Why we need another independence referendum in Scotland.

Yesterday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made her much anticipated announcement that she intends to hold another referendum on independence in either autumn 2018 or early spring 2019. I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, but I thought some readers from outwith Scotland may like to hear my views on why this referendum is necessary.

I am in favour of independence for Scotland, but this post is not about that. If you are interested in my views on independence here are a couple of posts, here and here, which sum up my position.

This post is rather an attempt to explain why another referendum is so necessary. The one word answer is Brexit. It may be hard for people not living in Scotland to realise just how much of a divide there is between Scottish opinion and English and Welsh opinion on the EU. In last year’s EU referendum 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. This figure is almost certainly lower than the actual numbers who support membership of the EU. In Scotland 16-17 year olds can vote as can EU nationals. But they could not vote in the EU referendum, as Westminster set the terms for eligibility to vote.

All the evidence from polling is that these two groups are very strongly in favour of remaining in the EU. Both groups will of course be able to vote in the next Scottish independence referendum. So it is most likely that it is not 62% of Scottish voters who want to remain in the EU, but closer to 70%. Yet this very large majority is to be completely ignored by the UK government. A government which has made it crystal clear that there will no exceptions to a clean, hard UK Brexit.

Of course in 2014 a majority of voters in Scotland voted, 55% – 445% to stay in the UK. However at that time the UK was in the EU and a major plank of the NO campaign was that only by voting to stay in the UK could Scotland remain in the EU.

So we have in effect two mutually exclusive majorities in Scotland. In 2014 a majority for staying in the UK and in 2016 a majority for remaining in the EU. But Scotland can no longer have both. If we want to stay in the UK we have to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK. On the other hand if we want to remain in the EU, we will have to leave the UK.

For many people in Scotland this will be a difficult choice. A choice not of their own making. A choice that has been imposed on them by a UK government that has only one MP elected in Scotland and a government that has shown zero interest in reaching a compromise with the Scottish government.

The only democratic way out of this impasse is another referendum. There is a majority in the Scottish parliament in favour of another referendum, made up of the Greens and the SNP. Both parties made it clear in their manifestoes in 2016 that a Brexit imposed on Scotland against the wishes of voters in Scotland would be justification for another independence referendum.

For this referendum to have any sense it needs to take place before the UK has formally left the EU.This would ensure a smooth transition for Scotland to full EU membership. Which points to autumn 2018 or spring 2019 at the latest. By then we will all know the broad outline of whatever Brexit deal the UK government has managed to reach with the EU. All the Ts may not be crossed but enough will be known by then to enable voters in Scotland to make an informed choice.

The ball is now firmly in hands of Theresa May. To reject the referendum would be an affront to democracy. To try and postpone the referendum until after the UK has exited the EU would be nothing more than an attempt to punish Scotland. The only reason there will be another referendum is to avoid Scotland leaving the EU. So the referendum has to take place before Brexit has been consumated.

This is a referendum that has been made in Westminster and specifically by the Tory party in England. Without Brexit there would be no second referendum, certainly not in the near future. It is not only people in Scotland who now have to seriously rethink our position regards the UK, but people in Northern Ireland now face a similar choice. There of course the alternative to Brexit is unification with the Republic of Ireland.

Remember all this is the result of the Tory party putting their own party interests above everything else. What an irony it would be if it turns out that it is the Conservative and Unionist party which presides over the demise of the UK.


Mixing it up


When you first start dyeing, there’s an overwhelming range of colours to choose from. As well as thinking about what kind of materials you want to be dyeing, whether you are going to need any auxiliary chemicals for the techniques you want to use, you need to think about what set of dyes you’re going to use to get you started.


Now this is all a lot easier if you have an infinite budget and the cupboard space to match. You can just buy a bit of everything to try. Some suppliers offer ‘starter kits’ as well, with smaller amounts of a range of different dyes to get started. Many dyers will tell you though that all you need is a small select palette and you can mix the rest. So is it really worth investing in a big range of different dyes?

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Reading Highlights – May 2016

Almost back to normal reading wise last month. Down to six books, well, in reality five books and three short stories. Four crime novels. Once again no non-fiction, which continues to surprise me. Though I guess I read a lot on politics and current affairs online. Anyway, back to the books, this time they included two by authors new to me, both very good, as were the others.

Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn – this is the fourth (and last?) novel set in the early years of apartheid in South Africa. Once again Detective Emmanuel Cooper and his Zulu colleague Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala combine to solve another murder mystery. This time the prime suspect is Shabalala’s eldest son, and the victims are two white people. Not an easy task for the duo, ably aided and abetted by Dr Daniel Zweigman. Will be disappointed if this is the last in this excellent series.

The Serbian Dane, by Leif Davidsen – more of a thriller than a crime novel, the narrative revolves around the attempt by Vuk, the Serbian Dane of the title, to assassinate Iranian author Sara Santana. The Iranians have placed a fatwa on her and Vuk has been hired, via a Russian connection to kill her. Santana is due to come out of hiding for a press conference in Copenhagen. Tasked with protecting her are Per Toftlund from the Danish police and Lise Carsten the journalist who is organising the visit. Will they succeed in foiling Vuk’s mission? This is the second of Davidsen’s novels I have now read. The first was the Woman from Bratislava, another very good thriller.

Un barco cargado de arroz, by Alicia Gimenez Bartlett – the latest in the Petra Delicado series set in Barcelona. This time the victim is a homeless person. No witnesses, nothing to go on, it looks like this will be a very short unresolved case. But Petra is nothing if not determined and a bit bloody minded to boot. With her regular sidekick, Fermín Garzón and the additional help of Yolanda Santos, from the guardia urbana, Petra embarks on a lengthy investigation which leads her deeper and deeper into the dark side of Barcelona.

Everyone Lies, by A D Garrett – this is the first novel to feature Detective Inspector Kate Simms and forensic scientist Nick Fennimore. Theirs is a very strange relationship.  Both are trying resurrect their careers after both were demoted five years previously for their involvement in a botched investigation into the disappearance of Fennimore’s daughter. Simms is now in Manchester trying to solve some unexplained drug related deaths. Her investigation at an impasse when she calls up Fennimore, now a lecturer in Aberdeen. The two decide to work together, but without informing Kate’s superiors. A dangerous tactic which leads to evermore complications and dangers for both Kate and Nick. A.D. Garrett is the pseudonym of writing duo Margaret Murphy, an award winning writer, and Professor Dave Barclay, a renowned forensics expert.

The Girl who wrote in silk, by Kelli Estes – this is a sad, but lovely and finally uplifting tale from a dark chapter in American history, the expulsion of Chinese people in the 1880s. As a consequence of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese living in Seattle, including those born in the USA are rounded up and expelled. A ruthless, and racist ship owner, Duncan Campbell, decides to dump the Chinese on board his ship. Only one survives, Mei Lien, a young girl. Her story forms one part of the novel. The other is the current day story of   Inara Ericsson, great-great-great granddaughter of the same Duncan Campbell. Inara discovers  a piece of elaborately embroidered cloth hidden in the family’s island home. It is this embroidery and the story written on it that eventually links the two protagonists, Inara and Mei Lien. A wonderful story which personalises and exposes a nasty part of America’s history. Not that we are exempt from this here in the UK or in Europe. Strange that so many people need to find someone else to blame for their difficulties.

Three short stories, by Anton Chekhov – I am very slowly and intermittently working my way through the collection of Chekhov’s stories translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The three I read last month were: The house with the mezzanine; The man in a case; and Gooseberries. All rather sad, but very illuminating of the complexities of being human.



Orange, yellow and blue

My latest embroidery project is now finished, at least the stitching part. It is a fairly simple abstract design in orange, yellow and blue threads.File 01-06-2016, 14 15 07

The inspiration for this composition came (loosely) from an idea in Brenda Day’s book – Bargello. There she used the zebra as the basis for a design. In my case I wanted to use up more of my stash of Paternayan persian wool. The fabric is an 11ct penelope canvass.

I started out by drawing a few curving lines on the canvass and then began stitching – simple vertical lines each over six meshes. Except where sections meet at points etc. Originally I intended to work with just orange and yellow threads. However I quickly realised that I did not have enough of these two colours to fill the canvass. So I decided to add a bit of blue as a nice contrast to both the orange and the yellow. But I also felt that these additional bits in blue should not be more curved sections. Hence the blocks of colour that break up the original design idea.

I had a (very) flimsy idea of a composition to begin with, but almost immediately I just started to make the design up as I stitched along. This is a fun way of embroidery, basically free-form bargello.

I am quite pleased with the outcome which is nice and bright, kind of Aztec like in a way. Will now lie around for a while, as I try to figure out what to do with it. I managed to use up all of the orange threads and most of the yellow, with a little blue still left. There is still a fair amount of reds, greens and purples in my stash. Another free-form bargello in the pipeline?

A Day on Mt Titlis

In September 2014, during our annual holiday in Switzerland with Emma and Alessio, we took a day trip to Mt Titlis in the Bernese Oberland. The mountain reaches 3238m high and lies close to the small town of Engelberg. Luckily we had a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the vistas. The final stage of the journey to the top is by the world’s first revolving cablecar. Saves your neck muscles! The top station is at 3028m near Klein Titlis, the lower of the mountain’s two summits. The area around the top station is quite spectacular. In addition to the outside views and activities, there is a walk through a glacier cave and the usual cafes and shops.

Below are some photos from the top. First a view up towards what is probably the top summit, then Emma and Alessio walking on the snow.P1080035


One of the, slightly scary, attractions is to walk along the cliff walk. This is a rather wobbly suspension bridge, hanging over the mountain. The highest in Europe, I think and not for the fainthearted. Below Emma and Alessio on the bridge, then a view from the bridge. Finally a photo of a drone which passed overhead.P1080047

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The summit is not the only area to visit on Mt Titlis. On the way down you can stop off at the lovely lake Trübsee. Here it is, seen from the cablecar on the way down.P1080056

It is a small lake and you can easily way all the way round, which we did, before settling down for a well earned coffee and cake. There was a lot of interest to see around the lake, including an unusual form of water transport. Here are some of the sights.P1080062




Mt Titlis lies above the little town of Engelberg. It seems a fine mountain town, but we had no time left to dally around. However here is a glimpse of the town from on high.P1080058


Reading Highlights – November 2015

In November I managed to up my reading quota to eight books. Half of them were in audiobook format, which helps enormously to increase the number of books I can devour in a month. As usual a mixture of crime and general fiction novels, though it is a times difficult to know when a book is strictly speaking a crime novel. Anyway here is the complete list for November.

Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, by Hilary Mantel – a collection of short stories.

Hunkeler macht Sachen, by Hansjörg Schneider – a very grumpy and out of sorts Hunker in the fifth case for the Basel detective.

A rush of blood,  by Quintin Jardine – some more bloody murders for Bob Skinner of the Edinburgh force to deal with.

Dead Girl Walking, by Chris Brookmeyer – the latest in the series featuring maverick  journalist Jack Parlabane.

Sydney Chambers and the problem of evil, by James Runcie – a collection of short stories involving Church of England vicar and amateur sleuth, Sydney Chambers.

Devil’s Peak, by Deon Meyer – the first of Meyer’s novels to feature  detective Benny Griessel from Cape Town as the lead character.

Matthew’s tale, by Quintin Jardine – the story of former soldier Matthew Fleming and how he makes his way in Scotland after the end of the Napoleonic wars.

The day is dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – the Icelandic lawyer is once again caught up in a murder mystery. This time in snowbound and frozen Greenland.

All the books were enjoyable and all well worth reading. Three stood out though as particularly good. Dead Girl Walking is a very exciting and quite ambitious novel. Disgraced and outcast journalist, Jack Parlabane is hired to unravel an intriguing mystery – the disappearance of star rock singer Heike Gunn, just before a highly rewarding tour of the USA. To complement the third person narrative, we also have extracts, and insights from the diary of another member of the group – Monica, a young fiddle player from Shetland. The story takes us around Europe and ends in an exciting, thrilling and unexpected denouement.

I had read all but the latest of the Benny Griessel series. So is was quite intriguing to come upon his first appearance as the main character in Devil’s Peak. Benny’s life is a real mess and he has a constant battle with his alcoholism. However he is a very good detective and in Devil’s Peak he is charged with finding what appears to be a serial killer. To add to the mystery, the victims were all involved in the rape and murder of very young children. The story is told from the perspective of three of the protagonists. One is Thobela Mpayipheli, a former freedom fighter. Early on we know he is the killer and why. The second narrative line comes from Christine, a prostitute who confesses to a church minister, and of course the police investigation led by Benny himself, provides the third narrative perspective. Just how these three strands will eventually cross and coalesce provides the glue which keeps us enthralled until the surprising ending. Deon Meyer is an Afrikaner and his novels are a wonderful and enjoyable insight into the complex world of post apartheid South Africa.

Matthew’s tale is Quintin Jardine’s first foray into historical fiction and a very good tale it is. The setting is rural Lanarkshire in the decades after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Into this peaceful backwater returns Matthew Fleming after his stint fighting the French. He hopes to be reunited with his sweetheart Elizabeth, but alas, his mother and the whole village believed him dead, due to a wrongly sent letter. So Matthew returns to find Elizabeth a married woman. However he stays in the area and becomes a rich and successful businessman, due to his skill in the leather industry. Matthew himself marries and it seems as though all will end well. But that was never really likely as there is bad blood between Matthew and the nasty, dissolute heirs to the local laird. One of the heirs is murdered and Elizabeth’s husband is arrested and falsely charged with the crime. Can Matthew save the man? Can justice be found? This is a fine novel with the beginnings of the transformation of Scotland into the new industrial world of coal, iron and railways as its background. Added to this is the corruption at the heart of the judicial system in Edinburgh. However the true heart of the novel is the love between Matthew and Elizabeth.



Indian Tulips

I am now well into my latest embroidery project. This one is very closely based on a scene from one of the fabulous embroidery hangings in the V&A. It is a floral scene, probably part of a canopy for a wedding celebration. I took a photo of part of the hanging, but forgot to get details of when and where it was stitched.Version 2

My project focuses on the three brightly coloured tulips. It is also much simpler than the original. This was stitched with silk threads and I am keeping to this for most of the work. I started with the tulips and below is a shot of the first two completed.2015-11-19 12.05.56

The yellows, red, lavender and blue are all stitched with two strands of French made silk from Au ver a soie, their soie d’Alger collection. (Did it originally come from Algeria?) The very narrow bands in each tulip were stitched with three strands of Rajmahal silk and rayon mix. These Rajmahal threads are finicky to work with, but they do have an extra bright sheen to them. Good in small measures. The edging and the cream sections are in two strands of cotton thread.

For this project I will be using a fairly limited range of stitches. Satin and long and short shading for most of the tulips. Chain stitch for the cream parts and the stems, while the edging is done in a split stitch. The fabric is a very fine and soft linen.

This is very slow work, which I have managed to make even slower by messing up the edging from time to time. I keep starting a section with chain stitch and then wonder why that section is so much thicker than the rest. Lots of unpicking and restarting!

So far so good and I am quite pleased with my progress and the outcome. A long way to go!