fame), Richard W Ballantyne, Isaac Robertson, David L Wilson, and John McGregor (who played the bagpipes during the attack). Reports on the strength of the Mexican army can vary but is generally believed it was around 3,000 strong; after 4 days with the defenders wiped out 1,400 Mexicans were left.

Gratuitous pic of me at the Alamo - it was too busy to get in so 
at least I have an excuse to go back (as if I would ever need one)

Further Scottish/Texan connections include:

  • The oldest signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence was Collin McKinney of Scottish descent. The county of Collin and town of McKinney are named after him.

  • There are 254 counties in Texas – more than 100 have Scottish connections with almost 40 towns having an affinity with Scotland including Dallas, Elgin, Edinburg, Highlands, Houston and Gordon.

  • Aberdeen Angus cattle were first exported to Texas in 1883.

  • The Texas Land & Cattle Company has its origins in Dundee.

  • The famous Chisholm Trail is attributed to Jesse Chisholm (part Scot/Cherokee). His grandfather, John Chisholm, arrived in Texas from Scotland in 1777; his son married the daughter of a Cherokee chief.

  • The Scottish Society of Texas was formed in 1963 representing 50 clans in Texas.

  • Texas Bluebonnet Tartan was recognized as the official State Tartan in 1989 – the bluebonnet is the State flower.

  • The Texan colloquialism Y’all is said to evolve from Scots Gaelic ‘sibh vile’ (se’vall) which means ‘you all’

This blog post can simply not do justice to the connections between Texas and Scotland but there are a surprising amount of websites to visit for much more information. Better yet, go visit!


Friday, 28 March 2014

Threats and the Act of Union

The Act of Union in 1707 between England and Scotland is often summed up quoting Robert Burns: 'Bought and sold for English gold'. The reference here being the lands in England that were awarded to Scottish noblemen who were signatories to the 'deal'.

However, it is less commonly known that the 'bribes' were only the icing on the cake. There were far more serious threats both financial and military which the nobles could no doubt not ignore.

The English Aliens Act stated that unless that Crown of Scotland had been settled in the same manner as England by 25th December 1705, from that date all Scots would be treated as aliens in England & incapable of inheriting property. From that date no cattle, sheep, coal or linen (i.e.Scotland's main exports) would be imported into England. 

(Union of 1707 Why and How, Henderson-Scott)

Letter from Godolphin to Seafield (17th July 1703) -

"England is now at war with France; if Scotland were at peace, and
consequently at liberty to trade with France, would not that immediately
necessitate a war betwixt England & Scotland also, as has often been the case
before the two nations were under the same sovereign?
And though perhaps some turbulent spirits in Scotland may be desiring to
have it so again, if they please to consult history the will not find the advantage
of these breaches has often been on the side of Scotland; and if they will give
themselves leave to consider how much England has increased in wealth & power
since those times, perhaps the present conjuncture will not appear more
favourable for them, but on the contrary rather furnish arguments for enforcing
the necessity of a speedy union between the two nations; which is a notion that
I find has so little prevalency in the present parliament of Scotland.
And I hope your Lordship will not be offended with me if I take the freedom
to be of the opinion they may possibly be sorry for it too, when the opportunity
is out of their reach."

Also TB Smith (1962) -

"The Scottish commissioners in 1706 were certainly negotiating under the
implied threat if negotiations failed, of invasion by one of the great captains
of history (Marlborough) at the head of a veteran army, backed by the military
resources of one of the most powerful states in Europe."

There are other examples, but although the 'bought and sold' quote is certainly true the underlying threats of sanctions and invasion must have had more of an impact on those who were in positions of power in Scotland.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Communication Breakdown

At the risk of sounding like 'an auld fart' I would like to talk about the lack of communication these days especially given the range we have to choose from:
 texting, mobile (cell) phones, landlines, twitter, facebook, email, letters (remember them?), 
to name but seven.

Earlier this year I was interviewed for a post with the Scottish Drug Forum.

I asked for, and was reassured that if I was unsuccessful I would get feedback.

Long story short; I ended up emailing a few times and phoning on eight separate occasions, all to no joy.
The way I look at it however, is that I 'dodged a bullet' there; I mean would you want to work for an organisation where the HR Department was as incompetent as this?

Nowadays my experience has been that unsuccessful applications for jobs are routinely ignored, not even a 'thanks but no thanks'.

At least when I was younger receiving the mail (that was the stuff that came in paper form and stuffed through a letterbox) and opening the letter only to read I was unsuccessful at least had an element of excitement in it just before the disappointment.

 For some reason, these rejection letters became known as 'Dear John' letters.

 "Did you hear about that job you applied for?" "Aye, ah got a Dear John." 

Being the type of person that would rather shop locally, would rather give my money to
the 'wee man' rather than the big corporation I searched the internet for independent bookshops.
I found very few in Scotland. I did, however, email eight shops introducing myself, asking whether they would be interested in my book and explaining that I could supply marketing materials too.
I did not receive a single reply. I now have little guilt when walking through the doors of a 

I entered 'Death of a King' for the New York Book Festival and duly paid the fee; I sent off
my book and yet, nothing. I don't know if the book was received and emailing seems a waste 
of time. I know not if the 'Festival' even took place. I even asked the question of some Americans 
on a Google+ Community; not a single reply; and these were contemporaries: aspiring authors.

 Mental note to self* never pay to have a book entered into a book festival!

So, onto the Edinburgh Book Festival. I filled in the form online, I posted my book for entry
for the Anobii First Book award and once again, nothing. A disclaimer on the website states
that correspondance can't be entered into so just another occasion where I don't even know
if the book was received, read or reviewed. No feedback. Nothing.

The first I knew that 'Death of a King' was not being considered was when I went onto the 
website and found a list of 42 authors that the public were invited to choose from and vote
for as winner.

Maybe it is just me and the way I was brought up.

Still, I would have thought that even if you have 100 people to reply to a 'standard' rejection 
email sent out to everyone isn't too difficult (or time-consuming) to do? 

After all, each one of those 100 is a potential customer. Or to look at it another way a potential 'bad mouther'.

Do organisations really not care anymore?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Massan Gow and the Hounds of St Andrew - Volume Two - The Brother - Cover News

With over 5,000 words written for Vol II of the Massan Gow and the Hounds of St Andrew series the title has now been chosen; it will be called The Brother.

I have no intention of giving the plot away just now, however, but can say plenty of research has been done and plots and twists worked out.

What I will say is that the action takes place five years after Death of a King which took place in 1286.

Many characters are obviously returning along with some excellent and surprising new ones.

I am interested and would welcome any comments on the new book cover that I have chosen from those submitted by my designer, Kit Foster.

Cover design for The Brother

Kit came up with some great designs around the theme used on Death of a King and it has been a difficult choice because, as always, they were all so good. However, my feelings are that it is best to keep it relatively simple and straightforward.

I love this particular cover and would like to hear your thoughts on it.

Kit Foster is a Scottish based designer who specialises in book covers; he has done covers for many well known, and award-winning books. 

As Kit's website says 'Professional design for authors...because we all judge a book by its cover.'

Please have a look at his website for more details and to see some of his fantastic work.

Cover design for Death of a King

The ISBN number for the paperback is 978-0-9573899-0-8

The ISBN for e-book is  978-0-9573899-1-5


Paperback copies of Death of a King - Massan Gow and the Hounds of St Andrew - Volume One can be purchased from any good bookshop or online, however, our preferred supplier is Hanselled Books (the link is below) based in Burntisland, Fife. It is also available to download onto a Kindle device.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Do You 'Think Before You Speak'?

I went to Balwearie High School in Kirkcaldy, Fife in the 1970s and to get there from my home six miles away in Burntisland I got a school bus. 

This journey took me past the King Alexander III (r1249 – 1286) monument which, to be honest, I never really paid much attention to. 

I knew it was in memory to a King of Scots and did wonder why it was never mentioned at History lessons at school. So, I guess you could say in more ways than one I had no more than a 'passing' interest...

 Alexander III Monument

History bored me at school; it seemed to be simply about writing down dates and never seemed to be remotely relevant to life then as it was. 

Of course, perhaps another reason was that History consisted of the Tudors, Sir Francis Drake, Battle of Trafalgar, Henry VIII, the Elizabethans with some World War I and World War II thrown in. 

I don’t remember ever getting any Scottish history; we got ‘British’ history which inevitably was ‘English’ history. 

As I say, it bored me. It is something I would love to be able to go back in time to remedy; I didn’t know it then but there was a tiny ‘history flame’ struggling to ignite into something more powerful and my even noticing the Alexander III monument was possibly the start.

British History

Many moons later I looked more into King Alexander III and was amazed this important king had escaped the history agenda almost completely. There are two occasions in his life which particularly impressed me. 

Perhaps I am impressed because as a youngster I was often prone to ‘speaking first and thinking later’.

Alexander  was seven years old when he was inaugurated as King of Scots on 13th July 1249; his father had died a week earlier.

Magnus Magnusson Book - Highly Recommended

According to Magnus Magnusson in his book Scotland: The Story of a Nation – 

In December 1251, at the age of ten, the boy-king was taken by his court to York to be knighted by Henry III before being married to Henry’s daughter Margaret. It gave the English king an immediate opportunity to raise the dormant question of Scotland’s subjugation to England: according to the contemporary St Albans Chronicle, Alexander was then asked to do homage for the kingdom of Scotland…the boy replied gravely that he had come to marry, not to answer so difficult a question.

Alexander III  King of Scots

At age 36 I was still unable to always ‘think things through’; I could still be impetuous; I would still react rather than respond. King Alexander III seemed to have no such problem.


In October 1278 Alexander III was again careful with his reply when Edward I pressed for homage. According to Marion Campbell in her superb book Alexander III: King of Scots – 

‘I become your man for lands which I hold of you in the realm of England for which I owe you homage, reserving my kingdom’. Then the Bishop of Norwich said, ‘And let it be reserved to the King of England, if he should have right to your homage for the kingdom’. The King answered him publicly at once, saying, ‘Nobody but God Himself has the right to homage for my realm of Scotland, and I hold it of nobody but God Himself’.  

Marion Campbell's Book on Alexander III - Highly Recommended

King Alexander III grasped the basics of diplomacy and assertiveness from an early age and displayed courage in his dealings with other rulers and kings throughout his reign.

I'm happy to say that nowadays I have managed to overcome the 'feet first' approach. I am now able to think, think, think and then respond. However, I’m afraid I would never have managed to reign in such a mature way as Alexander III even with a plethora of advisors. How about you?