Scots prevail but old frustrations remain

By Shane de Barra                                    

At the end of his first game as head coach, Andy Robinson’s head must have been filled with mixed emotions. His primary aim of acheiving victory had been accompolished; victory over a team that was  until last weekend, ranked above Scotland in IRB rankings, is on paper a day well spent at the office.

But if he looks at the weekend’s 23-10 win over Fiji from a wider perspective, the former England coach will realise that this did very little to inspire the rugby loving public into believing that Scotland may once again be a force to be reckoned with in world rugby.

“That was a very good performance. We’ve beaten quality opposition and we’ve beaten them comfortably”, Robinson stated proudly at the post-match press conference.

But while the head coach will always look to defend his troops in light of harsh criticism, and dear God Scottish rugby has had its fair share of that in recent years, surely Robinson is pushing the boundaries of all that is charitable by describing his team’s performance as “very good”.

The Fiji team that took to the pitch last Saturday were indivdually an ok-match for the Scots on their first run-out of the international season, but as a collective unit their set-up was farcical. Stripped of their best players by English and French clubs who refused to release them for the November series, that Fiji managed to produce a someway competitive team at all is highly commendable.

Here is where we get to the crux of the arguement. Scotland, while not blessed with same resources as other European top-tier nations such as England, France, Wales and Ireland, in comparison with Fiji are, for want of a better expression, “rolling in it”. Training days in St Andrews and international camps are but dreams to the islanders.

In the immediate aftermath of the weekend’s game the buzz (short in supply it may have been) was about the strenght of the Scottish pack and how they managed to destroy the “big men” of the Pacific.

There was some substance to this; the pack wasn’t on the back foot once and the lineout was almost  faultless for the majority of the afternoon. Scotland had been in camp for weeks in the run-up to this game however. How long do you reckon the Fijians had? Well add all of the days Andy Robinson had with his men and divide by the square root of nothing and you still aren’t close.

They say a week is a long time in sport; this may be the case if you are the well prepared, teak-toned unit Scotland aspire to be, but not so on the Fijian front.

There remains hope though that this was a simply a rusty performance against a team that was never really good enough to beat Scotland at home anyhow. Fair comment but if we can only labour our way to victory against the minnows, how is victory over the current pace-setters of the world game ever a going to be a realistic achievement? It seems to be a basic case of believing we can run before we can walk.

The visit of Australia this weekend will be a real test of this currnet side’s mettle. They may have destroyed the Fijians but how they will deal with a side that has for the past number of months, been mixing it up with the Springboks, All Blacks and most recently, the current Grand-Slam champions, Ireland, is another matter. You fear for them really. 

Rugby is a funny old sport though where anything is possible and to be fair to the man from down south he delivered victory from a game that was certainly there for the loosing. But instead of a new dawn, the rain clouds of a time we hoped had passed lingered a little too close for comfort. A good attempt at stealing some Aussie sunshine would go a fair way towards banishing them.

New light shed on ‘Empire of the Son’

By Al Innes

British children await passage to Australia

Gordon Brown looks set to issue a formal apology to the child victims of a forced migration policy. Brown is believed to have commented that in the new year he feels the “time is right” to say sorry for a scheme that sent 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, abroad to a life of abuse and hardship. Between 1920 and and 1967 children in state or charitable care were sent abroad, often alone, to live and work in places such as Australia and Canada. Many had parents in the UK who were told the children faced a better life, while most ended up as unpaid labour abroad.

Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, remarked that the policy had been “a stain on our society.” Balls further commented saying:

“The apology is symbolically very important, I think it is important that we say to the children who are now adults and older people and to their offspring that this is something that we look back on in shame, It would never happen today. But I think it is right that as a society when we look back and see things which we now know were morally wrong, that we are willing to say we’re sorry.”

"Apology is symbolic" says Balls

Australia’s premier, Kevin Rudd, went one step further than the British Prime Minister with his own apology to the 7,000 victims of the policy who still live in Australia.

“Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry for the tragedy – the absolute tragedy – of childhoods lost.

The British government were believed to be offering the children a chance of a better life, while other evidence suggests they were seen as a burden to the British state and were more useful as labour for the colonies. In 1998 a British parliamentary inquiry reported findings that suggested:

“A further motive was racist: the importation of ‘good white stock’ was seen as a desirable policy objective in the developing British Colonies.”

According to the official files released by the National Archives, the representative of the governor of Tasmania in 1951, Sir John Norris stated:

“In this vast country of ours we must populate or face the possibility of losing it to some of the millions of Asiatics that menace us.”

He went on to request that re-population from European ethnic groups was essential.

“We want migrants of British stock.”

Kevin Rudd has recently apologised for the ‘lost generation’ of children who were sent out to institutions ranging from foster homes to orphanages and, under state protection, were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Rudd described these environments as “utterly loveless.”

Only ending in 1970, Rudd directed a parliamentary bill at the tens of thousands of mixed-race children who were taken from their families in a process of white assimilation.

Brown looks set to apologise for Britain's shameful policies of the past

The question of the Black War, during which accusations of genocide against the indigenous inhabitants of Tasmania have been leveled at the British army, is one that still causes controversial debate among academics as well as politicians. Most controversial for many is the collaboration of both civilian and military in the removal and extermination of Aboriginals on the island.

Many of the victims of the child migration policy are seeking legal aid in order to sue the Government for compensation.

Tony Blair apologised in 1997 for the suffering caused to the Irish people during the potato famine, and in 2007 he issued a statement of regret for Britain’s role in the slave trade with many claiming this was far from the unconditional apology required.

Science Policy Row Follows Nutt Sacking

By Elliot Adams

The government must base it’s drugs policy on scientific evidence not on tabloid opinion, this surprisingly controversial idea is what was demanded by a cross-party group on Drugs Alcohol and Harm Reduction (DATHR) in an Early Day Motion parliament on the 5th of November. The suitably explosive Motion was tabled by Labour MP Mike Wood and undersigned by fifteen Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent MPs. They added that a “failure to do so will increase the risk to public health, in particular to young people.”

The motion follows the contentious sacking of the governments Chief Drugs Adviser, Professor David Nutt, following his claims that Alcohol and nicotine are more dangerous than LSD and cannabis. Nutt’s sacking led to an outcry in the scientific community and prompted two other members of the panel to quit in protest. MP Chris Grayling described the situation as “a complete breakdown of confidence between the Home Secretary and his advisers”.

The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, in his letter asking Nutt to stand down cited the need for advisers to “do nothing to undermine public understanding of […] the government’s messages on drugs”, Johnson claims that Nutt had so undermined the government’s policy with his views, going “against the requirements on general standards of public life required by [his] position.” He alleged that Nutt was using his position to campaign for the decrimilisation of some drugs, although as Chris Huhne noted the alleged campaigning vehicles were the peer-reviewed  Journal of Psychopharmacology and a lecture at King’s college London.

In his response Professor Nutt agreed “that there is a distinction between scientific advice and government policy”, but insisted that also “there is clearly a degree of overlap” with concerns that the scientific community were being silenced on policy in a way that would deprive the government of valuable advice for policy making.

“If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface then you devalue their contribution to policy making and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence-based advice.”

This sentiment was also expressed by DATHR, with Mike Wood saying that, “there is a widespread concern now that the Government is moving away from an evidence-based drugs and alcohol policy. An open debate about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs should be welcomed by the Government.”

Obviously scientific findings are not the only source of advice a government must listen to, public opinion and the personal ideologies of MPs must also be a concern if our democracy is to function well. But the idea that the scientific community is being dismissed or silenced over such a vital issue is a disturbing one to many, and no doubt the ensuing debate will be watch carefully by many.  As Dr Stephen Ladyman, an MP with a scientific background, commented “science must inform the decisions that it can inform”, but also that “many parts of complex decisions cannot be measured or tested scientifically and may require a more subjective judgment that Ministers have to apply.”

Tuition fees for Scotland?

By Alex Haylock

Lord Sutherland. Photo courtesy of
Lord Sutherland. Photo courtesy of

Statements made by two senior academics in recent months have prompted a wave of speculation over the possible re-introduction of tuition fees in Scotland.

The comments, made by Lord Sutherland, former principal of Edinburgh University and former head of Universities Scotland (An advisory body to the senior management teams of Scotland’s top 20 universities),  echo those made yesterday by James Mitchell, senior politics lecturer at Strathclyde university in Glasgow.

Tuition fees at a flat rate of £1000 ‘up front’ were introduced by the Blair government across the nation in 1998, but abolished by a Labour-Lib-Dem coalition north of the border in 2000, and tuition fees were abolished altogether in 2006 by the SNP, the same year that universities in England and Wales introduced ‘top-up’ fees of £3000.

The reasoning behind the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland was to ostensibly provide a means of accessing university education to the poorest parts of Scottish society, even though just 26% of Scottish university students come from poorer backgrounds, compared with over 40% from Northern Ireland and 30% across the UK as a whole. The Scottish government, however, has defended its actions on abolishing tuition fees, contending that university access should be based on a student’s ability top learn, and not their ability to pay fees.