The house is a bungalow, with fields on one side, and rough ground down to the burn behind. The farm road, growing steadily more pot-holed, leads from the sea-loch where we swam and sailed to the farm buildings, beyond which is a hill sometimes with sheep. The living room, four yards by seven, has an open fire heating a boiler for water, and the piano. It is one side of the hall from the front door to the bathroom, in front of the dining room and kitchen, with three bedrooms on the other side.

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The front boundary is a stob-and-wire fence. Dad put in the hedges, and the fruit trees: the plums ripen all at once, for jam, puddings and gorging. The other side of the house from the garage is the vegetable garden, with potatoes, peas, beans, and strawberries. Sometimes Dad grows tomatoes in the living room window. Round the back is a bank down to rough ground, with boundary markers but no fence. We cut a way through the ferns to the Old Laundry, a roofless hovel with a tree growing through it, “too dangerous” to climb on. Then there is the river, whence the farmer gets the water supply: he cut ours off one hot summer when there was hardly enough for his cattle, and we brought water from the village by car. The sewer goes to a septic tank behind the garage, then a soakaway, a pit filled with large stones. Dad dug this down one year, when it got clogged with earth. Dawson, down the road, had continual problems with his septic tank, detectable as we walked to the school bus.

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With the dog, I walk along the stony beach, or up the hill, sometimes further to the trig point, though not so much when the sheep are there. Once, three sheep proceeded us down the single track road as we walked home, and we could not get past them. I walk along the river, balancing on stones in its bed or clambering up the banks, 60° steep in places, sometimes as much as twenty yards deep. Between the river and the Kilberry road are old trees. Looking out the kitchen window, washing up, we see the heron hunt there. On the loch there are swans: these sea-water swans can be aggressive, seeking to chase us away, breaking the farm-worker’s leg once.

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The loch is deep and cold, but once wind tide and sun made the top 6″ warm for swimming, and in August I can undress on the rocks sticking out into the water, and dive in. Or we swam in a high swell, the water pulling on me so that I still felt it walking back up the road. Latterly we had a dinghy on a mooring, and kept a rowing boat on the beach, to get to it. Though I was a home body, sitting in my room with a book much of the time.

The Benefits of Nazism

My friend’s school put on The Producers recently. Perhaps they thought it edgy for a child who learned German at his mother’s knee to wear a Nazi uniform, but with the grandchildren of combatants now in middle age, it is time to see the benefits of Nazism. I don’t mean all we have learned from them- “First they came for the Jews”, and I know that it is for me to do something about that, because I am a Jew- we learned that from their opponents. The Nazis were so wrong that what is right became crystal clear. The Nazis- testing the Wrong Way to destruction, so no-one else need ever go there. What I mean is all that is tempting about their ideology.

One tempting thing is the Ourselves Alone loyalty. So Foreigners are dangerous, and must be restricted: David Cameron portrays Romanians as benefit scroungers, and seeks to have them excluded from the country, playing on our fears and resentment.

Another is the black and white morality. Anti-abortionists can get together and feel one with the Group, a powerful and delightful feeling, and feel Right, which is even better. They are divorced from reality, but their feelings are wonderful. This causes suffering for others. The Northern Ireland Justice Minister is consulting on extending the category of permitted abortions from pregnancies which threaten the life of the mother to pregnancies where the baby could not survive outside the womb.

That anyone could imagine it was right to force a woman to go through with a pregnancy where the baby could not survive outside the womb is horrifying: and the other political parties have expressed opposition to the extension of the law.

There are extreme cases in the abortion debate- partial birth abortion at 38 weeks, where there is no threat to the mother or foetal abnormality, say- and in my pro-choice position, I swither between a pragmatic view that such extreme cases are so rare that I need not have a position, most abortions take place before twelve weeks, and a clear view that the woman has the right to choose. But this is not the tempting moral simplicity of the anti-abortionist, but a refusal to make a judgment on the woman, who will have feelings for her child, and will only have an abortion if she cannot see an alternative. It is not for me to decide. I refuse to define myself against the Outsiders, the Bad People.

I am not saying Mr Cameron is a nazi, merely that he had adopted a central plank of the nazi world view, rather than a peripheral one like Hitler’s vegetarianism.

Springtime for Hitler and Germany!
Tomorrow belongs to me!

Raw material saw the couple walking ahead of me in the park, then I saw them stopped at a fork in the path. He was standing on the main pathway, she on the causeway between two lakes. I overheard-

-You can go the way we always go if you like, I
(I can’t remember what she said precisely, will/ want to/ would like to are very different in expression)
“go this way”.

I may dislike being merely polite, but they were having a stand-off. It would have been avoidable by her saying, just before she turned, “I quite fancy going this way for a change, do you mind?”

This is a scrap of dialogue, how people actually speak, and a moment which by the rule of Show don’t Tell I would expand, as I could not say straight out that this is a trivial thing to row about.

-He opens his mouth to speak, then his shoulders slump.
-Have it your own way- there follows an Unselfishness competition, encouraged by Screwtape (ch 26).
-Without a word, he goes off by the usual way.
-Sulks or flare-ups may continue to the evening.

I thought, setting out, that there was no point looking for blackberries, but thinking about that couple I found my attention grabbed by one ripe one, among all the shrivelled husks. Unconsciously, I had been looking out for it, and when it appeared my conscious attention zeroed in on it. It had a sweet, delicate flavour. Later, I saw a mauve flower (“wild flower”, “bird”, “tree” is usually specific enough for me) and spent time with its shocking oddity among the November greens and browns. I turned the corner a man called his dog, and asked me a question.  I was more concerned about answering him- raising my voice still sounds male, to me, so- did I see the little dog do a shit? Er, no. After, I think how careful of him. He wants to clean up after his dog, and if it runs off he wants to be sure it has not messed somewhere. At the time I was concerned with other things. I saw him more clearly after. Or imposed different concerns and stereotypes of mine on him.


Should Scotland be independent? No. Given that we cannot tow ourselves out into the Atlantic, our trading circumstances remain the same. Now, we benefit from the Barnett Formula, and oil revenues are decreasing.

We will still have to negotiate with the English. But, now, some of the civil servants negotiating for Westminster are Scots, and others have affection for Scotland as part of our one country. Then, they won’t. We will still have to negotiate internationally, but have less weight.

Devolved, Scotland can have more Socialist policies, such as free residential care for the elderly, and no fees for university students to pay. Independent, Scotland might be unable to afford them.

This was going to be a full post, but I feel no need to say more.

Electoral reform

My new voting system would divide Britain into fourteen regions, each with forty constituencies. Each constituency would elect one member of parliament, the one with the largest number of votes. Then all the votes of the region for each party would be added together, and ten additional seats in the Commons would be allocated, to make the proportion of members for each party in the region most closely resemble the proportion of votes. The candidates who got most votes would be given these additional seats.

An example. The Conservatives are strongest in rural constituencies, the Labour party in urban constituencies, and the Liberal vote is more evenly spread. Suppose the Conservatives with 35% of the vote came first in 18 constituencies, and the Labour party with 45% of the vote came first in 20, the Liberals with 17.5% of the vote came first in two, and the British National Party with 2.5% of the vote came first in none. Ten additional seats would make the membership of the Commons most closely resemble the proportion of voters for each party. The BNP with 2.5% get one MP, the one of their candidates who got most votes in her own constituency. The Liberals, with 17.5% of the vote, have 4% of the seats. They get seven of the additional members, to make up their proportion of members to their proportion of votes. The Conservatives have 35% of the vote, and 36% of the members. The Labour party have 45% of the vote, and 40% of the members. The Labour party get the other two additional members.

I chose forty constituencies and ten additional members simply to illustrate the system. Within this pattern, the number of constituencies and the number of additional members can be varied. Scotland would be one region, because of its national identity. Yorkshire has a strong regional identity. London, the vast urban sprawl, would be another.

The membership of the Commons would be proportionate to the votes of the country. Coalition government would be the norm, but then the Labour party is a coalition, with voters, members and MPs having widely differing views. There would be no tactical voting: a Labour voter in a strongly Tory constituency could know his vote would count. There would still be protest voting- a Conservative sick of his party but unwilling to vote Labour could vote Liberal.

That brings out the main difference from the Alternative Vote, on which we had a referendum last year. There, in a single member constituency a voter would list the candidates in order of preference. If one candidate got 50%  of the votes, she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would have his second preference votes allocated between the other candidates. This would be repeated until one candidate had more than 50% of the votes.

The AV system as proposed would strongly favour the Liberals, as Conservative or Labour voters are far more likely to give their second vote to the Liberals than to the other main party. It would not, necessarily, make the membership of the Commons more proportionate.

My system, (not entirely original) would preserve the link between member and constituency, but also allow a Labour voter in a Conservative constituency to have a Labour MP, and complain to that MP. Purely regional lists give too much power to central party organisations: here, local members would select their candidate, and the second-placed candidates with the most votes would be elected. Independents could still stand, but have a better chance of being elected if they formed party alliances with candidates in nearby constituencies.

My system also illustrates that a very important question in voting system design is, one vote or more than one? More than one favours centre parties, and would particularly punish the Conservatives in Scotland, where the ruling Scottish National Party is on the Left, and few second preference votes would be Conservative.

After the Referendum defeated AV, voting reform is not a current issue, but I have enjoyed thinking through implications and criticisms, and tweaks to address shortcomings; and a different writing challenge. My pictures illustrate my belief that no-one can rule without the acquiescence of the people (influenced by persons of influence) and that unless the people are broken-spirited and starving, that means the consent of the people. It is far less painful with democracy.

What criteria are most important in designing a voting system?

Rugby patriotism

A Scotsman on the ground in the mud. Where he should be.


It is always pleasing when the result goes so massively contrary to form, especially when it goes your way. With a try in the last minute! (Sporting language is always confusing. A “try” is a “success”.)


Unfortunately the facts got in the way of a good story. It was a penalty. And when I thought it was contrary to form- first win in Australia since 1982- it means retaining the Hopetoun Cup, as the last Test match at Murrayfield was also a win for Scotland. Unexpected but not incredible.

In Scotland and England, and around the World, football is more popular. Football, occasionally called “Association football” from the Football Association (of England), and therefore, occasionally, “Soccer”. In Wales, Rugby is more important, and they are fiercely patriotic about it.

I am Scots, and I am English: I am both, none of this half and half nonsense. The only time I am solely Scots is when Scotland is playing England at whatever. My fellow Scots and the Welsh disappoint me: many will want whoever is playing England to win. It feels to me like a perception of inferiority. We Scots think of the English all the time. They think of us occasionally.

Oddly enough, Swanston has a devoted group of rugby fans who could not care less about football, and I asked some about how they felt about the home nations. They do not care whether Scotland or Wales wins or loses, unless it affects England’s chances or final position in a competition. I thought that mean-spirited, I would have hoped that English rugby fans would have fellow-feeling for Scotland and Wales. It is indifference, though, rather than hostility.

On 9 June, Australia beat Wales 21-18.