How Orkney and Shetland people deal with bullies. The Vole reflects on #CarmichaelMustGo

Farewell to Stromness  by Max – the most famous piece of protest music to come from Orkney.

Waiting for our troubled MP to make up his mind feels rather like being caught between storms, the quiet day between weathers.

Feeling quiet and reflective, I feel as if I have seen more of what I value about Orkney than I have ever done before.   This is a good place with decent folk. We are nothing special, just ourselves. We are not romantic or remote, just people who live on islands. It has been good to me, as a gay man, as someone who was very ill recently and who needed a great deal of love and support which my neighbours gave without counting the cost.  That is the islands at their best, egalitarian, hospitable.  The worst thing anyone can be called is ‘bigsy’ To not be ‘decent’ is terrible.

I am speaking of Orkney of course. I know little of Shetland, know London far, far better. That may sound strange to many, but it is true.  These island groups are very different from each other, very far apart geographically (a whole day’s sail on the ferry) and anyone who claims to speak for both island groups is an idiot or an MP,  or Michael White in the Guardian, or some combination of the above. White pontificated last week,

Scotland needs political pluralism, and the Northern Isles needs it even more if it is to keep the centralising government in Holyrood safely at arm’s length. “It’s Orkney’s oil”, eh?”

and then

“Contrite Carmichael, warts and all? Sounds OK to me at this distance. But it’s not up to me, it’s up to his local party activists and, in due course, his voters who may barely remember it all by Christmas.”

I have no idea if White has ever been here or spoken to anyone with any direct experience of us in the last thirty or so years. It has been a long time, if ever, since anyone has said ‘its Orkney’s oil.’ He certainly thinks we have short memories and seems to confuse distance from London with stupidity.

It is not a mistake people often make twice.

We have a long history of dealing with bullies and often use their beliefs about our innocence against them. There are many, many stories told with delight about this. One of my favourites goes back to the Napoleonic wars. When the press gang was hunting down men to take off to the Navy their prey would hide in the hills.  Women left food  out for their men folk on cairns that still stand near many farm houses and it would be collected at night. Soldiers were of course suspicious but actually believed us when we told them it was being left out for the fairy folk, the trows and the hogboons. Who were the idiots?

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Dealing with bullies democratically and in the Courts. Fiona G, Tim, Cary and Phaemie. Picture by Fiona M.

Consider the uranium scare. In the late 70’s it was found in the West Mainland. Thatcher’s crew wanted to dig open caste mines under this very burrow for the damn stuff. Stromness would have been destroyed.    I was very little at the time but I well remember hearing old women discussing how best to make and store Molotov cocktails. They knew how to do it and they meant it. The miners kept well away.

That was when Max wrote ‘Farewell to Stromness” as a protest piece for the “Yellow Cake Review.” Now, played at every funeral in the parish, it has become part of the  folk tradition which is the highest accolade any composer can achieve.

Or think about those numpties who tried to trick Shetland out of its oil cash. They forgot how badly treated those islands had been by the establishment at the end of the Second World War. Unemployment soared as the demand for wool and fish declined. There was real hardship that lasted for generations and  so the Shetland Islands Council was determined not to make that mistake again.  Ian Clark, the negotiator prepared himself well and  soon sorted things out.  In his own words.

“We were called down to a meeting in Shell Centre and they told us that they had done all their calculations, and, on the basis of what we were demanding, they couldn’t afford to come to Shetland and that they were going to the mainland of Scotland. My response to that was to say to them that it was a very happy day. I wanted to begin by congratulating them on their technical expertise that they could take the gas and the crude to the mainland of Scotland . Secondly, since our previous discussions had seldom been happy ones, when we went back to Shetland and gave them this news, we would be heroes indeed. And we got up and walked towards the door. And physically we were put back in our chairs and told ‘We’ve got to come to Shetland. So that was another wee piece of pressure which really didn’t quite work for them. And it was at that stage we realised we really had won the battle.”’

Of course Ian Clark had the support of a fine and conscientious MP, the fondly remembered Jo Grimond.  His legacy has meant that the islands stayed Liberal and then Liberal Democrat since. Grimond opposed Polaris and supported Home Rule. It is hard to imagine him ever voting for the hated bedroom tax. He never had to apologise for lying to the electorate during a general election campaign. No one has ever had to defend his reputation. He has been dead a long time now though.

I have also seen some of the worst of the islands too.  We have lived for too long in a mixture of a one party state, and something worse still, a no party state. Our local councillors do not stand for any political party but are all independents. They tend to be older, and drawn from the magic families that own the big farms, big shops and  businesses, from the entitled  This gives far too much power to the bureaucrats and vested interests. This kind of oligarchy  between big families and dignitaries has governed the islands for hundreds of years in one guise or another and has let them  confuse island identity with their own political and commercial interests.

To see how fierce their anger  is look at the facebook page that carries the interview I did for Radio Orkney. The fury this caused is positively GilbertandSullivaesque n tho less well scripted.  One well known local stirrer has called me a ‘traitor to the islands’ which stung far more than I would have liked. It is to be foreign.

To him, I am bad for trade, ‘putting the islands in a bad light.’  This forgets that democracy and free speech are values held dear, even when people are on holiday.

One tourist who saw us protesting outside the Cathedral wrote to the Yes Orkney page,

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Silent protests outside the Cathedral were valued by tourists.

I have just returned from holiday in Orkney and came across the silent protest at Kirkwall two weeks ago on the way into the children’s’ fiddles and accordion concert. Rather that discouraging us, we were interested to read the placards and pleased that in one part of the UK the spirit of democracy is thriving. I have been told by several people that Mr Carmichael is a good constituency MP, but the easy-going Orcadian manner should not allow him to allegedly break the law. Letters in the Orcadian have been generally over-excited on the anti-SNP side and well reasoned on the other. Scotland has gone through huge changes in the last few years and the old Liberal tradition, alive there and in Cornwall, is sadly dead, replaced by a much more rightwing party … Good luck with the Petition.

Again and again, the little islanders ask of us in the protests.  ‘are you really from here, where does the money come from?’   Most of us no longer answer these questions.   To entertain it is to give then currency and that encourages the idea that some are more islandish than others.  Nonsense. When it comes to politics, being a citizen is what matters. We should all be judged by how we choose to be and  live; not by origins, birth and kinship these connections over which we have no control.  Identity politics framed by these things  has led to much of the intimidation members of this campaign have experienced. This intimidation has come from those who should know better.  Not from those who would normally be  considered rough but from the wealthy, the prosperous and the self-righteous. Their hatred of what we are doing seems visceral and that is amongst some Labour supporters too.

This whole issue is divisive. There is no getting away from that. The root of the division lies firmly with the one man who lied  to the electorate and his core supporters were having to try to defend the indefensible.  One of the things they say again and again is that “He has said sorry. Surely that should be enough.  He did not take his severance pay”

Indeed, Carmichael has confessed his lies,  his own words in the Orcadian newspaper bear repeating;

“I understand that my behaviour has done damage to the relationship of trust that I have with many of you as your Member of Parliament.

 I regret that more than I can say. and I am truly sorry for what I have done- not just for giving my agreement to the disclosure of the Scotland Office memo but also for not subsequently been truthful about it.”

His contrition does not contain the key elements of repentance because he is still living off the fruits of his wrongdoing. That is unacceptable for it will lead to no amendment of life, but is no more than being upset at being caught. He claims his record of excellence as a constituency MP should save him. Tosh. No husband has ever succeeded by pleading his fifteen years happy marriage before the murder of his wife as a defence or set the level of his own punishment. That is cheek, special pleading. If our opponents accepted that we had a point, perhaps, things would be better but they insist that we are nefarious conspirators, perhaps because they do not believe that ordinary people possess the skills, resources and sheer power to bring them to book.

We do, we are living as if we are in the first days of a new country.

Enough of bullies and the politics of entitlement.

Radical freedom.  That’s what we want. No more bullies. No more politicians pretending to speak for us without asking our permission. If  Carmichael doesn’t resign now and the case goes to Court and he loses, his  epitaph will be like that of Phil Woolas, a piece of case law, ‘Morrison and others versus Carmichael, 2015; we will be joined, Vole and MP.  together forever in the Law. If he survives this proceeding, and at best it will be a Pyrrhic victory , then there are two more cases to go. They will take up all his time and his constituents will be forgotten as he tries to save his skin.  And to what point? He has already  admitted he is finished by saying  he will stand down in 2020 – sounds like much pain for little gain, a long slow withering away and a wretched end to what was up until its last few weeks a glittering career.

At the very least, he could put his party first.

Carmichael seems to not care about the damage to the party. In 2016 there are the Scottish Elections, the ones that will pave the way to the next referendum. If Carmichael stays, then Liam is finished. I disagree with his politics and will campaign against him, but I would like him to lose because there is a better candidate, not because he is collateral damage. He has done as well here as anyone in his party could and he deserves a lot better than that.

Standing up for our rights in a small community – the reality of intimidation in Orkney and Shetland #carmichaelmustgo

The petitioners on Stromness pier just before the storm.
The petitioners on Stromness pier just before the storm.

Orkney is a wonderful place to live. It is the home of the Vole, a fine place to burrow away but it can be hard to stand up for your rights in a small place where employment opportunities are limited and grudges can last for a long time.

We have been called all sorts of things, brown shirts, Fascists, lynch mobs, traitors to the islands and so on but the truth is that we are not the powerful people in this community. Here the wealthy tend to be Liberal Democrats and they have a lot of resources – power that they use to entrench their opinion by making sure that we do not raise our heads above the parapets. They have over the last 50 years tried to claim that their politics are synonymous with island identity. To challenge it is to be disloyal, bad for the tourist trade. This is the post that will provoke the most response because it challenges the idea that there is no place finer than here, especially on a fine day.

This is one email I was sent today – the sender wants to be anonymous for obvious reasons.  I know the person but not well and am astonished at her trusting me so much.

“If it is you who has launched the legal bid to test the legitimacy of Carmichael’s election last month, then I would like to thank you and all your more visually apparent supporters for standing up for due process, for our democratic rights, truthful governance and freedom of speech.

There is plenty of local support for your actions and not just from SNP voters – many Lib Dem supporters are also outraged at his lack of liberal and democratic substance.

Since my employer is a staunch NO voter can you please keep this email entirely confidential whether I have the right Tim Morrison or not. If I have the wrong Tim then please also understand that this is just as expression of support for the legitimate and democratic process of legal testing and not a nationalist or SNP campaign for this constituency.

I wrote back and asked permission to quote and this is the answer I received.

It is a crying shame but ultimately I risk too much for my family to speak out myself and that’s how power and corruption works – and it works most strongly in small communities no matter how good most folk are in that community and I speak even of the culpable. Dishonesty is deeply corrosive and can’t be accepted in any walk of public life.”

There is huge pressure every day on us to be quiet now. We will not. Donate to the campaign fund now, ‘The People versus Carmichael’

Innocent Young Vole smeared by Alistair Carmichael over Inquiry allegations. SSPCA informed.

The Vole and Son, after a public attack by Alistair Carmichael, ask again why he voted against the Official Secrets Act amendment and if elected if he would vote in the same way again.

  • We know he was NOT in office when most of these events occurred but he was Chief Whip when some the stories about Smith’s behaviour resurfaced in 2012. The Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron, then President of the Liberal Democrats, says that the party has a lot of questions to answer. We would like these answers now. Before votes are cast.
  •  What do senior members of the Liberal Democrat Party know about the criminal activities of Cyril Smith in the 1980s when he was a serving MP? 
  • What did Mr. Carmichael know as Chief Whip?  When did he know it?  What advice did he give Nick Clegg? What attempts were made to contact and support Smith’s victims?

Alistair_Carmichael_at_Glasgow_2014At the Radio Orkney Hustings broadcast last night, Alistair Carmichael committed a petulant attack on my little vole Svein, and myself.

He accused us of telling ‘a blatant lie’ in our blog when we
claimed that the inquiry into historic child abuse had been blocked, or its work made more difficult. This being a consequence of the Government, of which Mr. Carmichael is a member, voting down an amendment to the Official Secrets Act. This was designed to give a specific defence to Special Branch officers who want to testify in public

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Carmichael explains why he voted ‘no’ on the Official Secrets Act ammendment – The Vole stands firm

Alistair_Carmichael_at_Glasgow_2014Clearly our recent posts about Alistair Carmichael and the Official Secrets Act vote have caused enormous interest. We are a little blog run from a burrow at the back of Stromness that normally gets a few hits a day but over the last week it has been something like 10,000. We are all thrilled. Mrs Vole has put out the flags and the volets are bragging to all their children.

We are glad that Alistair Carmichael has responded with his rationale for the vote.  Various people have been kind enough to send us what he said to them  and we thought it appropriate to quote him in full. I can understand why he did not want to contact me himself, I am only a vole and so not entitled to parliamentary representation until ARS (additional rodent system) is adopted, a policy no party has yet suggested.
This is what Carmichael said,

“The vote concerned was a proposed amendment to the Official Secrets Act which would have created a defence for anyone charged with unlawful disclosure under that act. The defence was for the accused to show that the disclosure was made in relation to an official enquiry into child sex abuse. I voted against it because a disclosure of this sort is already permitted and therefore a defence is not necessary.

As the Solicitor General explained in the House of Commons, “The Official Secrets Act is intended to protect certain classes of particularly sensitive information such as security and intelligence matters, and it provides for a number of offences that prevent current or former Crown servants or government contractors from disclosing certain information without lawful authority. It does not prevent protected information from being disclosed to an officer of an official investigation or inquiry into historical child abuse.”

I understand that this issue will have come to your attention through an anonymous blog from a nationalist campaign group. The same story is being used by SNP activists in other parts of Scotland so it is obviously part of a concerted campaign of misinformation.

Having worked with the victims of child sex abuse, both as a lawyer and as an MP, I have seen for myself how it can ruin lives. I also know how difficult it can be to get victims to come forward and I am afraid that suggesting that there is a barrier to proper investigation where none exists will make that more difficult still.

This was not an amendment to “allow investigation of historic child abuse cases” as the headline in the article states. There is nothing in law that prevents such investigations taking place.”

And Peter Kennedy has commented on the previous post, kindly providing us with part of Carmichael’s text and saying that as a family lawyer, he believes that he is right.  We respect this and accept that our statement saying that Carmichael blocked the investigation was rather crude. Indeed, there is nothing to block an investigation from taking place and one has now been created.  The question is about what would stop potential witnesses giving evidence to it. Under normal circumstances, I am sure Peter Kennedy is right, it is widely understood that there is no duty of confidentiality more important than the protection of the child.  These are not usual circumstances.

The need for a specific defence

This vote was about creating a particular defence for government employees who may have been involved in cover ups who now what to speak up – people who want to give evidence to the Inquiry but are nervous about doing so in case of getting prosecuted or persecuted. .  Some of them clearly feel that this specific defence is needed even after the assurances have been made by the Home Secretary. When questioned by Keith Vaz on 17th March 2015,  she said  that she ‘hopes and expects’ that those who contravene the Official Secrets Act will not be prosecuted, but it must be for Justice Goddard and the Attorney General to decide.” It is clear from her reply, that if people did speak to the inquiry without due authority or if that had been refused,  they may actually break the law and so be at risk.  They would be dependent on assurances being made not to prosecute. That would not make this vole feel safe. Nor indeed does it work for many Special Branch officers, watch what John Mann said in the House of Commons as he supported the amendment.

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