GEORGE ROBERTSON, the Labour MP, was accosted as he entered a

newsagent's in his home town of Dunblane. Would he sign a petition,

asked the newsagent, against the Government's plan to extend VAT to

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newspapers, magazines, and books?

A worthy cause, said George, duly signing. Mind you, I don't think the

Government will be daft enough to carry out their threat, said the

newsagent. He might well know better than the rest of us, for the

newsagent in question is none other than Keith Harding, leader of the

Tory administration on Stirling District Council.

Connolly's a cracker

BILLY CONNOLLY makes a fine acting debut in the BBC television film

Down Among the Big Boys, coming to a TV screen in your living room next

month. Yes, we hear you say that he has appeared in many films, TV

shows, and plays. But in those he tended just to be the Big Yin doing a

straight role.

In this role as a Glasgow ''businessman'' whose real business is

safe-blowing and general thievery, Connolly is totally convincing; at

once lovable and menacing. So menacing that you can imagine him getting

into character by pretending he has just been approached for a quote by

a Scottish tabloid journalist.

Connolly's task in the movie is made easy by a gem of a script from

Peter McDougall. McDougall made his name with grittily realistic films

studded with rivets of hard West of Scotland humour.

Down Among the Big Boys has an edge but is suffused with rich, warm

humour. It is a caper movie, a thriller, but most of all a well-observed

comedy. We will not preview the jokes in case Mr McDougall sets some of

his heavies upon the Diary.

Peter even managed to involve an Orange band from Greenock in the

scene where Connolly and Co. are blowing various strongboxes in a bank.

The noise of the big drums conceal the explosions. ''Oh great,'' says a

detective, ''all we've got to do now is interview 80,000 Orangemen and

ask if they saw or heard anything suspicious''.

Maggie Bell is magnificent as Connolly's karaoke-singing missus,

particularly with her rendition on Sailor, Stop Your Roving. In short,

we quite liked Down Among the Big Boys.

Away the Arses

THE football round-up in the Independent on Sunday newspaper referred

to Dunfermline Athletic as the Duns. Following this new rule for club

nicknames Scottish premier league leaders Motherwell become the Moths.

Dumbarton will be cheered on as the Dums. The Hamilton Accies as the

Hams. Partick Thistle as the Pars. Rangers also as the Rans. Montrose as

the Mons. Stirling Albion as the Stirs.

English football grounds will echo to such chants as Come on the Arses

(for Arsenal); the Bras (Bradford); the Fuls (Fulham); the Rots

(Rotherham); the Wigs (Wigan); and the Wrex (Wrexham). But what about

poor old Scunthorpe?

Deer hunter

THE Name Game: Inveraray's leading purveyor of venison is one J. F.

Slaughter.

Backhander

DEEPLY Philosophical Question: Who developed the back of the hand as a

memory aid? (Basil Savage, Edinburgh)

A time to despair

CONFUSION reigns over the title of the Tommy Sheridan book that

Polygon will publish in November. In Polygon's autumn catalogue, the

Scottish Militant Labour's anti-poll tax memoir is called A Time to

Reach. In Polygon's advertisement in the New Books from Scotland

brochure, the book is called Here Come the Weak.

So which title is correct? Neither, actually. The oeuvre from the

charismatic Glasgow city councillor will be called A Time to Rage.

The working title was Here Come the Weak, from a song by Michael

Marra, but Sheridan and co-writer, journalist Joan McAlpine, thought the

oppressed working classes might not like being called weak.

A Time to Rage is a phrase from a poem contained in the 1992 Scotia

Bar literary anthology and written by one Anne Narky (a nom de plume,

perhaps). However, when Tommy Sheridan telephoned Polygon and left

details of the new title on their answering machine, there was some

confusion between his strong Glasgow accent and their Edinburgh ears. A

Time to Rage became A Time to Reach.

Alex's pairtie trick is unthirldom or bust

ONE of the highlights of the political year is Alex Salmond's message

in Scots in the annual conference handbook of the Scottish National

Party. Sorry, the Scottis National Pairtie.

In his message Alex tells what the pairtie has been up tae ''i the

time sin the walin''. Walin, appropriately enough, is the Scots word for

general election.

A new one on the Diary is unthirldom, the Scots word for independence.

As in ''wi the wecht siccar on Unthirldom as the gait ti pittan richt aa

the hairm an wrangs that Government frae Westminster haes gart Scotland

dree''. Or ''with the emphasis firmly on independence as the catalyst

for changing the economic, social, and environmental damage that

Westminster government has brought to Scotland''. These include the

Braer mishanter (disaster), the swick (betrayal) of Rosyth, and ''the

ettle tae fause-bounder'' (the attempt to gerrymander) our councils.

So when the SNP convenes at Dunoon next month the motto is Onward to

Unthirldom. And more specifically ''unthirldom ben Europe''.