Methods of donating to charities or worthy causes has changed in recent years. Charity workers on the doorstep and in our streets would buttonhole us not for a one-off donation, but a long-term commitment via direct debit. In fact, major charities hustling on the street and on the doorstep will not accept one-off donations: it's direct debits, or nothing.
This approach has one advantage. Once you've decided on your charity, and set up your direct debit, you can forget about it. But I've given up direct debits. I calculated the amount I'd usually give annually, and I now distribute it among various causes I care about. Social media campaigns make this approach a simple and effective method of donating to worthy causes whether it be to a struggling young artist, say, or to a stranger whose plight if left unsupported, will result in certain death. But this approach to donating means that we continually have to think about whose good causes to support with limited resources. And that is surely a good thing.
One such prominent cause is that of Roz Paterson, a mother of two young children from Beauly, who is terminally ill from B-cell lymphoma that has not responded to chemotherapy. In a last-ditch attempt to stay alive, with only weeks to live, Roz is crowdfunding, with support from her magnificent campaigning friends, to access cutting-edge Car-T cell therapy in Boston (US). This therapy uses the patient's own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. But this is a hugely expensive form of treatment because it has to be tailored to each individual patient. It has yet to be approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium and probably will, but too late for Roz.
Raising £500,000 in a very short space of time is a tall task; but incredibly, more than half the amount has been raised already such is the groundswell of good will from strangers. Roz and her family can now travel to Boston for the initial assessment and treatment.
Now there is no doubt in my mind that this is a case that deserves support. But there are many others. So why support this cause in particular? One answer is that the cost of this type of treatment will inevitably come down if given enough time to be developed. So eventually this treatment should become affordable on the NHS. This is important because generalised chemotherapy, our current alternative, only works on a small percentage of patients, and, as anyone who has first-hand experience of it knows, it can be devastating.
In 10 years' time, specialised immunotherapy, currently hugely expensive partly because it targets the individual, will likely replace generalised chemotherapy, and the latter will be regarded (as an oncologist once told me) as barbaric as 19th-century dentistry. The new immunotherapy tends to have a much higher success rate, and side-effects are less severe. It is extremely expensive, so it needs to be supported by private donations for the time being, not least because it will potentially benefit all of us.
All the very best, Roz, we're rooting for you. And for the rest of us? There but for the grace of god, go you and I.
There are extraordinary moments in politics so baffling, that only when history is written can we makes sense of it. Even seasoned political analysts cannot read the runes or predict with any semblance of reliability where the UK, or Scotland within it, will end up. Last week was one of those moments.
The British political system appears to be falling apart. Responsible, decisive leadership has gone awol. The 'national interest'? Yer havin' a laugh. But small-scale moments with ordinary folk and politicos not in the public eye can be instructive. For example, watching the BBC 'Question Time' audience in Derby last week applaud wildly to the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, was worrying. Does the BBC 'Question Time' audience capture the zeitgeist? Who knows.
In London last week, I had conversations with Brexit-voting friends who sometimes vote Tory, and Labour supporting political analysts – some of them elected representatives. Both groups agree on two things only: their respective leaderships are woeful to put it mildly, and a no-deal Brexit would not be in the national interest and potentially catastrophic. So where does that leave us?
The behind-the-scenes talk is, firstly, that the Labour leadership intends to avoid any firm stance. It will run down the clock, hoping to force the PM into a humiliating position of negotiating an extension to Article 50. Secondly, that some prominent Tory brexiteers, including Michael Gove, are manoeuvring for a Norway-style deal – which they are calling Common Market 2.0. This is gaining cross-party traction because it would avoid a second referendum and therefore the risk of no Brexit. Of course, this was the Scottish Government's proposed compromise some time ago, ignored by a stubborn PM. I should add that my Tory friends, once great Boris supporters, now regard him as a useless 'busted flush'.
As to the Scottish perspective, at the end of a wide-ranging discussion with remainers (some of them Scots), when the talk turned to the Scottish situation, I asked a simple question: why shouldn't Scotland be independent? This simple, slightly different approach to the question met with initial silence. They agreed that many small nation-states function well. So why wouldn't Scotland? A much more interesting discussion ensued from the usual binary positions of which we have become accustomed.
This tiny political vignette brought home to me that Scots must address the issue differently, and a referendum held any time soon without detailed preparation, strategy and targeted campaigning of Remain/No voters, would be a mistake. To do otherwise would exacerbate the general turmoil rather than alleviate the trauma. Under these conditions, a majority of Scots will likely vote No again. On the other hand, who knows? Political foresight has become a fool's game, but then again, it's not the time to take huge political risks.