21 April 2013

Labouring the Truth...

We're fair ratcheting them up.  Today, we bring you episode number 22 of the For A' That podcast. For our topic, we took the Scottish Labour, which is just rolling up its party conference in Eden Court this weekend up in Inverness. Our guests this week are New Statesman contributor James Maxwell and Huffington Post blogger and Labour Party member, Andrew Smith.

We took a wide corbie's eye survey of the People's Party's current situation in Scotland's constitutional and devolved politics. Up for debate in particular, Labour's devolution commission proposals to devolve income tax, and its fall out among the devo-sceptical tribunes galumphing at Westminster. Is the party's vagueness and infighting on its own position on the constitutional position putting the Better Together campaign at risk? The party also gingered up its social media strategy this week, by launching a "2014 Truth Team" attack ad online, which hopes to give Salmond a fatal prod in the political vitals.  A development with an Orwellian tone, or just the ordinary rough and tumble of party politics?

You can connect via the show's RSS feed, connect via iTunes, or download the show and listen at your leisure, or lend it your lugs right here.

15 April 2013

The inevitable Thatcherite edition...

We couldn't escape it.  After a week off, the For A' That podcast is back, and like the rest of the political sphere, we couldn't resist chewing over the legacy, character and politics of the recently defunct Margaret Thatcher.

What to make of the week's reaction - positive and negative - in the press? From a Scottish angle, does Scotland, with its now reflexive rejection of the Lady and Her Party, remember or misremember the Blessed Margaret and the charm she exercised on our fellow citizens between 1979 and 1990? Contemporarily, does this anti-Thatcher sentiment really reflect a Scottish social democratic consensus, or is it a comfortable, self-serving and ultimately conservative nostrum? What to make of the fact that Churchill warranted 45 minutes of tributes in the House of Commons, while last week's comments on Thatcher ran over six hours. Have we become gey sentimental?

We also discussed the stramash around National Collective, and its legal difficulty under the law of defamation.  Download the latest edition of the show here, or listen to the conversation via iTunes.  You can also subscribe to our RSS feed, so you can be sure you won't miss any of our broadcasts.

10 April 2013

"I've known quite a number of very genuine robbers..."

There's an exchange in Rumpole and the Fascist Beast which has been lodged in my head this week.  Set in 1979, the episode turns around the trial of "Captain" Rex Parkin, a petty politician of the far-right, for incitement to racial hatred, after a stramash at a fascist rally.  The accused man meets Rumpole in chambers to discuss his defence. 
Solicitor: "Captain Parkin wishes it to be known that he's absolutely sincere."

Rumpole: "Unfortunately, that is not a defence, in law. I've known quite a number of very genuine robbers.  They sincerely wanted to be rich."

Thus far, I've avoided adding ink to the relentless commentary on Mrs Thatcher's demise, and I don't propose to add substantially to that body of words here.  Rather than analysing the legacy of The Lady herself, I wanted to highlight a rather curious aspect of the retrospectives which have choked the airwaves and pages of the print media. It tells us less about the former Prime Minister, but perhaps a good deal more about the current state of political debate in the United Kingdom.

Over the last few days, it has been common to hear folk rattling off equivocating tributes in something like the following terms. I heard in the pub last night.  "Whatever you think about the departed - good or bad - you have to respect the strength of her convictions.  She knew what she stood for.  And you knew where you stood with her. You have to respect that." Gordon Brown furnished one concrete example.  "Even those who disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her unwavering belief in Britain’s destiny in the world," he said. 

Bracket the dead woman for the moment. Generalise. What sort of logic does Brown's praise rely on? Why should the strength with which ideas are held affect the esteem in which we hold an individual, and our evaluation of the positive and negative dimensions of their work? It is such a safe nostrum, trotted out so naturally when an unliked body is interred beneath the clod, that the eccentric premises it relies on are often overlooked.  

Can you think of any other circumstance in which we would think that you were a better person simply because you were full of passionate intensity, because your bad acts were sincerely transacted? It makes for an unusual principle of judgement. To adapt Voltaire, I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death the moral superiority of your vices and follies, so long as you were really committed to them.  In what other circumstances would any of us believe that this is true?

Would you rather have your pocket picked professionally by a determined sneak thief, while judging the hesitating, ambivalent cutpurse more harshly? I dare say not.  If I destroy your life through negligence, or by accident, in what circumstances would you regard me as the moral inferior to the killer who plots out your annihilation carefully, and twists the knife to make sure? I'm not sure I can believe that the assassin is the moral superior of the drunken brawler, and yet that's where Brown's logic seems to take us.

I imagine that George Osborne has been entertaining fond notions of cutting the size and scope of the British state since he was in nappies, or at least since he acquired firm views on public policy. Iain Duncan Smith finds himself in a position to reweave the social safety net in this country, and proposes to stint on the rope. When both men are visited by the Reaper years hence, ought we to look back and say, their innovations are morally enhanced because they genuinely believed in taxing the rich less? Ought the notices to be improved when Tony Blair goes to his final reward, because he wholeheartedly, unequivocally, believed in the Iraqi invasion, whatever its consequences?

It seems the intoxication of certainty still hasn't worn off.  There's a certain whiff of nostalgia for an imagined past here. For a time before the supposed "death of ideology" and a new generation of sleek, trimming, vacuous pols who have made a virtue out of a lack of programmatic ideas about how this country ought to be governed.  Or at least, by wrapping up their ideas in the loose, unpolitical language of necessity, practicality, and plain old common sense. A melancholy reflection that today, the best lack all conviction, and the worst lack all conviction too.

Secreted behind these tributes, we might detect a very Thatcherite sensibility: contempt for the ambivalence of the wets and squishes, scorn for complexity, and the incautious, unrepentant magnification of the Leader's vision and will.  As Rumpole told Captain Rex Parkin, "that is not a defence, in law". I see no reason why it ought to be a defence in ethics or politics either.

9 April 2013

"...after which they returned again to the transportations and hangings.."

Today, the Scottish Court Service has published recommendations which will, if enacted, substantially centralise the work of justice in our courts.  SCS proposes to curtail the circuit of the High Court of Justiciary, shutting and merging a substantial number of sheriff and justice of the peace courts, and limiting sheriff and jury trials to sixteen cities and towns.

The motto justice delayed is justice denied will surely be familiar to all of you. We ought to think seriously about geographies of justice too.  The cuts in the SCS budget are stark.  A 20% real terms cut in its operational budget, and a reduction in capital spending from £20 to £4 million, according to its Chief Executive. Even so, it is important not to lose sight of the importance and value of "street-corner" courts, closer to the vital forces of the communities they serve, accessible for those who have gone or been taken to law, who are able to bear witness in their own towns and centres.

Practical and effective access to justice means more than just funding legal aid (and as we know, that too is being trimmed to the bone both north and south of the border).  By declining to send judges out on circuit, you oblige witnesses, complainers and juries to do so. As the Law Society has noted, this is not without its difficulties.

For some queer reason, the report reminded me of this section of Lord Henry Cockburn's Memorials of His Time (1779 - 1854), where he discusses the circuits taken by the judges of the High Court of Justiciary in his day.  They gave it a long of swank in those days. No quiet entrances for them. Horses. Soldiers. Macers. Processions. Trumpets and drums. Law's grandeur and presence in the community, noisily declared in cloth and sound.  However, life on the circuit lacked some of the consolations of home. Cockburn relates:

"At Edinburgh, the old judges had a practice at which even their barbaric age used to shake its head. They had always wine and biscuits on the bench, when the business was clearly to be protracted beyond the usual dinner hour.  The modern judges - those I mean who were made after 1800, never gave in to this; but with those of the preceding generation, some of whom lasted several years after 1800, it was quite common. Black bottles of strong port were set down beside them on the bench, with glasses, caraffes of water, tumblers, and biscuits; and this without the slightest attempt at concealment.  

The refreshment was generally allowed to stand untouched, and as if despised, for a short time, during which their Lordships seemed to be intent only on their notes.  But in a little, some water was poured into the tumbler, and sipped quietly as if merely to sustain nature.  Then a few drops of wine were ventured upon, but only with the water: till at last patience could endure no longer, and a full bumper of the pure black element was tossed over; after which the thing went on regularly, and there was a comfortable munching and quaffing, to the great envy of the parched throats in the gallery.

The strong-headed stood it tolerably well, but it told, plainly enough, upon the feeble. Not that the ermine was absolutely intoxicated, but it was certainly sometimes affected.  This however was so ordinary with these sages, that it really made little apparent change upon them.  It was not very perceptible at a distance; and they all acquired the habit of sitting and looking judicial enough, even when their bottles had reached the lowest ebb.  

This open-court refection did not prevail, so far as I ever saw, at Circuits.  It took a different form there.  The temptation of the inn frequently produced a total stoppage of business, during which all concerned - judges and counsel, clerks, jurymen and provosts, had a jolly dinner; after which they returned again to the transportations and hangings.  I have seen this done often.  It was a common remark that the step of the evening procession was far less true to the music than that of the morning."

I suppose not all judicial innovations are to be despised. *Hic*.

8 April 2013

TNS BMRB: Yes 30%, No 51%

Today, pollster TNS-BMRB publishes its most recent poll on Scottish independence. Often as not, today's results are quoted in isolation. I thought it might be helpful and of interest to stage a beneath-the-topline retrospective on the company's findings since the start of 2013. One wee note of caution. In January, TNS BMRB was still using the old formulation about negotiating independence, adopting the Scottish Government's new question first only in February. The impact of the change seems negligible, so I've simply included the January figures in the charts below.  

I don't have much time to commit to the exegesis of this material, so today I'll mostly be presenting the data, and leaving it at that, with a couple of marginal notions, to aid understanding. Today's data is labelled as March '13 throughout. First up, TNS-BMRB's findings on the changing overall picture since January. 


Historically, the gender gap has remained a stubborn feature of independence polling. Interestingly, TNS-BMRB has consistently generated smaller discrepancies between the voting intentions of men and women in the referendum than many of its competitors.


Polling data on the breakdown of voting intentions by age has been marked by significant volatility at the bottom, most youthful end of the spectrum, and a good deal of solidity as we approach the eldest cohort of respondents.  Opposition to independence amongst those aged over 55 continues, undented. By contrast, the sometimes more-pro-independence younger voters continues to leap about like a frog in a frying-pan.

35 - 54

55 - 65+

Social Grading

Like a number of other pollsters, TNS BMRB break down their data using "social grading" codes.  Respondents are classified based on the occupation of the "head of household". This information on the chief earner's profession is broken down into AB (upper) and C1 (lower) middle classes, with C2 representing the "skilled working class", and DE denoting the working class and those living at the lowest levels of subsistence.  To add a bit of important context, according to Ipsos-MORI, something like 27% of Britons would be classified as of AB social grade, 29% as C1s, 21% as C2s, and 23% as DE. 

Previous polls have tended to show that opposition to independence is substantially higher amongst AB voters than their poorest fellows.  While TNS-BMRB found that opposition to independence is 8% down amongst AB voters than at the start of the year, today's poll shows a spike in the number of the poorest Scots who oppose the measure, and an independence droop. That said, the poorest cohort of Scots remains the most supportive, while the richest remain unconvinced, with less a quarter of AB voters currently favouring independence.

Independence: AB and C1s.

Independence: C2DEs.

7 April 2013

Off air...

No new episode of the For A' That podcast today. In view of our unrelenting Scottish political chatter since the start of 2013, Michael and I thought we'd take a belated Easter weekend off, loaf about, roast toothsome corners of dead animals, and enjoy a general off-topic mooch.  

To tide you over until next weekend, you might consider lending your lugs to Michael's latest ScotIndyPod instead. His interviewee this week as Nighet Nasim Riaz, who is involved in the nascent Women for Independence campaign.

Toodle-oo the noo. 

5 April 2013

The Bastard Verdict

This morning, in a piece headlined "Campaigners: ‘Not proven’ allows rapists to go free", the Scotsman report that Rape Crisis Scotland has come out against Scotland's "bastard verdict" of not proven in their submission to the Scottish Government on abolishing corroboration.  I don't have the full text of their submission, but as far as the article tells, therein the organisation contends "that guilty people are walking free" because of the third verdict and that "not proven" acquittals "can be as devastating to victims as a not guilty decision". The organisation's national coordinator, Sandy Brindley, is quoted to the effect that:

We’re concerned it gives juries an easy way out of difficult decisions. They are particularly prone to going for not proven in rape cases, particularly ones which do not conform to the stranger rape scenario. The one positive with not proven is you can say to the woman, ‘this does not mean you weren’t believed’. But it’s still an acquittal, and the experience is still devastating. The bottom line for the survivor is the person who raped them is walking free – not proven is not going to change that.”

Empirically, it is certainly the case that juries avail themselves of the "not proven" verdict far more regularly in trials alleging rape and attempted rape than in criminal proceedings alleging other offences.  The latest data for 2011/12 shows that 53% of people indicted for rape or attempted rape were convicted in the High Court, while 38% of accused persons were acquitted. Not proven verdicts constituted the minority of acquittals (44%), but a substantially higher percentage of acquittals than the average, across all categories of crime, from homicide, crimes of dishonesty, vehicular offences and so on (18%).

Whatever impression courtroom dramas might cultivate about the percentage of folk who secure acquittals, it isn't the case that vast swathes of folk who end up in the dock walk free, guiltlessly. Across all categories of crimes prosecuted in 2011/12, 87% of accused persons were convicted, with "not proven" acquittals making up just 1% of all outcomes in cases which came before our criminal courts.  

Because of the sheer volume of criminal work, however, the actual number of acquittals is not insubstantial.  Of the 124,736 people proceeded against in 2011/12, Scottish judges and juries acquitted some 5,497 of them. The bare percentages can be misleading on rape and attempted rape prosecutions too. In 2011/12, just 94 people were proceeded against in court, accused of rape or attempted rape. Fifty were convicted, twenty acquitted on a "not guilty" verdict, and sixteen where the jury determined that the charge was "not proven".

So why eliminate "not proven"? To my eye, Rape Crisis Scotland is making two distinct points. Firstly, they are rebutting the contention that the verdict softens the blow for the complainer to any substantial extent, where juries fail to convict the accused. As an empirical assessment of the experiences of those who have gone through the trial process, and heard the acquittal pronounced in court, this seems highly plausible. It is not, however, a fatal critique of the third verdict. It merely undermines one reason, amongst other reasons, used by its proponents to justify its retention.

From the perspective of complainers, the distress clearly results from acquittal, not the form of the acquittal. The same critique - if we can call it a critique - could be made of the not guilty verdict.  As a consequence, today's criticism of not proven is really a catspaw for the broader, more familiar argument that the conviction rate is too low. And what's more, as the statistics indicate, while it is true that a far larger percentage of acquittals in rape proceedings are not proven than on average, the actual number of not proven acquittals in the High Court are not terrifically high. As barriers go to securing rape convictions, the "not proven" verdict seems at most of peripheral significance, the impact of its repeal negligible. A red herring, all said.

So why recommend it's abolition? Here we come to Rape Crisis Scotland's second contention, that the verdict produces wrongful acquittals which a simple "guilty or not guilty" choice would avoid. Because of the seal on the jury room, and the illegality of conducting empirical research on jury decision-making, there's no hard evidence to confirm or refute Brindley's thesis. But for the sake of argument, how might "not proven" be exercising this baleful influence? Unhelpfully, the Scotsman piece does not elaborate at much length, but I'll hazard a guess at the reasoning which might underlie this claim.  

Juries are saturated with myths about rape, unreasonable suspicions about the credibility of complainers, and patriarchal assumptions about sexuality which distort their deliberations. Combined, these wrongheaded apprehensions produce an environment where jurors are given excessively to doubt the veracity of complainers and are reluctant to convict accused persons. Particularly in circumstances where the accused does not conform to uncritically accepted ideas about the appearance, social class or manner of a rapist, or where the complainer's behaviour or manner in the witness box deviates from the jury's ideas of how a credible victim comports themselves. Or, as Brindley says, where the alleged sexual assault occurred - as most sexual assaults occur - in domestic circumstances where the victim and the perpetrator are known to one another, and may have been in a romantic relationship at the time the alleged offence took place. Apprehensions of stranger danger still cast a long shadow.

All of which may be true, but as far as I can see, these points relate only very tenuously to the availability of the not proven verdict to juries.  
Brindley's argument has to be that by eliminating the not proven verdict, juries will apply themselves more seriously to the issues of guilt or innocence than they do at present. Implicitly, she suggests that that harder choice, without resort to an ambivalent acquittal, will lead to higher rates of conviction. Given the straightened choice of guilt or innocence, in Brindley's model, our currently lax, evasive or myth-saturated juries would behave differently. But why should we expect this to be the case? Isn't it much, much more likely that an undecided jury, unable to find the charge proven beyond reasonable doubt at present, will continue to vote to acquit whether or not they have one or two acquittal verdicts available to them?

If the reason that juries are not convicting more people is attributable myths about rape, unfair scepticism about the credibility of complainers, or because of an elementary lack of evidence in cases turning primarily on the issue of consent, eliminating the third verdict does precisely nothing to challenge any of these factors. As we can see from the English and Welsh experience of prosecuting sexual offences, we can expect them stubbornly to persist under a two verdict system too. There are many reasons for the low conviction rate for rape in our justice system. The bastard verdict isn't one of them.

3 April 2013

The SNP: Choking on Tomorrow's Jam?

Political parties should beware their myths. I was in Old College on St Andrew's Day in 2007, when Wendy Alexander presented her "new agenda for Scotland". The event was overshadowed by the piffling financial scandal that eventually laid the lady low, but my abiding memory of her speech was the long byway it cut through the history of the Labour Party's attitude to Scottish home rule. 

Alexander clearly felt this was important material, and her gist was not difficult to discern. Drawing strength from her party's history, she hoped to locate her proposals - which would eventually spawn the Calman Commission - in the van of Labour's tradition, reasserting itself after the bruising 2007 election as the "party of devolution". To my twenty-one year old self, the address struck a tin note. Her potted party history felt inward-looking and self-indulgent, addressed more to blacksliding colleagues than persuading the interested punter at large.

This sort of preoccupation with your sectional history isn't a phenomenon unique to the Labour Party. Many and most institutions and organisations have their touchstone moments, their defining events and tales, held in cherished memory. The great mistake, however, is to assume that everyone else shares your backstory and preoccupations. I'm worried that the SNP and YesScotland are at risk of forgetting this elementary proposition. 

As we discussed on the most recent edition of the podcast, last week saw Ruth Davidson volte face on the constitution. There's no longer a line in the sand on devolution, she says. Let the constitutional debate continue. It remains to be seen whether she and Johann Lamont will pull on their wellies with Willie Rennie before 2014, and cobble together a convincing devosomething alternative to independence before polling day.  It's certainly a possibility.

Thus far, the SNP's response to these devolutionary hints has been to dismiss them out of hand. Perfidious Albion, like the leopard, doesn’t change its spots. Remember 1979! Jam Tomorrow! Remember Douglas-Home! "The UK’s ability to re-invent itself is spent!" Whatever Ruth, Johann or Cameron might say, their promises are moonshine. The thought might be developed somewhat, drawing inspiration from Tom Nairn's account of the sclerosis of the British state. And as I have argued here before, there are plenty of good reasons from the recent history of the Tory and Labour Parties to doubt the sincerity of their devosomething rhetoric. I'll believe it when I see it, and not before. 

That said, is it convincing that most folk will find it inherently implausible that devolution might be extended after a “no” vote? I think not. The problem with this otherwise charming Nationalist story is that it presupposes that people remember the events of 1979 more keenly than 1997. And while this might be a reasonable calculation amongst grudge-bearing Nationalists, suspicious of the British State in all of its manifestations, it's a startlingly unlikely account of what your average less-partisan Scot might make of the recent constitutional history of this country. It's the politics of the echo-chamber, with the sting that we're only fooling ourselves if we believe it. 

If you stumped up to many doorsteps and muttered darkly about promises reneged upon in decades gone by, many and most would likely retort, "who the hell is Alec Douglas-Home" anyway? This sort of patter may prompt a cheer from the crowd at the SNP conference. For them, the event may be written in fiery letters in the book of life. But most voters seem much more likely to take it for years-old grudge-bearing barminess, of remote pertinence at best to our current constitutional controversy. It’s the SNP version of Wendy Alexander’s dreary roll call of home rulers. 

Yes, the British state is given to unprincipled strategic trimming. Yes, the Tories exhibit no principled reason to support more devolution. Yes, the recent history of all three parties has exhibited considerable reluctance substantially to extend Scottish powers in areas of taxation and welfare, or to embrace some sort of settled federation. Yes, defeat in the referendum would go a long way to eliminating the "political need" for more devolution, weakening rather than strengthening any devosomething argument. 

But what are the advocates of independence to do if the three opposition parties - somehow - produce a compelling, reasoned, credible devolutionary alternative? The first answer is ornery cynicism, the Nationalist parallel to Johann Lamont's demands for absolute certainties about the character of an independent Scotland. Where are your guarantees? That might convince you, in your mistrust of the Better Together campaign. But you can bet your last shilling that there will be plenty of Scots who will want to believe that a credible, achievable, more extensive devolution of power is possible within the United Kingdom, who are willing to take the wager and vote "no". 

Here the pro-independence argument is in danger of planting itself in treacherous terrain, all the more perilous given its superficial fertility. As I read it, their reasoning goes something like this. We believe in independence, come what may. Most folk don’t. At least, not yet, and probably never a majority as a first order preference so soon as 2014. So what is the calculating nationalist to do? You look around and you notice, per the opinion polls, that this other nebulous creature – devosomething – seems to be the popular ticket. The challenge then becomes, how to mobilise that soup of pro-powers feeling in the service of independence? 

We might detect two moves in the SNP’s recent rhetoric around this. Firstly, find ways to represent independence as a logical extension of devolution, a way station of a "home rule journey" that leads to independent sovereignty for Scotland after 2014. While the idea of a spectrum of self-government is not trite, some figures in the party have recently taken the theme far too far. Just last week, Stewart Hosie MP put out a statement dismissing the possibility of Holyrood being invested with more powers, which argued that:  

"... it is absolutely clear independence is the only route now open for the devolution of any substantive powers to Scotland." 

Conceptually, this is a right muddle, a category mistake. Independence can’t be a route for devolution of power from the British centre to the Scottish periphery. The thought is incoherent, but Hosie’s conflation serves the obvious purpose of eliminating sharp distinctions between independence and devolution, of muddying the difference. 

The second rhetorical move has seen the Nationalists doing their darndest to frame the referendum in terms of change against the status quo, of more powers against no powers, dynamism against inflexibility. Sure, they say, independence might not be your instinctive or intellectual first choice, but look at the alternatives. If you favour more powers, independence is the only way to gain them. The message: if you are pro-devolution, vote for the referendum alternative which comes closest to your real aspirations. 

The petard-hoisting potential of this argument for independence supporters ought to be obvious. This contention only holds together so long and insofar as support for independence answers this conundrum, and seems to fit best with the hitherto frustrated preferences of supporters of greater devolution. Take us forward a few months. Say the Unionists distinguish their fundaments from their arm-joints and produce some adequately convincing devosomething offer. You may hae your doots about is credibility, suspect dirty tricks. But why the devil should we expect the Scottish people – hazy in any case about where power over a number of issues are situated – not to believe them? 

What’s the pro-independence argument now? “Pro-devolution? Er. Vote for independence because … um … well I admit, our ambitions are a bit different to yours and our opponents’ offer looks much closer to the sort of thing you want than independence but... Ah… Be a dear and just ignore what I’ve been saying for the last half year, could you?”

Instead of harping on the string that the Better Together campaign can't and won't adopt a credible pro-devolution position, shouldn't we evade the elephant trap of them actually producing one? Achilles didn’t send Paris a billet-doux and a bow and arrow before the battle saying “sir, kindly refrain from shooting me in the heel.” 

Instead of dredging up decades-old tales about faded patrician politicians signifying sod all to most people, hoodwinking ourselves with our cherished history and waiting for the snare to close about our ankles, why not anticipate this obvious development now, and start making the case why independence would be categorically different, categorically better than any form of devolution? Save for Trident, and their recent Iraqi invasion retrospective, the SNP has arguably declined to make this case in any sustained way.  

For your pessimistic independence supporter, who sees the result of 2014 as a forgone conclusion, this strategy is not without its attractions.  If the consequence of defeat is luring your opponents into extending the powers of Scottish democratic institutions, all to the good.  For the optimist, given to think that the 2014 poll is winnable, however, the way we're framing the pro-independence case at the moment looks decidedly precarious. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Better Together's amorphous constitutional promises without resorting to 1979, and to Alec Douglas-Home. The SNP are right to make that point, but let's not blunder into a rhetorical snare of our own making, and hew through our hamstrings in the process.

1 April 2013

One last thing...

Per this morning's momentous announcement, Michael and I have spent the first part of the day packing up the sound gear, pouring out the half-finished bottles of Malibu in the Green Room and pulling down the shutters down in our plush podcasting studio.  Before we go, however, we've one last show for you.  

Earlier on in the week, Michael had a chat with author, playwright, performance and Yes Scotland man Alan Bissett about independence and culture, of Alasdair Gray and James Kelman, of Scottish men and feminism.  You can download their interesting blether from here, or listen to it directly here. 

As usual (at least until our conversion into Better Together supporters), over the weekend, we were joined by a couple of guests for a chat about the latest developments in the referendum campaign, and the broad politics of these islands.  For episode twenty, Michael and I were joined by one lapsed Liberal, Douglas McLellan, and one of the Liberal Democrats' most vocal defenders and advocates in the Scottish blogosphere, Caron Lindsay

Hitherto, with a few notable exceptions, the podcasts panels have been mainly pro-independence in dint.  All's change this on week's sparky episode. While Douglas is a convert to the independence cause, Caron is pluckily opposed, and has a few sharp words to say about the SNP in general, and "cynical" Alex Salmond in particular. 

First on the menu this week, the thorny topic of immigration.  Caron chews over Nick Clegg's recent speech, and Douglas relates some of his own experiences of the jolly, generous-spirited folk of the UK Border Agency.  

Back on the referendum theme (from around 13:00 minutes in), Douglas explains why he abandoned the Liberal Democrats for the Scottish Green Party.  Caron weighed in, explaining why she remains a devotee of Nick Clegg and the coalition, despite the various setbacks, challenges and ugly compromises which the party has made in order to keep its Whitehall Offices.  

We also turned to Ruth Davidson's intervention last week, scrubbing the line she'd etched in the sand, and announcing she's a sudden devotee-convert to devosomething solutions to Scotland's problems.  Michael Forsyth must be spinning cartwheels in his crypt. But does her volte face have any credibility?

On a broader strategic issue, I asked the panel whether they felt that the potential emergence of a devosomething consensus before September 2014 represents a problem for the SNP and YesScotland, given their current argument that folk should vote independence because more devolution isn't going to happen.  

Is it time for the pro-independence campaigners to begin to make arguments about why independence beats any devo-offering which the Liberal Democrats, Tories and the Labour Party might cobble together before the poll? Slamming the performance of the Nats in office, and making the case against independence, Caron stoutly defended the UK's international influence. Michael, the awful cynic, had his doubts.

As usual, you can download the show via iTunes, from Spreaker, sign up for our RSS feed, or listen to our discussion directly here.

This is the end.

I regret to announce that the Scottish Independence and For A' That podcasts can no longer continue. We explain why.  I'll be spending the rest of the day, trying to work out how to peel the SNP symbol from off my twitter lapel. It's the least I could do.

 Download the last edition of the show here.