Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Systematic cheating over many years? Gaining a clear sporting advantage by breaking the rules? Titles gained through cheating? A governing body that looked the other way?

The sporting press has been up in arms over the last two days since the World Anti Doping Agency exposed the scale of Russian drug use in athletics. A consensus seems to have developed that Russia should be banned from next year’s Olympic Games and that all tainted medals should be removed from the cheats.

Phrases like “industrial scale cheating”, “conspiracy of corruption” and “unprecedented deception” have all being used. And there is a general agreement that swift and decisive action needs to be taken for the good of world athletics.

Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister, perhaps summed up the need to clean up the sport after these revelations, stating, “This is what destroys public faith in the competition they see on their televisions or go to see.”

Not much room for shades of grey in this story, is there? And why should there be? When sporting cheats get caught they are punished. Just ask Ben Johnson or Lance Armstrong. They both cheated. They both got caught. They both had their tainted titles removed.

This morning on Radio Scotland there were reports of calls for Yvonne Murray’s medal in the 1988 Olympics to be upgraded because she finished behind an athlete who cheated. So time, it seems, is no barrier to doing the right thing. In athletics at least.

So why does it all seem so different in the world of Scottish football?

The former Rangers Football Club, now known as RFC 2012 PLC (in liquidation), cheated. It did it not by drugging its players but by buying players it couldn’t afford to pay and using an illegal method of tax evasion instead. It was financial doping rather than chemical doping, yet with the same outcome: titles won because of cheating.

So why are the journalists who’re so quick to call for action against the cheats of Russian athletics not also calling for action against the cheats of Scottish football?

Perhaps because of the unwritten law that seems to trump all others in the national game. The asterisk that should sit at the top of every set of rules and regulations with a link to a phrase that says “Does not necessarily apply to any club with the word Rangers in its name.”

But Scotland’s footballing authorities, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League, are membership bodies comprising the country’s football clubs. Our clubs can force those in power to do the right thing and remove the tainted titles – and football fans throughout the country can prompt their club to take action.

In the past we’ve seen the likes of Raith Rovers, in the person of the sadly missed Turnbull Hutton, stand up to those in charge and lead the fight against special treatment for new club The Rangers. The then Raith chairman took them on with the help of other clubs – and he won.

So will come to the rescue this time? Who will take on the mantle of Turnbull Hutton? Who will stand up for the good of Scottish football?

Scotland’s sports media, the stenographers to use Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s lovely phrase, will as always refuse to their job. We know they won’t challenge anyone at Ibrox. The hard questions will be left unanswered and the press releases repeated. So once again it’s been left to Channel 4’s Alex Thomson to get to the truth of the matter. He does it with a succinctness and a directness that has to be admired.

“All the titles and silverware from all the years Rangers cheated at football, as they cheated at tax, must be null and void and wiped from the record.”

If Scotland’s football fans work together we can make it happen.

It’s a long time since I’ve written about the nefarious tax affairs of the former Rangers Football Club. But yesterday’s decision by appeal judges Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young has brought the matter right back into the public eye.

In simple terms, the judges ruled in HRMC’s favour over its claim that the former Rangers were liable for a £46.2 million bill over the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) to make payments to players, managers and staff.

So what I and many others have been saying since the start of this sordid affair is now official: the former Rangers Football Club broke the law many times over many years. It paid football players, managers and ever former managers through a tax evasion scheme that defrauded the public purse out of tens of millions of pounds.

Now the financial consequences of this relate solely to the legal entity now called RFC 2012 PLC (in liquidation) – the old club. The new club playing out of Ibrox, Rangers International Football Club plc Group (formerly Sevco Scotland Ltd), has no liability.

But the sporting consequences of years of tax fraud have yet to be settled.

The Commission for the former Scottish Premier League headed by Lord Nimmo Smith back in 2013 ruled that the use of EBTs without informing the football authorities of the payments was a breach of football’s player registration rules and fined the former club £250,000.

LNS did not however look into the legality of the EBT scheme. That was a matter for the courts and beyond his remit. The Commission assumed the scheme to be lawful and therefore ruled that no sporting advantage accrued to the club from its deliberate administrative omissions.

We now know differently. And that changes everything.

LNS assumed omissions in administering a legal scheme. We now know that the omissions were actually part of an attempt to cover up large scale illegal non payment of taxes.

Failure to register players correctly may or may not have led to a sporting advantage. But failure to pay over £40,000,000 in tax undoubtedly did. And that’s what must now be addressed.

Every club in Scottish football lost out in some way from this long term and wide scale tax fraud. Whether through losing access to European competitions, missing out on league prize money or potential cup runs or receiving a smaller share of tv cash. Everyone lost – and only one club gained.

The former Rangers Football Club attracted players it could not otherwise have afforded to pay. It kept vast sums that should have been paid in tax while every other club fulfilled its social obligations. And it used this unfair advantage to win league titles and cups.

So today I’m calling on all football clubs in Scotland to demand action from the SFA and SPFL. Demand that the matter is looked into again in light of yesterday’s court ruling and remove all of the tainted titles from the former football club. Let the record books show that crime doesn’t pay.

And I’m also calling on fans of all clubs to ensure that this happens. Write to your chairman or chairwoman and ask him or her to act immediately. Scottish football fans have shown before that pressure can be brought to bear – remember how attempts to parachute the new club from Ibrox straight into the Championship were defeated?

If all of Scotland’s clubs call for the tainted titles and contaminated cups to be removed the authorities will have to act. They are membership organisations after all.

If we all work together we can ensure that sporting fairness wins out.

… OK just to be clear, I didn’t wear a flower in my hair. Although I did hear that song playing as I walked along Haight Street.

I’ve done a fair bit of international travel over the years and, as my friends will know, have had more than a few adventures along the way. Most of the trips has been for pleasure alone though. My business trips abroad mainly came during my time working in European funding, with a few visits to Brussels and two real highlights: an exchange visit to Cork and an invitation to speak at a conference in Marseilles.

Last year I was invited to take part in some discussions through an inter governmental body called the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership, or IIMHL for short. A group of us from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and the Netherlands met in New Haven, Connecticut, which many will recognise as the home of Yale University.

We spent a few days together, including sessions in the Yale University Library, which was great. The result was a proposal to form what we provisionally termed a Leadership Academy for People With Lived Experience. The theory is simple: change in mental health systems will best come from those who know best what it’s like to live with a condition. So we need to develop the leadership skills required to challenge and to lead change in a constructive manner. Our hope is to create an Academy at Yale University that can deliver educational opportunities directly, remotely and through partner institutions in other countries.

Over the past year we’ve been meeting as a Steering Group, working through teleconferences and e-mail. We’ve got a draft proposal together, we’ve interviewed some key people throughout the world and we’ve carried out a survey to get the views of those involved in mental health in various capacities throughout the world, and that achieved over 1,200 responses.

To refine our draft proposal we decided to meet for a couple of days’ hard work – and San Francisco seemed a good place given the vast geographical spread of our group. Hosted by the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, we planned our sessions, set our agenda and travelled across the world.

Now it goes without saying that the five thousand mile journey to San Francisco took a while. Door to door this one took me almost a full day. I’m not sure if the eight hour time helped or not – the clock said the journey was 15 hours but my body made it 23.

I’ve done a lot of air travel over the years and the hard part for me is always the amount of time you seem to spend sitting around doing nothing. The six or seven hours on a plane is actually fine. A book, a laptop to get some writing done and frequent meal and drink rounds by the cabin crew see to that.

I left the house at 6am on Saturday, dropped the car off in Paisley and then hit Glasgow airport. By 10am I was on the way with a seven hour plus flight to Philadelphia first on the agenda. Three hours turnaround made it my shortest stay in Philly ever, which was a shame. Still, another six hour flight and I was all the way on the other side of the USA in San Francisco. It didn’t take too long to get into the city and I checked in around 9pm – or 5am Sunday morning UK time.

I got a pretty good night’s sleep and was awake by 6am on Sunday. After breakfast I decided to head to Fisherman’s Wharf and spent time wandering around and seeing the sights. Pier 39 has all sorts of attractions from shops to sea lions – great for the photographers. I also had some very nice clam chowder served inside a sourdough bun, a real local delicacy. One of the great things about a port city is of course the variety and quality of the seafood.

I also headed out onto San Francisco Bay in a small boat. At only $15 (about £10) for an hour’s trip under the Golden Gate Bridge, across the Bay and around Alcatraz it was well worth it. The sun was shining, the water was pretty calm most of the time and I got some great photos too.

There’s so much to see in San Francisco and it would take a lot longer than I had to spare to do it any kind of justice. But then this was mainly a work trip, and so Monday and Tuesday saw a lot of hard work. We spent a very productive couple of days going through an awful lot of information and refining our proposal. All of us left feeling that we’d achieved a great deal. Our ambition of an International Academy for Lived Experience at Yale is getting closer.

That left me with just one day to see a little more of San Francisco before tackling the lengthy journey home. I’ve done City Hall tours in quite a few cities over the years and it was great to add SF to the list. It’s quite a building too, opulent and full of wood and marble inside – and there’s even real gold on the dome.

The official tours are taken by volunteer docents. Ours was very knowledgeable and the hour flew by. The building has changed a bit since it was constructed, mainly due to a couple of rather large earthquakes that moved the entire building, causing cracks to the marble as well as structural damage. The building now sits on what are effectively shock absorbers, added in a major renovation of the foundations that took years. Quite a feat of engineering.

The other place I really wanted to see was the historic Haight-Ashbury district. It’s clearly not the place it once was, but there are some good photo opportunities and a range of very interesting shops. I’m sure I caught the odd whiff of illegal substances being smoked several times too. I also came across a couple of great book shops and bought a fair few to bring home, including a Janis Joplin biography. Well, it seemed appropriate.

The long journey home is always a chore, and this one was no different. But I got a fair amount of writing done and made it home twenty some hours after leaving the hotel. Needless to say it was raining In Glasgow.

So my first visit to San Francisco was both very productive and a lot of fun. It’s quite a place and I’d love to return for a longer visit sometime. There’s an awful lot I didn’t have time to see. Maybe one day.

Cold Roses cover

My second novel, Cold Roses, was published last week.

There’s something of a sense of achievement in publishing a first novel, and I’d wondered what it might be like second time around. Well, it was a little easier to get through the publishing process knowing exactly what to expect. And now I feel like a real writer! Not just one book out there but two.

Not that I’m going to stop at two. The third is already written, with negotiations over publication to come, and I’m now well into writing number four.

But for now, let’s stick with Cold Roses. It again features Detective Inspector Adam Ralston of Strathclyde Police’s elite Murder Squad. He returns to face a new and baffling case:

“DI Adam Ralston is no stranger to the dark side of human nature, but when a young art gallery worker is discovered in her South Side flat, brutally raped, her throat slit, and a single red rose laid upon her corpse, he is thrown into a bloody maelstrom of violence and suspicion unlike anything he has known before.

“Haunted by the death of a prison officer on a previous case, (see Calling Cards) Ralston must also battle his own personal demons and hold his family together as tries to track down the killer – a killer who leaves no clues, who grows bolder with each killing, and who seems to be able to strike at will.

“Time is running out. And the body count is rising.”

So if psychological thrillers are your thing, why not check it out? It’s not for the faint hearted! I’m glad to be contributing to the growth of Glasgow Noir with another novel set in the city. The locations are all true to life, even if the plot and the characters are products of my lurid imagination.

The e-book version for all of you technophiles is now in the Kindle store. It can be downloaded from the following link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cold-Roses-Gordon-Johnston-ebook/dp/B00ZY8QEJO/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434915513&sr=1-1

And those of you who prefer good old fashioned books can order directly from Ringwood Publishing here:

http://ringwoodpublishing.com/forthcoming-titles/cold-roses-by-gordon-johnston/

It will also be available very soon in all Scottish branches of Waterstones and other good bookshops.

So if you’re heading off somewhere hot over the summer, what better than a book to ready by the pool or on the beach?

I was delighted by the reviews that my first novel Calling Cards received. I look forward to hearing what you think of the second in the series.

And thanks to all of my friends for their support!

The 2015 General election was predicted to be on a knife edge, with the two major parties very close and the Scottish National Party with a large lead north of the border. But that’s not quite how it turned out. It was a long night, and here’s how it all turned out.

Shortly after the polls closed at 10pm the key exit poll was unveiled. Over 20,000 people across the UK had been asked who they actually voted for and the results gave a surprising prediction. The Tories were forecast to gain 316 seats, only just short of an overall majority. Labour was set for only 239 seats and the Lib Dems would be reduced to a mere 10 MPs. In Scotland the SNP was predicted to gain 58 of the 59 seats!

But was the poll accurate? At a UK level the forecast showed a clear Tory win rather than the very close result that all the previous opinion polls had shown. There was a general air of scepticism among most commentators. And in Scotland the expected very good SNP performance was predicted to become a massive victory. Even leading nationalists, including the First Minister, seemed to think it was far too good to be true.

By 10:20pm YouGov was predicting an outcome that seemed more in line with what most people and most commentators would have probably expected. They had the Tories on 284, Labour on 262, SNP on 49 and Lib Dems on 31.

It would be many hours before there was a clear idea of which was closer to the actual outcome of the election.

The first real result came in at 10:48pm, which is an incredibly quick count. Labour held the safe seat of Sunderland South with an increased majority and UKIP pushed the Tories into third. Sunderland Central and Sunderland West came next with both showing increased Labour majorities and strong UKIP showings. No great surprises were to come for a considerable time, but a pattern of Lib Dem collapse and UKIP increased votes appeared to develop in England.

In Scotland it gradually became certain that the SNP would indeed make large numbers of gains right across the country. Leads over Labour in west and central Scotland and over the Lib Dems in the Highlands were being widely reported from counts, with several big names and long standing MPs apparently heading for defeat.

Several stunning Scottish results began to come through just after 2am. The SNP gained Kilmarnock with a whopping 26% swing from Labour and Douglas Alexander was ousted from his Paisley seat on a 27% swing. These massive gains were to become the norm as seats in Dundee, Dunbartonshire, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Fife all went from Labour to the SNP in the space of ten frantic minutes with the television pundits trying to keep up. Dunbartonshire East was slightly different – this time it was Lib Dem junior minister Jo Swinson who was beaten by the SNP.

More SNP victories followed and at 3:10am came the next big scalp, with Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy losing East Renfrewshire to the Nationalists on a 24% swing. And the gains kept coming across what had been known as the Labour heartlands in the west and central belt. Even seats in Glasgow followed the trend. The notion that Labour might lose every single one of the seven seats in the city would once have been laughed at. Now it was fast becoming a reality. Indeed the Nationalists took the first 38 seats to be declared before Alastair Carmichael held his Orkney and Shetland seat for the Lib Dems.

By 4:00am all attention seemed to have been focused on Scotland so far. Yet little of great note was actually happening in the rest of the UK. Labour had made just six gains, missing out on several target seats – and the Tories were also two seats up on 2010. Meanwhile the Lib Dems vote continued to crumble, seemingly splitting between the Conservatives and UKIP. Several of their seats had already gone with the likes of Simon Hughes and Ed Davey among those defeated. And worse was to come when Vince Cable lost Twickenham to the Tories, becoming the most senior minister to fall.

UKIP’s Douglas Carswell retained his Clacton seat, but it appeared he would be the only one from his party to win. Despite increasing its share of the vote across England it appeared that there would be no more victories with several targets missed – although leader Nigel Farage’s result in Thanet South had still to come.

North of the border, Labour finally won a seat at 4:27am when Ian Murray retained Edinburgh South. A return of a single MP from 48 seats declared was hardly much to celebrate though. The Tories will have felt relief when David Mundell held the single seat they were defending in Dumfriesshire, albeit with a much reduced majority.

As the night went on some big political names had mixed results. Mayor of London Boris Johnson won his safe seat, as expected, to return to the ranks of MPs. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg held on to his seat in Sheffield with a small majority, but one of his predecessors Charles Kennedy and cabinet minister Danny Alexander both fell to the SNP. Employment minister Esther McVey was one of the few senior Tories to fall, defeated by Labour in Wirral West.

Somewhere around 5:45am the Conservatives overtook Labour on seats won. The combination of Labour losses in Scotland and its failure to pick up target seats in England allied to a total Lib Dem collapse seemed to indicate that the exit poll wouldn’t be too far off the mark after all. With around 200 seats still to declare it appeared that only the scale of the Tory victory remained to be decided. Just how close to a majority would Cameron and co get? Was an absolute majority actually possible – beyond what even the exit poll had predicted?

By the time those who didn’t spend the night in front of a tv screen were preparing breakfast the Tories had taken a couple more seats from the Lib Dem in the South West of England. This made a Tory government with a small overall majority almost certain. So all of the talk of negotiations and uncertainty appears to have been for nothing, with David Cameron emerging in a better position than he had dared hope. He can look forward to planning a government without the need for any other party’s input.

At 7:25am the final Scottish result came in, with Lib Dem Michael Moore joining the ranks of the defeated. He actually fell to third place, behind not only the victorious SNP but the Tories as well. This means that the SNP have secured 56 seats in Scotland, leaving Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems with just a single seat each. This is a better result than the SNP could have ever expected, with a 50.0% share of the vote secured.

By 7:30am almost 600 of the 650 seats had declared. Things slowed down, althouhh there were a handful of very interesting seats still to be decided. Brighton Pavilion again returned Caroline Lucas as the sole Green MP with an increased majority, largely at the expense of yet another Lib Dem collapse. UKIP’s Mark Reckless lost out to the Tories, the party he left last year.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of the night was to be Ed Balls, who lost out by just 422 to the Conservatives in his Yorkshire seat after a recount. Another big name, UKIP’s Nigel Farage had to wait until 10:30am before discovering he had failed to take Thanet South from the Conservatives. This result will clearly have meant a lot to David Cameron.

Just before 11am, a full thirteen hours after the polls close, the Conservatives took Devon West, making a total of 323 seats. Taking out the Sinn Fein MPs who won’t take their seats and the Speaker, that numbers gave a theoretical majority to the Tories.

So with just a dozen or so results in far flung constituencies outstanding the final result seemed clear.

The Conservatives would secure a majority on 37& of the popular vote to Labour’s 31%. A lead of 6% or so, much more than any of the polls predicted. A great night for the SNP ended with 56 MPs, compared with just 6 going into this election. UKIP did very well in terms of share of the vote, attracting 3.8 million votes or almost 13% of the total cast – although that only equated to a single MP.

The Liberal Democrats were punished in brutal fashion for their backing of David Cameron’s party in the coalition. The party lost more than half of its votes, securing just 8% and being reduced from more than 50 MPs to single figures.

So what now for the defeated parties? There are bound to be calls for inquests, changes and resignations. The consequence of the Liberal Democrats’ participation in the coalition is a disastrous set of results, almost being wiped out and Nick Clegg isn’t expected to stay long as leader. Labour’s failure is also likely to see Ed Miliband resign, leaving what could be a very interesting contest to replace him. And in Scotland Jim Murphy’s position must surely be untenable. This could yet be an election that results in much more dramatic change than was expected.

David Cameron will now lead a government with a small majority, meaning whipping and party discipline will be very important. He will face an opposition made up of two dispirited parties and a large block of new Scottish Nationalist MPs who are sure to have plenty to say. Scotland’s place in the union will remain a big issue in the political short term.

The final outcome of this election may not be what too many people expected, but the new House of Commons is unlikely to be a dull place. David Cameron has a majority but he will govern a country that retains deep political divisions.

It may seem a little odd to be writing about what might happen after the general election several days before polling day. But as it has long looked almost certain that nether of the main parties will secure an overall majority, speculation has been going on for a fair while anyway. And it is possible that some of the remaining undecided voters may well take such calculations into account when casting their vote.

So let’s assume a set of results and run through some scenarios of what might happen next. There are 650 MPs to be elected on Thursday, so in theory 326 votes are needed to secure a parliamentary majority. The number might actually be slightly lower, as the 4 or 5 likely Sinn Fein MPs will not take the oath required to sit as an MP and will therefore not be entitled to vote.

Here’s a possible outcome to give us some numbers. It’s not necessarily a prediction, just some figures that appear reasonable based on the polls, and with numbers that make the maths easy. Labour or the Tories may end up with a few more seats than the other but unless there is a massive swing it actually doesn’t change the arithmetic too much.

Labour: 275
Conservative: 275
SNP: 50
Lib Dem: 30
Others: 20

We begin on Friday morning with David Cameron still Prime Minister. He remains in office for now, even if his party has fewer seats than Labour, and can still try to form some sort of coalition. Who with? Well, from the numbers it seems he won’t be able to command enough votes with his current partners the Lib Dems, even if agreement could be reached – just 305 on these figures. The SNP have said they won’t deal with the Tories and the only Others who might be interested are some of the Ulster Unionists and any MPs that UKIP might secure. But he would, it seems, still be well below the majority required.

So David Cameron is unable to form a coalition. In theory he could still present a Queen’s Speech to parliament and wait for the other parties to defeat it. Or he could simply admit defeat and resign.

In formal terms, he would now go to see the Queen and hand in his notice, advising her to turn to Ed Miliband next. There is a massive issue here about the role of an unelected hereditary head of state in all of this, but that’s one for another day. Note that Miliband could, in this situation, be asked to attempt to form a government – he doesn’t have to have any sort of deal put in place in advance.

But could Labour actually form a government that commands majority support in the Commons?

Well, a coalition again looks unlikely based on these numbers. Even if a deal could be reached with Nick Clegg (assuming he is still leader of what’s left of the Lib Dem parliamentary party) we still get to 305. And if we add in the likely 3 or 4 SDLP members they are still short of a majority.

That brings us to the Nationalists in Scotland and Wales. We know Ed Miliband has said that he won’t do a deal with them. So if we assume he will stand by this, a Labour led coalition that secures the support of a majority of MPs simply can’t happen.

Again, Labour could, as has actually been suggested, go ahead and present a Queen’s Speech to parliament. The SNP and Plaid Cymru block of 50 or so MPs would hold the balance. Support Labour and they would win the vote. Vote against and they will lose. Abstain and it would come down to whatever the Lib Dems might decide to do.

Now this is where politics rather than arithmetic makes it all very interesting. The calculations for the parties involved would be complex. Would a second election be best for their party? How might voters react to being asked to go to the polls again? Might they apportion blame for failure to produce a government?

How would the SNP thinking go? Would they support a Labour government in principle and then try to amend its legislation to make it more to their liking? Decide to abstain, staying out of the argument entirely? Or vote against the formation of a Labour government and hope that another election might be to their benefit?

It’s a difficult one to call. Given that the SNP is presently on a high and likely to win the vast majority of seats in Scotland it could hardly believe that another poll would offer increased opportunities or too many extra seats. But it could argue that its position would be stronger in relation to Labour as it had proven the only way Ed Miliband could become PM would be with their support. Or would the SNP be accused of risking another Tory led government if it voted down a potential Labour one?

But then the opposite side of that coin is to consider the position in England – would some voters in a second election become more likely to support Labour if it argued that it had acted in the UK’s best interests rather than its own by refusing a deal with the SNP? So by not supporting Labour the SNP could actually strengthen Ed Miliband’’s hand and make a majority Labour government more likely in a second election.

Gets complex, doesn’t it?

The salient fact to remember though when it comes to working out what the SNP might decide to do is that its primary interest isn’t what happens at Westminster. Its one political goal is Scottish independence and everything else is viewed through the prism of what makes that more or less likely.

So what might that tell us? Would the SNP feel that backing a Labour government and seeking to influence its plans might be seen as a responsible move, one that would produce political capital down the line? Or would they believe that forcing a second general election would help to show the UK political system is a bad light – after all, minority government was made to work in Scotland?

Whatever happens on Thursday evening, and well into Friday morning, will only be the beginnings of the story of this general election. It will be days and perhaps even weeks before it is clear exactly which party, or parties, will govern. And – if there is no formal coalition in place – any new government may struggle to get its legislation through. No overall majority could mean defeats on its budget or on key bills. That could trigger a no confidence vote.

So, whatever might happen on Thursday, don’t bet against there being a second general election long before the one currently scheduled for 2020.

I’ve got some good news to share – my second novel will be published in May 2015.

“Cold Roses”, like my debut release “Calling Cards” will be coming to you from the good folks at Glasgow’s Ringwood Publishing.

So what’s it all about, you ask? Well …

DI Adam Ralston is no stranger to the dark side of human nature, but when a young art gallery worker is discovered in her South Side flat, brutally raped, her throat slit, and a single red rose laid upon her corpse, he is thrown into a bloody maelstrom of violence and suspicion unlike anything he has known before.

“Haunted by the death of a prison officer on a previous case, (see Calling Cards) Ralston must also battle his own personal demons and hold his family together as tries to track down the killer – a killer who leaves no clues, who grows bolder with each killing, and who seems to be able to strike at will.

“Time is running out. And the body count is rising.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s not a romance. Following on from my first novel, it’s another Glasgow based psychological thriller, complete with several gruesome murders and many new characters, but with the same team of detectives trying to solve the case.

There will be a launch event once more – and it would be great to see as many folk as possible coming along. The exact date and venue will be sorted out soon, and I’m sure it will be another excellent night.

The book will be available for purchase, signed of course, at the launch. It will also be sold in hard copy and electronic formats through Amazon, Waterstones and hopefully several other book shops.

Or you can order your signed first edition through the Ringwood Publishing website at this link:

http://ringwoodpublishing.com/forthcoming-titles/cold-roses-by-gordon-johnston/

I’m really grateful to everyone who purchased Calling Cards and gave it such favourable reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as for all the e-mails and messages I received.

I hope you will all find Cold Roses to be as entertaining.

Celtic had no need to get out of second gear to stroll past The Rangers at Hampden. The first ever clash between Glasgow’s giants and its newest club was a non event as a contest – if it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped before half time.

For the record, the final score was 2 – 0.  Leigh Griffiths became the first Celt to score against The Rangers with a fine 10th minute header and a typically accurate Kris Commons strike from outside the box on the half hour was all that needed to secure the victory. Celtic looked as if they were quite content with just the two goals, although Van Dyke and Johanssen both missed very good chances to add to the score.  Celtic played some neat possession football – or as much as they could on a pitch that looked like a ploughed field by the end.

I know the SFA has many things to worry about as it attempts to run Scottish football, but for the field of play at a so called National Stadium hosting a major semi final to look like something a Sunday league pub team would expect to play on is very poor indeed. Perhaps they could find someone currently on gardening leave to give them a hand?

And a word for referee Craig Thompson. Well, how about disgrace? Perhaps incompetent? Or maybe hapless? In all seriousness, anyone who performs as badly as this ref did deserves to find himself demoted to officiating in the North of Scotland under 10s Reserve League.

His decision to blow for a free kick to Celtic with Griffiths running through on goal rather than allowing the most obvious of advantages defied any rational explanation. The referee should really have red carded himself at that moment for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.

And it wasn’t the only time Thompson managed to stop play for no good reason. Add in John Guidetti being brought down and somehow conceding a few kick, probably for letting Lee McCulloch to stamp on top of him. The same McCulloch being allowed to escape punishment for a forearm smash into the back of Griffiths’ head. Foster getting off scot free for hauling Izaguirre to the ground just a minute after picking up a booking. And Griffiths being booked for a fairly muted goal scoring celebration.

But still, these things even themselves up, don’t they?

Celtic performed well, although with little real challenge. Many of the players will have had more strenuous training sessions. Captain Scott Brown led the way with an inspired performance full of energy and desire. Along with the calm and composed Nir Bitton he dominated the midfield from first whistle to last. At the back, Virgil Van Dyke and Jason Denayer strolled through the game.

Anyone watching The Rangers for the first time would have wondered quite how they have managed to reach as high as second place in the Championship. Their collection of journeymen, has beens and never will bes were totally outclassed all day long. The lower league club didn’t looked like scoring at any point, and Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon’s perfectly clean jersey at the final whistle was proof of their failure to force him to make even a single save. Indeed the one shot at goal that the Ibrox club was rather charitably credited with was actually a mishit cross that sailed well over the bar.

So the large crowd did not get the spectacle they had perhaps hoped for. Not that the green and white half were bothered greatly as they celebrated a first victory over their new rivals. And the blue half of the stadium seemed to have found an old song book belonging to a liquidated club. Still, being just three years behind the times is probably pretty good for them, with many still appearing to be perpetually fixated on 1690.

Will much be made of the wide range of sectarian songs emanating from one end of the ground? Will mass arrests for offensive behaviour be reported in the media? I’m not holding my breath.

Ronny Deila’s pursuit of trophies in his first season in charge at Celtic Park will now take him and his men back to Hampden next month. I’m sure many will be hoping that Dundee United provide far more of a challenge and contribute to a much better game of football in the final.

 

Je Suis Charlie

Je suis Charlie.

This statement would have meant nothing to anyone not called Charlie until recently. Indeed, few in this country would ever have heard of Charlie Hebdo. Yet now the French satirical magazine stands at the centre of a growing debate on where the limits to the right of freedom of speech should stand.

And the Charlie Hebdo affair may yet come to a court somewhere. The Saudi Arabia-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is reportedly planning to sue the magazine following its publication of a front cover depicting the Prophet Mohamed.

There are, of course, already limits to freedom of speech. Not just the theoretical one about refraining from shouting fire in a crowded theatre either. Libel and slander laws limit what can be said or written about another person. The Official Secrets Act bans the passing of classified or sensitive materials. Obscenity laws outlaw the use of certain words or phrases. And hate speech, such as racism or sexism, is illegal too.

But what about speech that may be legal yet others may find offensive? That’s the heart of the current issue: should a cartoon be banned if some find it offensive? Or does the right to freedom of speech take precedence?

Freedom of religious belief and practice, or of the absence of religious belief, are fundamentals in free societies. Anyone can choose to believe whatever they want, whether others agree with it or not. Worship a single god or multiple deities. Believe that Adam and Eve populated the world or that we were all brought to earth on a fleet of alien spaceships. Argue that the world is flat or a large disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants supported by a giant turtle. That’s your right.

(OK, that last one comes from Terry Pratchett’s books rather than a religion, but you get my drift …)

But no idea or belief system should stand above criticism. Freedom of expression is also a basic right. And so all opinions, ideologies and theologies, whether views are social, political or religious, can and should be challenged. The alternative is totalitarianism, where the rulers decide what is truth and no one dares to disagree.

Many, but not all, Muslims believe that showing a depiction of Mohammed is forbidden. That’s their right. And all followers of the particular parts of Islam with that belief will probably refrain. But surely the rest of us are not to be forced to follow the rules of one religion? Surely non Muslims have the right to make up our own minds?

This is the area where freedoms conflict and theoretical niceties can become complex in the shades of grey that exist in the real world. Where one freedom may be argued to conflict with another’s right.

Yet I would argue that taking away the right to offend would in fact curb and not widen religious freedom. Imagine if no religion was able to publish anything that another group of people might find offensive. Every area where there is a theological disagreement with any other religion would be off limits for a start. And would that leave anything at all that was uncontroversial enough to be published?

“Jesus isn’t the son of god, but he is a prophet,” says the Muslin, offending the Christian. ”Transubstantiation is symbolic not real,” says the Protestant offending the Roman Catholic. “There are no gods at all,” says the atheist, offending all of the theists.

Should these statements be banned because they might cause offence to some? Well, if you start banning cartoons like the Charlie Hebdo one then that’s where you end up. Any statement that might offend followers of any religion would be censored.

Freedom of speech is a right we take for granted here in the UK. We should think ourselves lucky because it doesn’t exist in every society. Look what happened to the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – flogged for daring to challenge the religious leaders in his country.

And so we should think very carefully before we set any more limits on what can be said or published.

 

2014 And All That

The year 2014 will surely be remembered for the publication of my first novel, Calling Cards. Well, by me anyway. But for everyone else there have been an awful lot of other significant events over the past twelve months.

And it has often been the horror stories that have dominated the news this year, from floods and other weather related disasters to missing planes and ongoing wars in various parts of the globe. 2014 has also seen the Ebola outbreak, slaughter in Palestine and school shootings leaving hundreds of children dead, as well as ongoing wars in many countries. The year ended in tragedy much closer to home with six people killed in the centre of Glasgow as a bin lorry caused carnage.

Sports have provided many of the happier moments – well unless you are Brazilian of course. World Cup winners Germany’s stunning 7-1 destruction of the hosts in the semi final will live long in the memory. Glasgow hosted a fine Commonwealth Games while golf’s Rider Cup was also held in Scotland. I’m sure the Americans will have enjoyed the trip, if not the final score.

Money means success in many sports, and football leads the way. The top Spanish sides continued to flash the cash, while Manchester United joined in by breaking the British transfer record, paying £59.7m for Angel di María. The Red Devils also added loan Columbian Radamel Falcao on a reported £265,000 per week. That’s around 500 times the average weekly wage. Obscene is the only word to describe it.

Mind you, farce of the year probably came in motor racing, when billionaire Bernie Ecclestone found that the best way out of a bribery charge was to offer the court a large one off payment – and all the charges disappeared. All perfectly legal of course. But FIFA might just put in a claim too: the decision to play the 2022 World Cup in Qatar remains under investigation, with all sorts of allegations being made.

Scottish football had its moments too in 2014. In the top division, Celtic ran away to another league title, the last of Neil Lennon’s reign. After four years he moved south to Bolton, where he will have only football to worry about, rather than all of the trials and tribulations that sections of Scottish society threw at him. The cups went to Aberdeen and St Johnstone, giving many long suffering fans a taste of glory. Hearts’ administration and relegation was inevitable it seemed, but Hibernian’s slide to the second tier was more unexpected.

And the Ibrox soap opera continued to entertain, with tax cheat Dave King initially hailed as the latest saviour of Scotland’s newest club. Or was it to be the Easdales? Or maybe Mike Ashley? To the apparent surprise of many this genuine billionaire seemed intent on taking as much money out of the three year old club as possible. What a shock! Still, there are new saviours aplenty waiting in the wings, as the Three Bears join the pantomime. Oh yes they do. And the former quiz show captain’s time finally ran out, as the world renowned Petrofac Cup proved beyond his oh so limited abilities. So not so super Ally McCoist left to spend more time in his garden – although the man who loves the new club so much continues to take his large salary for doing nothing.

The biggest UK political story of the year was the conclusion of the lengthy Scottish independence referendum campaign. The contest became closer than many people expected, but in the end Better Together did just enough and the final 55.3% to 44.7% victory for the No side was decisive. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest in many years, surely a good sign whatever side of the argument you were on.

In the end many previously undecided Scots simply saw independence as too big a risk. The unanswered questions on currency and economic issues were too big, the Yes side’s unsubstantiated assertions of prosperity to come and dismissal of any questioning as scaremongering were unconvincing. And the recent collapse of world oil prices showed that Better Together’s critique had substance – an economy that relies heavily on one product is always susceptible to market fluctuation.

Alec Salmond responded to the defeat by resigning as First Minister, to be replaced by his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. While Salmond planned his return to UK politics via the Gordon parliamentary seat, Sturgeon reshuffled her cabinet, with several long serving ministers reaching the end of the road. Labour also lost its Scottish leader, with Johann Lamont being replaced by Jim Murphy, who will now look to move from Westminster to Holyrood.

In the year before a UK General Election the major parties struggled to convince the electorate that any of them are worthy of support. David Cameron and the Tories continued to cut and cut, supported by the Lib Dems. Clegg and co tried to move away from their coalition partners, but it is hard to be part of a government for four years plus and then claim no responsibility for its actions. Labour continue to look for a convincing line of attack, while media attention concentrates on Ed Milliband/s supposed weaknesses. But are we really that interested in how a politician eats a bacon sandwich?

Nigel Farage and UKIP made gains in the European elections and also secured a couple of by election victories in the south after two Tory MPs defected. But the price of their success is greater media attention on both the incoherence of their policies and of the assortment of political oddballs behind the bafflingly popular Farage. Perhaps the shine has gone off UKIP a little, but the party remain a headache for those seeking to form a majority government.

In the US, the Republicans made mid term gains while attention is already shifting to the 2016 Presidential election. Hillary Clinton is favourite for the Democratic nomination, seeking to become the first female President, while the Republican field is a lot more open. And the year ended with civil rights back at the top of the political agenda, as the deaths of several black men at the hands of while police caused major controversies.

As ever, the year saw some big names take their leave. Veteran politician Tony Benn was a great loss. Musicians Pete Seeger, Joe Cocker and Jack Bruce all exited stage left, while two great footballing names, Eusebio and Alfredo Di Stefano, also perished. Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died two days after being struck on the head by a bouncer at the Sydney Cricket Ground aged just 25.

Other celebrity deaths in 2014 included comedians Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and writers Maya Anjelou, PD James and Jeremy Lloyd. So much talent …

The fall out from revelations about Jimmy Saville’s despicable history of abuse continued to grow. As more and more details came out many other former personalities found past misdeeds catching up with them. Rolf Harris and Dave Lee Travis were among those to find themselves jailed, and there may be more to come. And evidence of an abuse ring involving senior politicians continued to bubble under the surface, with suspicious of a cover up still growing.

So that was 2014. The year of a referendum and a World Cup. Of selfies and ice buckets. I’m sure there were many other public or personal highlights for many people too. But for now let’s say goodbye to 2014 and bring on the new year. I wonder what 2015 will bring us?