Scotland needs jesters

Looking up at the Gift Horse skeleton sculpture by Hans Haake

Gift Horse by Hans Haake on the Fourth Plinth: could Scotland risk such public art?

I looked a Gift Horse in the mouth. Or, to be more accurate, I joined the tourists in Trafalgar Square snapping pictures of the latest sculpture occupying the Fourth Plinth. After a day in the Houses of Parliament the Tory ‘long term economic plan’ sprang to mind as I admired the skeleton; bronze bones stark and bold against a cold spring sky.

This first appeared in Sceptical Scot, a new online magazine asking awkward questions about life in Scotland. 


Add comment April 25th, 2015

Ad neverendum?

Two grenades top the entrance posts to Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlays garden in the Scottish borders

Retreat or attack? Welcome to Little Sparta

I loiter in the garden and find myself longing for this election campaign to end. And I’m not alone. Over the last few days I’ve been meeting people – politicians, academics and ordinary voters like me – desperate to see the end of #GE2015, as the Twitter hashtags identify this unseemly mess. (more…)

Add comment April 24th, 2015

Blood on the tracks

“Many of the smaller ones perched on my hat, and when I carried my gun on my shoulder would sit on the muzzle. During my stay I killed forty-five all of which I skinned carefully.”



I really wish I hadn’t read that extract from David Douglas’s diary describing the birds he killed during his few days on the Galapagos Islands in 1824. Douglas happens to be a bit of a hero of mine. I get a powerful kick looking up into the huge trees he brought back from his travels in what was then the wild woods of the Pacific North West. He went to such trouble to collect seed without destroying the forest it is sad to discover he was blasting eagles and owls and other grand feathered things off the face of the mountain. But I guess no-one is perfect. (more…)

Add comment April 4th, 2015

Can democracy deliver in time for climate change?

Is the NHS equipped to deal with floods, gales and heatwaves of extreme weather?  A deadly serious question is posed in a quiet corner of the Houses of Parliament.  While the media fulminates in a flash storm conjured by David Cameron during Prime Ministers Questions, the Environmental Audit Select Committee contemplates a more fearful threat than Ed Milliband ‘crawling to power on Alex Salmond’s coat tails’. (more…)

Add comment March 17th, 2015

Malcolm Rifkind uncoiled and undone

Malcolm Rifkind sits on the sofa facing me. In his crisp shirt sleeves, he is the picture of casual composure, a study in carefully controlled ease nicely captured by the cameraman. And not a word out of place on the tape recording. (more…)

2 comments March 3rd, 2015

Year of the Goat: lucky for some?

Welcome to the year of the Goat.  What will it bring? With Chinese New Year celebrations underway I find myself thinking of Alex Salmond and how a skilful politician can turn almost any date to good advantage. (more…)

1 comment February 25th, 2015

Zen and the art of the Big Garden Bird Watch

Stay still sparrows, I’m trying to count you. 

Cup of coffee on the table, notepad and pencil in hand and I’m set for a happy hour looking out the window.  Make it two hours.  Settling down for the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch I wondered if it would be cheating to do the count over the whole day.  (more…)

Add comment January 29th, 2015

Let’s get weaving

It feels good to be weaving again, even if only to mend the border of an old log basket. New green willow cut from the edge of a Scottish stream gives a rough and ready handmade look to a shop-bought basket so evenly woven it could have been made by machine.  But hands-on, head-down weaving brings another benefit to a weary online worker. (more…)

2 comments January 8th, 2015

Are Edinburgh’s Christmas lights sustainable?

It’s not much after four in the afternoon and the winter sun has set way to the west of Edinburgh castle. At the end of November the city is ready for a long dark night but birds are singing in East Princes Street Gardens as if dawn was breaking.  And no wonder. The sky is ablaze with 200,000 Christmas lights. (more…)

Add comment November 29th, 2014

Time to end the social injustice of the council tax freeze

Perhaps I should be grateful to John Swinney. Since 2007 Scotland’s Finance Secretary has spent £500 million on freezing council taxes. “By the end of the current Parliamentary term, [Band D] households will have saved £1,200 since the freeze was introduced in 2007.” So says the SNP press release which conveniently skates over the cost of this ‘saving’ and the cuts it has imposed on all local authorities.


Add comment October 19th, 2014

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