Friday, 24 May 2013

Do they give a monkeys?

The problem for both the 'Scottish' Conservatives and their Better Together pals in 'Scottish' Labour is they are trapped in a death spiral of English Union monkey say; Scottish Union monkey do.

Scottish Union monkey will happily continue to do what English Union monkey tells them because they are too busy hating the SNP organ grinder to listen to what the Scottish peanut vendors (aka electorate) are saying and have been saying since well before 2006, "We would like to keep the Union but it has to be a very different, new Union with only a few shared functions."

Both sets of Union political monkeys know this blows their present comfy Union carve up out the water, so they do not give a monkeys and are happy to tell the Scottish electorate where they can stick their nuts.

The SNP organ grinder is only too happy to continue this state of affairs as it is more political profit in his hat to the extent he will no longer need the monkeys within a couple of years because he is looking at a new 'gig' at the key boards of a mighty Wurlitzer, independent of the monkeys and their incessant and meaningless chatter.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Yes and No - what is the difference?

 The Sunday Times (Scotland) poll by IPSOS/MORI in October 2012 largely supports the Yes Campaign's viewpoint of the trend towards a 'Yes' vote supported by the finding that 52% of Scots are likely to vote yes if it looks, in 2015, as if the next UK election will deliver a Tory / Tory coalition government.

At the same time the figure only dropped to 42% Yes vote if it looks like a Labour / Labour coalition government in 2015.

Given the recent drive to the right foisted on Lamont by Murphy and Alexander, with her 'something for nothing speech', and her repetitive train crashes at FMQ's I do not see a Milliband Government being any more successful in sustaining the Union than the Tories - unless there is a major change of tack back to the centre by Labour. A tack this piece in the Guardian, by Jon Cruddas, has clearly abjured.

My own sense on the streets of Scotland campaigning for a 'Yes' vote is the man and woman on the Partick tram are moving towards 'Yes'. Most folk are asking careful questions of us and we are able to provide information to allow them to make up their own mind. It is pleasing that after many of these conversations in good spirit and humour how many then sign the 'Yes campaign' declaration. The occasional blustering, irate and over blown Unionist we come up against merely seems to encourage more ordinary folk to sign up.

Unlike the Severin Carrells of this world me and thousands of other 'Yes' volunteers are out on the street speaking to folk, listening to their concerns and answering as best we can. If we do not know the answer we admit we do not know but if they are willing to leave a contact we will get back to them with information which will enable them to formulate their own answer. The difference between the 'Yes' campaign and the 'No' campaign is we in the 'Yes Scotland' campaign are not telling folk to vote for us or there will be a disaster of biblical proportions; a 'No' campaign based in fear, hatred and animosity.

'Yes Scotland' is looking at the sort of UK we, in Scotland, are now increasingly diverging from politically, socially and ethically; Scotland's place in it and simply asking is there a better future for Scotland as a stand alone nation state within the EU or EFTA, once more.

I hope you, dear readers, look behind the crude propaganda of the 'No' campaign and continue to ask yourself the simple question, 'What sort of Scotland do you wish to live in?', and how this can be best achieved. This is what the September 2014 referendum is actually deciding. The May 2016 elections, on independence, to the Sovereign Scottish Parliament will decide the political direction the 'how' will take.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

2. Gunboat Diplomacy - Starbucks draft

As I did last year I am breaking up the political stuff with the first draft chapters of this year's novel what I am writing as I found the interest and occasional comments most encouraging. 'Bitter Together' nearly went into print but did not make the final, last five 'new author' books Ringwood were seeking to publish in 2013. I am now back looking for a publisher for 'Bitter'. This year's book is a very different construct, a story with occasional flashes of humour but more searching in content. I hope you will enjoy it.

Copyright and all other rights are reserved by the author. Publishing in this blog does not allow any copies to be made, stored in any form or printed with out the author's express permission.

Ascension Island was well behind and along with it the frenetic shifting of men, materials and weapons from ship to ship as well as sorting out the ships taken up from trade (STUFT) to ensure they had a balanced mix of cargo and the ability to replenish at sea (RAS). The Marines and the Airbourne had gone ashore in Ascension to stretch their legs, do some training and weapons firing. Lt Dunnet found himself hard at work updating charts of the Falkland Islands and marking areas of potential mine fields in the sea around the entrance to Port Stanley. When not busy with the charts there were the zigzag and sector plans to plan out, the confidential books to keep up to date and briefings with the Advanced and Principle Weapons Officers to agree operational priorities when under fire. On top of all this ‘Father’, as the captain was known to the wardroom was always on his back asking him about all and sundry, clearly tense about the preparedness of HMS Glasgow and unable to put upon the First Lieutenant as he was busy storing ship with all the additional war stores they had picked up in Ascension, including the extra Sea Dart missiles to fill their magazine. All this caused problems with ship stability as the extra weight shifted the ship’s centre of gravity while the Engineers shifted ballast about to create the best compromise and of course this was another task Dunnet had to supply information to help resolve. The crew, like all sailors, complained about the games of ‘silly buggers’ - shifting stores forward then the next day shifting the same stores amidships and finally putting them by the stern, as the job of giving the ship maximum stability was played out. Eventually, the ship was stored optimally for ballast but of course they discovered in all the fuss the medical stores had been packed forward under a mountain of stores so the compartment had to be cleared to get them out and then restored once more to more moans and groans from the sailors.

There had been hopes as they passed level with St Helena that a peaceful resolution could be achieved but the UK Government refused to consider the USA/UN plan on offer with regards to ‘sharing the islands’.  The Argentineans’ were hardly biting at this bone either and the fighting war had kicked off twenty four hours before with the sinking of the Argentinean flagship, the Belgrano. Everyone now knew there was only conflict ahead, the ships were now operating defence watches and Glasgow was acting as outlying air defence picket as the Flag was expecting an attack from the Exocet fitted Super Etendards of the Argentinean Air Force. Dunnet stood on the enclosed bridge in his combat overalls with his anti-flash hood down round his neck. Around his waist was his ‘once only suit’, life jacket, anti-flash gloves and gas mask case. His combat helmet hung from the speaker mounting above his head, around his neck were his pair of 20x20 Zeiss binoculars. One of his ears was listening to the Combat information Centre (CIC) on a half headset while his clear ear was listening to bridge radio traffic coming in over the net, as well as the reports and other comments coming from his bridge crew.
He heard their call sign come over the net followed by a number of letters and numbers. While waited for the message to be interpreted he was working out the course back to the carrier in his head. Sparks made his report, Dunnet contacted the Captain and got his approval to change course on the ‘execute’ signal. Dunnet also thought about the shortest way to turn to the new course to ensure their main weapon system was masked to the line of threat for the minimal amount of time.
“Starboard ten come right to new course 030.”
“Come right to new course 030”
“Passing 025”
“Wheel amidships”
“Port five”
“Port five”
“Midships, course to steer 030”
“Midships, course to steer 030”
“Set lever 80%”
“Lever set 80%”
Dunnet could feel the variable pitch propellers biting harder into the water as they delivered 15 knots from Glasgow’s Tyne marine turbines. The AWO told him to watch out for HMS Sheffield who was relieving them on their port side and Dunnet set his Midshipman second officer of the watch the task of using the raw radar picture on the bridge to identify and track Sheffield to give course and speed.  In the mean time the First Lieutenant arrived on the bridge to make a pipe for special duty seamen to close up for fuel RAS forward, port side and vertrep, a store drop by helicopter, aft and Dunnet knew it would be many hours yet before he would be relieved. The Midshipman reported Sheffield’s course and speed and Dunnet rather than taking the easy route, asking for the CIC’s solution, did the calculation for himself in about a quarter of the time it had taken the midshipman and as a result said, “Well done”.
Dunnet had just reached his cabin after completing the RAS, vertrep and grabbing a hot meal, looking forward to getting his head down for five or so hours when the quartermaster rapped on his cabin door telling to meet the captain in the CIC at the rush. Dunnet dragged on his combat overalls, boots and donned all his kit and headed out to find out what disaster had befallen them.

“Dunnet: Sheffield’s taken an Exocet hit just aft of the CIC, she is not reporting any risk of sinking but is having difficulty controlling the spread of fire. Apparently the fire is jumping compartments via the cable runs. We have orders to close and take up station as replacement picket, given the circumstances we will go to battle stations on arrival in our patrol box and I want the Lynx in the air up threat ready to lay chaff to decoy any incoming missile, an occasional squirt on the Lynx’s Seaspray radar to see over the horizon will not go amiss either, otherwise we will maintain main radars on instant stand by. Sheffield is not our problem keeping her and the rescue ships safe is, flag is sending us Broadsword as our goal keeper with her Seawolf missiles; Everyone clear? Good, make it so.”
It was another six hours before Dunnet finally saw his ‘pit’, first reports were that fatalities on Sheffield had been light but the frightening thing had been the speed of penetration along the cable runs. Theories were already rife amongst Glasgow’s wardroom but the engineer officer pointed out that the spec of the cable looms and bulkhead seals were different from Sheffield’s. His view was the real problem was the poor quality cables used in Sheffield were not very fire retardant, nor armoured, unlike the cabling in Glasgow; so they should not worry.
Dunnet woke with a start, his watch said it was midnight but when he popped up onto the bridge it was still daylight. He did the mental calculation in his head that it was actually 8pm local – it was weird, the decision had been made to stay in Greenwich Mean Time for operational reasons and as most of the ship’s company were not on the upper deck it did not make much difference, it was just weird and that was all. He stuck his head into ‘Comms’ to see if they had a casualty report from Sheffield, amongst the fatalities was his ex-room mate from Dartmouth, Mike. Dunnet took a deep breath, put the message clip board back in its holder and headed down to the wardroom feeling numb. He had been best man at Mike’s wedding in March.
Intrepid had just slid past on the port side heading down the Falkland Sound towards the entrance to San Carlos Water with the gun Leander’s and HMS Plymouth shepherding her. In her trail were the LST’s Galahad, Tristan, Lancelot and Bedivere with elements of the Blues and Royals, engineers and rapier detachments covered by the Type 21’s Amazon and Ardent. There was complete radio and radar silence, this was the sort of operation Hornblower would understand, dim stern lights and mark one eyeballs.  The Electronic Warfare section was Glasgow’s eyes and ears until the attack on Fanning Head went in and then the need for secrecy would have ended. Glasgow and her goal keeper HMS Brave turned to starboard and headed north along their patrol line as Northern anti-aircraft picket. Exeter and Broadsword were carrying out the same role at the south end of the sound. As George strained in the darkness to see the incoming ships he made out the outline of the ‘Great White Whale’, as Canberra had been dubbed, containing the rest of 3 Commando Brigade along with two and three Para. Just off Canberra’s stern Dunnet could make out the shape of the county class destroyer HMS Antrim. As the troop carriers headed into San Carlos water to disgorge their men and equipment the frigates under the charge of Antrim would create a close anti aircraft screen. At 4 pm Zulu (midnight local) the twin 4.5 inch mounts on the Leander’s and Glamorgan opened fire on Fanning Head where a known Argentinean observation post was placed, straight in behind came Wessex fives from Intrepid with SBS and SAS cadres to land on Fanning Head, to deal with any survivors from the shelling, then at Port San Carlos and San Carlos Settlement to clear the area for the landings. Now it was a matter of waiting for the order to unmask radars once SAS/SBS assets near Punto Arenas and other airfields on the mainland indicated the Argentinean Air Force’s first attack was in bound.
Daylight on May the 21st came to the Falklands. All elements of 3 Commando Brigade were ashore and beach heads secure, the Blues and Royals Scimitars had been landed and they had pushed out the perimeter north of Port San Carlos to enable 3 Para to move through 42 Commando to secure the left flank between Montevideo and Corral Heights on the right flank 2 Para would do the same on the line of Monte Campito through the 40 Commando beach head.  With both flanks secure the Rapiers could be moved to create an air defence ring around San Carlo Water. As George came back to the bridge after grabbing three hours sleep the reports were both good and bad. 3 Commando were ashore in force and digging in but the Parachute Brigade Landings were being delayed, no one had thought to train them to drop from a ship and embarkation into the landing craft was taking too long. Canberra and Norland were going to be left exposed to the developing air attack from the Argentineans.
Glasgow turned at the end of her patrol beat while Brave slipped neatly into the ‘up threat’ position on Glasgow’s quarter.
At 0800 local the air raid warning red flash was received, immediately Glasgow lighted up her main radars and the targeting radar turned towards the threat, Glasgow and Brave’s Lynx were scrambled and headed off to use their Seaspray radar to look down for low flying aircraft and give Glasgow’s Sea Dart targeting data before the incoming aircraft came over the ships radar horizon. The confirmation report came in stating squadron of A4’s, 16 number, incoming, over West Falkland. ETA 20 minutes. The Seaspray data link indentified four bogey’s coming north around West Falkland. Clearly the Argentineans were looking at a pincer attack. Over his ear piece Dunnet heard engage with Sea Dart and saw the missile appear on the launcher and drop down onto the horizon and shouted heads down on the bridge. The bridge was illuminated by a massive flash as the solid fuel rocket accelerated the Sea Dart up to mach 1 in around 100 metres before the ram jet ignited and sped the missile off in excess of mach 3. By the time Dunnet looked out in the direction the missile had fired it was already beyond his vision. He looked round but the bridge crew were already watching for the aircraft to come visual. To the north-west there was a bright flash and PWO (A) announced bogey splashed. There were no cheers, as the system was reset to engage the remaining incoming aircraft with the 4.5 Mk 8 automatic using proximity fused shells.  Dunnet watched as the Mark 8 pointed towards the incoming aircraft and commenced firing. Brave’s fore and aft Sea Wolf launchers were twitching nervously and unable to lock. Glasgow’s Mk 8 stopped firing and two Sea Wolf missiles puffed off Brave’s deck, two kills. The remaining aircraft pulled up over Brave and released its bombs. Dunnet could see them arc towards Glasgow’s side as the Oerlikons and heavy machine guns blazed away and shouted ‘brace for impact, incoming bombs’ over the net. The ship shuddered from the impact but there was no subsequent concussion and blast from the bombs exploding. George then heard the damage control report of flooding in the main engine space and waited for instructions.  As Glasgow reached the end of her next patrol run he was given a strange request from engineering to make a tighter turn to port and hold it till told otherwise or the ship was in navigational danger, so he put port 20 of wheel on causing Glasgow to heel and after completing one circle was told to resume patrol course. It turned out one bomb had penetrated on the boot top and by heeling the engineers had been able to get a splinter box over the damage without getting soaked. The same bomb had exited through the hull bottom. The second bomb was caught in a cat’s cradle of slings used to change the gas turbines.  The ship’s pumps were dealing with the flooding and at some point when we could stop they would put a diver over to weld a plate, if not they would fill the effected bilge compartment with fast setting cement.
The response from ‘Flag’ was to get into the Falkland Sound, anchor, get the bomb defused and ditched, Glasgow needed to get back on the firing line and fast.
Just as Glasgow was getting underway from under the lee of Mount Rosalie Ridge the third raid of the day came in and it was clear they were out to get the gun line of frigates. To south eastern end of the gun line there was a large explosion quickly followed by a second. George went out onto the port bridge wing to see who was hit, it was clear a Type 21 was down heavily by her stern. Over the net a number of ships on the gun line were reporting bomb hits but no explosions. In the maelstrom of tracer, air bursts and missile trails, George saw another two A4 Skyhawks go down to Sea Wolf strikes while a third A4 turned south-west trailing smoke from its port engine with a Sea Cat missile staggering along in its wake. On Glasgow’s bow, four A4’s in perfect echelon left, crossed the Sound from west to east, climbed over Fanning Head for a bomb run on San Carlos Water, within a minute three were just puffs of flame as Sea Wolf took further toll. Ten minutes later and the air over the Sound and San Carlos Water was again empty of Argentinean aircraft. Glasgow was asked to supply her Lynx and doctor to airlift wounded from Ardent and to put her ships boats in the water, if undamaged, to search for casualties blown overboard. Over the next two hours as Argonaut fought to save Ardent a number of Lynx and Wessex fives clattered to and from Ardent to the decks of Intrepid and Fearless. The ship’s boats were recalled as Glasgow set back north to resume her patrol line. In two hours they had found only one survivor. The butcher’s list from Ardent was even longer than Sheffield’s this time it included an old school friend, who was Ardent flight’s observer, along with the pilot and the crew chief both of whom he had got to know well at Brian’s Stag party, wedding and the recent christening of Brian and his wife’s baby girl at Culdrose.  No time to do anything as Glasgow headed north to get in her place for the fourth air raid that day.
On the 23rd of May Glasgow was relieved as northern picket by HMS Coventry and headed back to the fleet to refuel and replenish. On the 25th HMS Coventry was sunk and Glasgow was in a near miss with an Exocet which went past her stern and hit the containership, Atlantic Conveyor, instead. On the 26th of May Glasgow was back on station as the northern picket ship with Brave once again in tow. In six days George and his fellow officers had managed maybe four hours sleep in any twenty four hour period, with occasion cat naps in the wardroom. Dunnet’s mind turned to his predecessors who operated on the open bridge corvettes of the Battle of the Atlantic, who were in this state for three or four weeks at a time, with both huge respect and a renewed determination to carry on for as long as it takes: as Glasgow went to action stations for the fourth time that day, air raid warning ‘red’.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

How many roads .....?

I have not blogged for a few weeks, the combination of family matters and an unseasonal downer have put me off entering into print; but today is shiny, sunny and at last the trees are agreeing spring has come to Galloway with new leaf and blossom - a new hope for this year.

In the meantime I have watched from the sidelines as the Better Together campaign wound themselves into an even tighter spiral of negativity, of detestation and hyperbole. There was the farce of the 500 questions, none of which they could answer if you changed independence for Westminster. This led in turn to a number of amusing spoof questions such as 'Would an independent Scotland ever win the World Cup?' and 'Will zebra crossings in an indepndent Scotland be black and white or white and black?' Next up there was the Ms Calman 'death threats' from supposed cybernats of which there was no evidence in either Ms Calman's twitterfeed or blog pages. Iain Taylor and Vitol's payment to 'Better Together' has not gone away and continues to dog Alistair Darling's every step and London have been very helpful in bringing up a referendum on the UK exiting the EU just when 'Batter Together' (a misspelling but somehow prescient) were making a big play about an independent Scotland would be 'kicked out of Europe'. Then there was Boris Johnson's appeal to Westminster to subsidise London even more than they already do, next up the £20 billion North/South Crossrail for London, rather than giving a pound to Govan or something like that.

Amidst all this grating howling and gnashing of teeth by the Better Together harbringers of doom, disaster and despondency a voice from the dark times of New Labour arose like Saron's mighty Orc war leader - Reepicheep, the white hand mark on his face (where his wife had slapped him to wake him up), the mighty Gorgdon, the political behemoth of Scotland arose from his slumbers (or was it jet lag) from amongst the big wodge he has been earning - rather than representing his constituents - and stepped up to deal the 'Yes Campaign' a mighty, thunking, crushing blow. With all Gordon's usual powers of oratory and high intellect he missed the target completely as he brought forth his big new idea to save Scotland for the Union which when you picked through the internable New Labour speak and appalling grammar said, We hate the Tories and UKIP, they are not nice people, so Labour in Scotland is setting up a separate 'United Labour' campaign in an attempt to prevent New Labour spending the next 100 years at Westminster as the opposition. We will still agree with Better Together on all things and policies but we are not Tories, how does that sound? I will stay friends with Alistair but we'll not really be friends. Being Gordon this of course took two hours to say and would have taken longer if some one had not pointed out he was not on £50k an hour, in fact he would be lucky to get a cup of tea and an Abernethy biscuit out of this gig.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, in the last quarter Scotland's economy grew by 0.5%, unemployment fell in Scotland, those in permanent employment rose 1.1% to a new high for over two decades, we still have an NHS worthy of the name, the UN said of course an independent Scotland would be a member, NATO will be open armed about an independent Scotland joining and money traders in Hong Kong were offering a better exchange rate for £Scots than £Sterling.

Now come again Gordon and Alistair, just how many roads must a man walk down, before the empire strikes back?