Two million sleepwalkers?

Last weekend I was in Sweden. I like it there. Things work. People are polite and thoughtful and not obsessed with class. The food and climate are good and the woods and the water remind me of home. It feels like a place where a lot of important things have been sorted out.

Flying back into Edinburgh on Sunday night I was acutely aware of the fact that I was returning from a country where independence is taken for granted to one where it isn’t. I wondered how I would feel to be touching down in a Scotland that was independent. Proud and energised were the two thoughts that came at once to mind. That it’s within our grasp to live in a society that we are free to fashion as we choose is one of the most thrilling prospects I can imagine.

A friend in the south accused me of being deluded and suggested that I should wake up. If so, mine is a delusion suffered by somewhere around half of the voting population of Scotland. A couple of million somnambulists? I think not. A couple of million people who are now wider awake than they’ve ever been in their lives would be nearer the mark. A couple of million who have turned the possibilities upside down, sliced them sideways, put them under the microscope and concluded that we have everything we need to make a success of it, and that the alternative no longer bears thinking about.

I can’t deny the depth of sentiment that many people attach to the union, and I have always wished to respect that. I know very well that feelings on both sides run deep. But I’ve come to believe that the union no longer serves Scotland well, and I’m not really very clear how it serves England either – unless it’s by maintaining oil revenue, which is trifling in the face of a trillion-pound debt, or by providing a home for Trident. What else do we have to offer in practical terms?

Setting the practicalities aside, the analogy of personal relationship is hard to avoid: the things we have shared over time won’t disappear because we’re separate, and we’ll continue to cohabit in these islands, and relate to and spark off one another in future as mature, independent and, most importantly, equal adults. That will benefit both of us.

Just as I want to remain respectful of No-voters’ feelings, I’ve also tried to stay clear of the subject of their campaign. But I’m not sure that I can any longer because as we enter the final stretch it seems to me to be in itself a warning of what we may expect if we remain in the union.

The negativity and misinformation not only of the campaign itself but of so much of what has been written or said in the mainstream media leaves me breathless – and the fact that no one has managed to produce a single positive reason for Scotland to stay probably says all we need to know. If we are to be better together after the referendum why, as someone pointed out recently, aren’t we now?

Returning to the analogy of relationships, my 23-year-old son was the last of my children to leave home. He went to London a couple of months ago to start working life. We are deeply connected but our relationship has changed and matured, our needs and preoccupations have diverged, and there would be no benefit to either of us in my insisting that he remained under our wing. Had I tried to persuade him of the dangers and uncertainties of the world beyond our doors, threatened him with the prospect of bankruptcy and mugging, he would rightly have said ‘Thanks, but I’ll take that chance to live my life the way I want to live it.’

In three weeks we face the most important decision about our futures that any of us will ever take. To those who are still undecided I would say: here is an opportunity to do something extraordinary, to confound the nay-sayers, to build a country we can be proud of, to take the risk (which is maybe not so great) of becoming like the rest of the world, and to take it from a position of greater strength and stability than any country that has ever done so before. Not to take this chance, I believe, is to consign us to a future of even greater uncertainty, and one with no discernible benefit on the horizon.

Finally, if most of your information has come from the newspapers or the television, almost all of which are avowedly pro-union, I implore you to seek balance by looking further afield before you make up your mind. This is a good place to start. So is this. Or this.

Click here for a collection of all my posts on the referendum to date.

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About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
Gallery | This entry was posted in Referendum, Scotland and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Two million sleepwalkers?

  1. Ken Cox says:

    Dear Jamie

    While I have enjoyed reading your Independence blog posts despite being firmly in the opposing camp I think you let yourself down this week by using arguments and insults that you have previously decried others for using.

    ‘we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. ‘ as you wrote yourself.

    You claim ‘the fact that no one has managed to produce a single positive reason for Scotland to stay..’ This is nonsense and if you read your previous posts, it is clear that you know it. There are many people who feel perfectly at home in the United Kingdom and this is in itself a perfectly valid reason for staying. I feel that the opposite is in fact the case that nobody has come up with any good reasons for independence and indeed keeping the queen, the pound and having our economy controlled by the bank of England in NOT independence. At the end of the day both sides are heading towards devo max which is what the SNP want and what it seems most people want. The SNP has bottled out of asking for real independence while somehow arguing both the Scotland needs to run its own economic affairs (a valid argument) and then insisting on keeping the pound which means that all key economic decisions will be made in London and for the needs of England. This is a worse position than the current one: now we have a say, then we wont.

    You cant have your cake and eat it in economics. You cant blame England for the economic woes. RBS were by a long shot the biggest culprits. And they are supposed to be the cornerstone of the new independent Scotland.

    This economic one is the most valid argument against independence. or pseudo-independence as I think it would be better termed.

    The Scottish Parliament will be given substantial tax raising powers. Salmond does not use the ones he has now, so I’m not sure what will happen whichever way the votes goes. And a no vote will result in almost the same result as a yes vote with none of the inconvenience.
    So again, you’ll get more or less what you want if you vote ‘no; and you’ll get more or less what you want if you vote ‘yes’ but we’ll all be a lot poorer and more vulnerable to the challenges of being a small country with many problems and a dwindling oil dividend.

    Jamie your argument is essentially a romantic one and more a ‘faith’ or a heart-felt feeling than one based on any logic. And that’s absolutely fine.

    But please respect that there is another point of view and that it may be just as heart-felt.

    I’m as proudly Scottish as you are.But I want to remain in the United Kingdom.

    • wrbcg says:

      Dear Ken

      I respect your heartfelt point of view, but challenge its supposed logic, as my perception is that it is just as sentimental as Jamie’s is romantic.

      While you are correct that “feeling perfectly at home in the UK” may be a valid reason for staying, it is only valid for those who feel that way. Just as for those of us, who feel that the Union has served whatever purpose it originally had (and that itself can be contentious) and is now detrimental to the people and nation of Scotland, an ending of a broken political union is a valid reason to vote for independence. For those me, who feels Scottish, and only feels British in the same way I feel European (and for me the latter is actually equally important), it has no positive connotations.

      What I suspect Jamie meant, though I don’t want to put words into his mouth, is that the NO campaign is lacking in tangible benefits to the majority of Scots through remaining part of the Union. The NO campaign has been relentless in telling Scots what they will lose (though often their claims have been exposed as false) rather than what they will gain other than “this is as good as it gets”, as summed up by te catchy UK OK. I’m sorry, the UK is far from OK and the current protections Scotland has are under threat following a NO vote (just look at what English politicians are saying about the much vaunted extra powers!).

      I find your arguments regarding the Queen as head of state specious – are you really claiming that Australia, Canada and New Zealand are not independent nations? After all they (and 13 other independent nations, recognise the Queen as head of state.

      Regarding currency, the pound has only in recent decades become independent. It was through the Bretton-Woods agreement (which was a condition of lease lend) pegged to the US dollar and thus under the control of the US Federal Reserve – yet I don’t hear anyone claim that the UK was not independent during the period 1945-1971 (when Nixon scrapped it to pay for the Vietnam War). Ireland and the UK used a sterling currency union for years after Irish Independence – besides which noble laureate economists have pointed out that the very reason it would work (as it did in Scandinavia until the Great War brought it to an end) is the similarity between the 2 economies and the volume of trade between them. How Scotland has a say in the economic policies of the Bank of England will have to be negotiated following a YES vote, given that a currency union is in the best interest of the rest of the UK and that the Governor of the Bank of England has said he is willing to implement whatever agreement is reached by the two governments.

      Your claim that it will be worse than now is undermined by stating the current position: Scotland has no real voice in London, which makes economic decisions that benefit London and its surrounding areas to the detriment of the rest of the UK. The difference following independence would be Scotland controlling all of the other economic levers and having full control over unemployment, environment, energy, defence, etc which are currently reserved to London and which the Scottish parliament are not permitted to even discuss!

      Let’s look at RBS – a British bank which was praised by both the City and Chancellors, until it failed, when suddenly it became Scottish again (just like Andy Murray when he wins or loses) – the part of RBS which failed is headquartered in London and is subject to regulation there. Alisatair Darling took no measures to prevent its collapse (unlike the Swiss with UBS) until a bailout was inevitable. Despite the Unionist myth, the British banks were not bailed out by the UK tax payer, though they passed into public ownership, but by the US Federal Reserve as under international banking law, it is not where a bank is headquartered that determines its bailout, but where it does its business. An independent Scotland’s bailout of RBS would be approximately the same as its share within the UK. An independent Scotland has a chance to put far stricter regulatory structures in place than London currently has.

      In an independent Scotland, no, we won’t be able to blame Westminster for any economic woes, but taking responsibility for one’s decisions is the mark of maturity in both people and nations. Are you really suggesting that the benefit of a NO vote is that we can continue to “blame England for the economic woes”?

      DevoMax is not on the ballot paper. It was offered as a compromise, which was rejected by the Unionist side when they believed they would have an easy win in a simple YES – NO referendum. Perhaps they would have if the NO campaign had not been so shambolic. The late offer of additional powers shows how fearful the NO side have become; yet there is no agreement as to what these powers are or when they would be given. Additional tax-raising powers (in the case of Labour to raise rates above rest of UK but not cut them), which let’s note doesn’t include corporation tax (no party is offering this option), and which like the Scottish Parliament could be abolished by Westminster any time they wished. And at what cost to funding for Sotland will these powers be granted? Looking at the comments made by English MPs, Scotland would lose more than she’d gain through any DevoMax. As, Sir Tom Devine said when explaining why he had moved to YES,

      “I’ve also come to the conclusion that even devolution max would just prolong a running sore. Even if you accept the positive spin of devo-max in terms of more powers granted, would that not make many English people unhappy? They’re already unhappy about the Barnett formula which they think favours Scotland.”

      So on to oil. The oil, according to Westminster, has been running out since 1979, when the McCrone report was buried for 30 years to prevent the Scots from knowing the truth. North Sea investment is higher than ever, and though it is only to be found buried within the oil trad press, the new Clair oil field is set to be the biggest yet. Without Trident, oil exploration in the Firth of Clyde is possible. But even without oil, Standard & Poor have stated that they would give Scotland their highest rating (ie AAA) on its economy even without oil.

      You argue that Scotland more vulnerable as a small country, yet most of the countries in the top 10 economically are small countries, which can respond more flexibly to the challenges they face.

      For me, head and heart are in one direction: to be a modern, democratic, social fair, independent country – something I cannot see ever happening within the UK.

    • Dear Ken, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my ruminations to date and I’m sorry you feel the last post was insulting. I was at pains to point out in it that I’m aware and respectful of the depth of emotion on both sides and I would include in that the sense you describe of feeling perfectly at home within the union. That is as valid and heart-felt as anything I believe, but just as you say of my views, it seems to me more rooted in sentiment than logic – which serves to highlight the fact that this decision will never be a wholly logical one and part of the challenge, whatever the outcome, will be for us all to try and accommodate one another’s deep feelings.

  2. Glad someone else mentioned RBS. Means I don’t have to except to point out that it is 80% owned by UK taxpayers, and is still upwardly revising the price we have to pay for its misdeeds – which started off at £50m, but is currently around £6bn and still rising. You couldn’t make it up!

    Ironically, £6bn is roughly what Alex Salmond reckons one year’s oil revenue will be (which is not, as Alastair Darling pointed out, the actual benefit to the exchequer – but let’s leave that alone).

    As for Sweden – well, it’s independent; has its own currency (hasn’t entered the eurozone); pays roughly 30% more tax than the UK (including Scotland, at present); and has legislated for a much fairer society in more ways than should be necessary.

    Yet Sweden still has massive social problems: an underlying terrible attitude (violence) to women; racism and neo-nazism that is swept under the carpet (but were among the causes of riots last year); and ranks 14th on a world list by suicide rate. You may have met people there, Jamie, to whom class seems irrelevant, but in the wider Sweden they have ways of delineating these things that makes the UK look egalitarian.

    The thing that worries me most about this whole debate is that if, as seems possible, roughly half vote for independence and roughly half vote against, that is roughly half the population who are going to be disappointed one way or the other.

    But the onus is on the Yes side to justify casting aside the status quo.

    So radical a change can only legitimately be made if it is desired by a wide margin – say 65-35. Otherwise, the Yes vote could not really claim a mandate. Half and half scarcely counts as democratic on such a crucial matter. In fact, it feels more like a lottery. The radicals win by a lucky draw; everyone else loses – including, let’s not forget, tens of millions of English who don’t even have a say.

    I also still fail to understand how Scotland could be truly independent keeping the £, which is governed by the Bank of England. So all that London-centric, Westminster wickedness would still hold sway.

    Salmond’s argument that the £ is internationally traded and therefore the UK has no monopoly on it raises the question: then why not use the US dollar, or the yen, or the Swiss Franc (now there’s an independent country, not even in the EU, and with no central government as we understand it) or the Australian dollar? If you really like the Scandinavian model, the Swedish Krona is in the top ten internationally traded currencies.

    The reason is that it is a specious argument by a petulant charlatan who gains traction by harping on about us ‘bullies’ here in England. He would not dare to say to America, “The dollar is an internationally traded currency, so we are going to use the dollar”. No. His position is, ‘We have the pound now, and if you take it away from us, it just shows how bad you are’. Well no-one is talking about taking it away from him. He is moving away from it of his own volition and should accept the political and economic reality of that, and be honest with the Scottish people. But, hey, it’s all politics, so what the hell…….

    Finally, just so you know, I don’t read newspapers, and I watch tv news as little as possible. They are wrong on most subjects; no reason for this to be any different.

    • wrbcg says:

      Dear Paul

      Unlike you Paul, I do read the newspapers and listen to the news (despite their clear bias and lack of critical analysis of anything put out by the NO campaign). But beyond that, I also seek out the facts of the matter from other sources, go back to verify with original sources wherever possible and question everything (penalty of having done an MSc). In short, I try to balance my passion – which Ken would consider “romantic” – with facts and logic.

      Some of your points have been partly covered in my answer to Ken above and so will not be repeated here (or if they are it will be from a different slant).

      Once again we have the spectre of RBS, which is not the cornerstone you imagine. Given that during the coming year all of its English and Welsh branches are to be sold (along with its Scottish Nat West Branches) Scottish liability will be greatly reduced. The Westminster Government have already spoken of separating the Retail Banking part (HQ in Edinburgh) from the Investment Banking part (HQ in London). But as I noted before, RBS was a great British success story until poor regulation and mismanagement of the London based part brought it down, when suddenly it becomes Scottish once again. (Incidentally, Bank of Scotland was brought down by their subsidiary, the English Halifax Bank’s sub-prime mortgage lending!).

      The “status quo” is a myth. There is no status quo – everything is subject to change. If Scotland votes NO there will be massive changes. Changes to the way Scotland is funded; cuts to services as any tax-raising powers will be unusable ( a. because higher taxes in Scotland than the rest of the UK would lead to an exodus of those who can escape and penalise the poorest; and b. because the current government has said there must be a unified tax system across the UK); loss of the NHS as is underway in England (though Health is devolved to Edinburgh it relies on funding that is controlled by Westminster); the certainty of cuts to services due to the austerity measures still to come after 2015, which will dwarf anything to date; and if calls from Tories for a unified Education system are heeded the end to one of the rights enshrined in the Treaty and Act of Union.

      It is a fact that Westminster can reserve to itself any of the powers currently devolved and Scotland would have no say – well, almost no say. But what good is an 8% say if the remaining 92% want to punish Scotland (as seems to be the case when listening to UKIP, Tory & Labour backbenchers, and Boris Johnson) for having the temerity of holding a referendum?

      You claim that “So radical a change can only legitimately be made if it is desired by a wide margin – say 65-35. Otherwise, the Yes vote could not really claim a mandate.”

      Are you then arguing that there was no mandate for the radical changes wrought by the Scottish Act of Union, given that out of Scotland’s approximately 1m population only 175 people had any say in the matter (and a number of them had been bribed!). That bit of democracy was far more dubious than the supposed mandate of the current Westminster government whose ruling party has a paltry 1 parliamentary seat and the support of 11 very junior coalition partners (who will provide the Tories with scapegoats should Scotland vote YES) – ie less than a quarter of Scottish seats are held by coalition MPs – yet that supposedly constitutes a mandate for the governance of Scotland?

      Either one accepts that in a democracy that 51% is a mandate or one has to change how democracy works. That said, I agree that an approximately half and half outcome would be worse than a clear win for either side, as it will leave one half of the population very unhappy. However, as was pointed out by an expert on Radio 4’s Today programme (but not put into any other news stream), opinion polls for referenda are notoriously unreliable as there are no benchmarks (as was shown by the polling for a Scottish parliament and for electoral reform); and even election polls can be way off beam (just look at the polling for the 2011 Holyrood elections in which Labour were ahead!). From the grassroots perspective, though, such a narrow majority is unlikely whatever the pollsters say (or more often neglect to say – eg the 2% swing to YES following the first Salmond vs Darling TV debate).

      Your point that Scotland could use any fully tradeable currency ignores the fact that EWNI and Scotland will continue to be each others main trading partners irrespective of whether they are in a corrupt and broken political union or not. Therefore, it is in the best interest of both countries to have a currency union on the pound.
      Now it appears that, realising that your argument is deeply flawed, without one shred of supporting evidence, you attack the First Minister of Scotland, whose party is the only one in the UK with the mandate of an outright majority (despite the electoral system being stacked against that very outcome) as “a petulant charlatan”. I find nothing of the charlatan given that Salmond has spent his whole political career in the SNP and in the independence movement. Perhaps it is the very shocking fact of a political party using their electoral mandate to actually carry out a manifesto pledge that leads to such opprobrium. As for his supposed petulance, one could see it as a strong response to a threat, the kind of threats that are common in abusive relationships. I have long maintained that if the UK is a family of nations, it is a severely dysfunctional one.

      “… who gains traction by harping on about us ‘bullies’ here in England.” The NO campaign so want independence to be about England and anti-English and that is one of their problems. For the YES supporters and the SNP it is not about the “English” or even “England”; it never has been. It is about the arrogance of Westminster which conflates the UK with England as though they were one and the same and the concentration of wealth and power in a small corner of England. As I say to every Spaniard who asks me “Are you, English?” – “No, I’m Scottish.” That is my national identity despite having lived more of my life in England than anywhere else.

      You continue, “Well no-one is talking about taking it away from him. He is moving away from it of his own volition and should accept the political and economic reality of that, and be honest with the Scottish people.” This is just a regurgitation of the NO campaign’s deceitful dogma verbatim as reported widely by the MSM. The Tory triumvirate (be they blue, mauve or just brown-nosed) and UKIP have all said that Scotland would not be allowed to use the pound (despite it being a shared asset and beyond their power to prevent it). They are bluffing and the people of Scotland know they are bluffing (especially after Alistair Darling let the cat out of the bag during the last debate!).

      The reason is simple. The Bank of England, despite its name, is in reality the Central Bank of the UK, and every Scottish banknote printed has had £1 sterling deposited with the Bank of England. If Scotland has to have her own currency, the Bank of England would face a withdrawal of approximately £3,6bn, which would be catastrophic for the Bank and of no benefit to EWNI. Should Westminster refuse to release the funds, Scotland could continue to use the pound but, not being given a share of the assets to which she has contributed (and over-contributed during the last century) during the last 300 years, there would be no obligation to take on any share of the UK debt (a debt that Scotland currently pays more in interest than she has received), a debt that Westminster has agreed it will honour as it was taken out in their name.

      On the 18th of September, Scots will cast their votes, and shortly after, should the vote be YES (as Jamie and I both hope it will), the negotiations will begin, and in line with the Edinburgh Agreement they will be in the best interests of Scotland and EWNI.

  3. Just briefly:
    It is not true that 51% is always a mandate. In many referendums the bar is set higher than for a General Election, sometimes requiring a 70% majority.

    Also, as I thought I made clear, I am not “regurgitating the NO campaign”. I have very little idea what they are saying. I approach these things as you say you do – with my own research and as a very old-fashioned journalist, I look for many sources, not just the ones that back up my own feelings. I try not to have “an opinion” until I look at both sides of the argument.

    And I still maintain that Alex Salmond is an opportunistic charlatan. I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest that I’m wrong.

  4. wrbcg says:

    I accept your point that referenda can have higher bars than elections, but that was not the case here. I am sorry if my comment offended you, that was not my intention – our interpretation of the results of our researches have obviously led us to very different conclusions.

    This claim that Salmond is a charlatan is oft-repeated (especially among NO supporters) but without any evidence. Here you have repeated it again with no evidence other than your opinion. I’m afraid, that just as you claim that the onus is on the YES campaign to justify casting aside the status quo, the onus is on you to provide evidence for your assertions rather than hide behind not having “any evidence to suggest” that you are wrong.

    If I were looking for an “opportunistic charlatan” in politics, Nick Clegg, would fit the bill perfectly, as would Alistair Darling: I can find plenty of evidence for both of them.

    • No offence taken! But since I have still not made myself clear, I haven’t reached any ‘conclusion’. I’d rather the Union didn’t break up, but the world won’t end if it does.

      My problem is with the slick and specious answers indulged in by Alex Salmond and others. Let’s not forget, he wasn’t even insisting on retaining the pound at the beginning. He assumed EU membership would be automatic, and that use of the Euro would follow. Only after being told by Manuel Barosso that this would not, in fact, be the case, did Salmond start waving the pound. This is not a man I would follow into a supermarket, let alone independence.

      So while I’m here, let me define charlatan as I apply it to politicians – those who seek power and furtherance of their personal status by offering that which they know – and sometimes don’t know -they can’t deliver. I don’t believe that Alex Salmond actually believes much of what he says, but he knows – and has known all along – that devo max will come quicker after a referendum. I’ve been watching this man for at least 20 years, as I always closely watch those who seek attention whilst saying little of substance. I’ve never once heard him say anything that didn’t make me groan inwardly at the sheer opportunism and self-seeking nature of it. At core, for me certainly, he lacks authenticity and sincerity.

      I applied this definition to Barack Obama as he campaigned for the American Presidency. “Yes we can”. What a fatuous phrase that was. And to Tony Blair as he campaigned to be Prime Minister. I begged my 30-year-old children not to be taken in by him. But they were. It took me thirty years to become disenchanted with politics; Tony Blair delivered that same state to my children in under eight years.

      I honestly wish you luck, wrbcs, as I have already wished Jamie (whom I first met in 1977). I don’t want the Union to break up, but I have no animus against Scots who genuinely want independence.

  5. Josiane Bonieux writes from Mauritius:

    Just to say that I completely agree with you as regards keeping close ties with Britain after independence : why shd one cut off one’s ties whether family, professional, financial or otherwise with Britain just because Scotland wd be ind. ? This is absurd : I’ve never heard such a stupid argument : don’t all sorts of people have all sorts of links with all sorts of countries and people in the world ? What has that got to do with ind. ? How many countries from the Commonwealth which have been ind. for 50 years or more do not still send their children to school and university in England, invest their money in British banks, use English as their administrative language etc … Why shd the Scots overnight cut their ties with Britain and the British ? I really fail to understand … Anyway I really think these No campaigners are at a loss for arguments …
    As regards declining oil revenue which seems to have been a strong argument in the No campaign (I checked a few articles on the net which I can send to you if you wish), it seems that there indeed has been a sharp decline lately but that that cd be corrected if things were to be done properly as Norway did. It seems that studies are lingering in Ministries and that there’s no sense of urgency to change the trend. I bet you that if the No were to win, the situation wd be corrected quite rapidly and may be that things have been dragging just to scare people off.
    I don’t want to sound too cynical but let me tell one thing : if the Brits want to keep you it’s because you are still profitable : if it were not the case you wd have been dropped like a hot potato a long time ago just as it was the case with a lot of former colonies. In the case of Mauritius, we were given independence in 1968 because we had become too expensive since cane sugar was far less profitable than beet sugar which started being produced by the French at the time. However when Britain became a mb of the European Community in 1973, a deal was negociated to keep buying cane sugar from former British colonies because the refining industry mainly Tate and Lyle needed to keep jobs for the people and go on refining cane sugar and it is still the case today. The Sugar Protocol was signed which guaranteed the purchase and refining of cane sugar from former British colonies thus guaranteeing jobs in the UK and predictable prices in the producing countries.
    In the deal for the independence given to Mauritius (we did not really fight for it) was the fact that the island of Diego Garcia which was part of Mauritian territory was handed back to the UK which promptly started renting it to the US at a very high price, something which we cd have done ourselves and the income wd have been ours. The US needed a military base in the northern Indian Ocean to control the oil route. But there we are : this is how it happened.

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