A buffoon until proven guilty

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Good old Boris! The funny, mad haired buffoon who is currently Mayor of London has won the hearts of voters everywhere with his funny tales of whiff-whaff, getting hilariously stuck on a zip wire and cameo appearances on Have I Got News For You. What a character!

Of course, what people rarely talk about is his politics which, for Boris, is probably a good thing. Especially when, as he has today, he suggests stripping away the presumption of innocence for UK nationals who travel to Iraq or Syria without informing the authorities.

” We need to make it crystal clear that you will be arrested if you go out to Syria or Iraq without a good reason. At present the police are finding it very difficult to stop people from simply flying out via Germany, crossing the border, doing their ghastly jihadi tourism, and coming back. The police can and do interview the returnees, but it is hard to press charges without evidence. The law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, the logic is clear. Why would anybody go to a war zone like Iraq or Syria unless they were terrorists? We must do something about these awful jihadis now and what better way than stripping a basic right enshrined in British law for centuries?

Unless, of course, they work for an aid charity. Or have a house or family there and want to get what or who they want out of the country as soon as possible.

“Ah,” you say, “but this is a small price to pay to protect our liberties.” Well yes, when it’s not your right that’s being taken away I suppose it feels that way.

However, imagine that we actually do take away the presumption of innocence for people who travel to war zones. Then what? I mean, it isn’t much of a leap to do the same for us to do the same to, say, suspected paedophiles. Clearly they potentially pose a very serious threat to our children which we must protect. It’s a small price.

But why stop there? If we presume the guilt of suspected paedophiles then why not all those suspected of violent sex crimes. I mean, we can hardly take the risk.

What about all accused of sex crimes, then? Or of murder? Or GBH? Or armed robbery? Or assault? Or affray? Or burglary? Surely all of these crimes are committed by people who pose a threat to life, limb and liberty and could be treated in the same way.

And, if we remove the presumption of innocence for those crimes then what’s to stop it being taken away all together? I mean, it hardly seems worth having any more if we’ve scrapped it for so many crimes.

Ok, you may think that I’m over reacting to this. After all, it’s just a suggestion by a man who is not even in government.

Now.

But, he is standing as an MP at the next election and is widely tipped as the next Conservative Party leader. Even if that doesn’t happen, the suggestion is out there now for people to digest, debate and seriously consider.

And this is where erosion of basic liberties start. By removing them from a small, already demonised section of society. Once it’s accepted it just gets bigger and bigger until, before you know it, a basic principle you have always taken to be true is gone.

If you are happy for that to happen in the name of fighting terrorism, then fine. Good for you. I, however, don’t want to see that happen. I don’t want to see one of the underlying principles of a free, democratic legal system taken from me or anyone else.

But good old Boris does.

Seems a bit sinister for a funny old buffoon with scruffy hair if you ask me.

The ignorance of illness

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When someone famous dies it always causes a wave of public comment. When someone takes their own life it always causes a lack of belief or comprehension of how someone could do such a thing by those who fail to understand mental illness. So when someone famous takes their own life those comments of ignorance will always be hugely multiplied.

Robin Williams has been one of the most of the best loved actors, comedians and all-round entertainers in the world for the best part of four decades. His ability to make people laugh and cry in equal measure have seen him pack out arenas with his stand-up comedy and win Oscars. So, his death from an apparent suicide has been met with an immense amount of sorrow and grief from friends, family and millions who never met him.

It has also led to stuff like this.

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This is just a snapshot of some of the ignorance surrounding depression and suicide. Fox News’ Shep Smith described Robin Williams as ‘a coward’ for his actions.

A coward!

I have mild depression. I am not suicidal, although the odd thought has flashed through my mind. However, if I describe my own symptoms and you then multiply them by a factor of 10, 50 or 100 then you may start to understand how people succumb to this awful illness.

Some days, weeks, or even months, everything is great. The world is vibrant, colours are bright, everyone is smiling and you are unstoppable. All is right with the world, all is right with you. You see the joy in the smallest things, you find hope everywhere and you love life and yourself.

Then one day, for no reason and with no warning, you wake up and…  You know immediately that something has changed and that there is no reason for it.

Let me repeat that. There. Is. No. Reason. For. It.

Suddenly, all that joy and hope you saw is replaced with a crushing feeling of hopelessness. All of those colours which stood out so brightly are dull greys and blacks. The smiles are gone and frowns, worries and tears seem to take their place around you.

And that feeling that you can do anything, be anyone, is gone. There is no feeling, no happiness, no confidence. Just a throbbing numbness interspersed with sorrow and pain.

And there’s a voice. It sounds like your voice, but it’s the depression talking. It tells you that you’re nobody. You’ll achieve nothing. Nobody likes you. You make everything worse. The world, your friends and your family would be better off without you.

And that voice doesn’t just speak in your head, it speaks throughout your whole being. You move slower, you feel tired, you don’t want to do anything, say anything, go anywhere or see anyone.

I am lucky. I have it mildly. I can overcome the urge to just stay, locked away from the world. I can, just about, recognise that voice for the liar it is. I can mask my desolation, either by acting normal or by zoning out and allowing myself to focus on single tasks to keep my mind busy. I can live with it.

But not everyone can. Imagine that it is so bad that you can’t fight it. You can’t physically do anything or interact with anyone. You feel so numb that you forget what it was ever like to feel. And you believe the voice. You believe that you are nothing, nobody, evil, worthless, a burden… and that to end everything is not only to end your own pain, but to free people from the pain that your very existence causes them.

Imagine that. Then tell me that you don’t understand how somebody can take their own life.

Depression is no respecter of class, talent, religion, race, gender, popularity or anything else. It’s a sickness which affects more people than you probably realise. And it kills. Yes, people take their own lives, but it’s the depression which kills them. It’s not cowardice. It’s not selfishness. It happens to people who, on the outside, have everything going for them.

Because it is an illness. An illness which kills.

Robin Williams was a wonderful actor and comedian. He brought joy to millions, including me.

But he was ill. And it beat him.

Rest in peace O Captain! My Captain!

Two open letters about Scotland’s independence referendum

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Dear Better Together,

If we get a Yes vote we will not all fall into a deep economic precipice. Businesses will find it far too expensive to relocate all of their Scottish offices and fork out millions in redundancy pay. Alex Salmond will not necessarily rule for eternity. People’s pensions will still exist. We will have a currency – even if it’s not the Pound. A lot of Scots actually want to leave the EU. If people disagree with you, stop attacking them as liars. We are fed up of the negative campaigning by so many of your online folk (although most of the normal activists are fine and rational in the way they campaign).

We need you to do better.

Thanks.

Dear Yes campaign

If we get a Yes vote foodbanks will not suddenly disappear overnight. We will still have a degree of austerity. People voting No are not traitors.  We will still be ruled by politicians who are more interested in themselves than the people who vote for them. We probably won’t get to keep the Pound, be honest. A “No” campaign will, naturally, have at least a little negativity, live with it. If people disagree with you, stop attacking them as liars. We cannot guarantee never having a Tory government in Scotland, things change. Westminster are not “stealing” the oil, its the UK’s oil, that’s how things work. Please stop the negative, personal attacks by many of your online activists (although most of the normal activists are fine and rational in the way they campaign).

We need you to do better.

Thanks.

I have many friends and family who campaign for both sides and I respect them all and the way they have handled themselves. The above is not aimed at them. It’s aimed at politicians and cyber activists who do Scotland a disservice with their conduct and are causing so much division and polarisation that I genuinely fear for the country regardless of the result of the referendum. I fear that some divisions may never be healed unless we do something about it now.

If we don’t then the result will be that the worst fears of the losing side may well be realised as the people of Scotland fail to work together, but keep fighting among themselves about the result after the event.

We need to ensure that, whatever happens next month, we move forward together and make the best of our future. For Scotland’s sake.