Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What happened there?


And so we reach the final day of an extraordinary year. I increasingly find as I get older each year is extraordinary in myriad ways. It's surely the lesson of life that the extraordinary is both around and within us all if we but take the time to look and listen.

For a time at least the worlds eyes were on us and expectations were that something extraordinary was about to happen. Although it wasn't the extraordinary thing I believed was upon us, something extraordinary has happened. It seems that change has happened and that change may ignite a chain reaction which has potential to be a game changer in UK politics. It has the potential, mainly I believe, because the old order, the establishment, have yet to wake up to the reality, to understand that the very ground has shifted beneath their feet, They are still behaving in the same old ways, even the new leader of Scotland's premier {in their mind anyway}political party has failed to understand the depth of change that has happened or that any change here in Scotland could in any way have ramifications beyond our back yard.

I read an account of this yesterday which puts the words better than I ever could.

 Here is Robin McAlpine of 'The Common Weal' - one of the organisations which made up those who campaigned for Scottish independence in this years referendum. This article appears in Bella Caledonia. http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

The shock of 2014

Not much more than a week after the referendum I received a phone call from a journalist. It turned out to be the most remarkable phone conversation I have had in over 20 years of working with the media. This journalist had procured evidence that would categorically prove beyond any argument that the SNP could win no more than a maximum of three seats from Labour in the 2015 General Election. In the hour that followed nothing I could say would put so much as a dent in this journalist’s absolute certainty that a Labour landslide was ahead.

My argument was that a block of 20 SNP MPs was a realistic target and that the substantial change in mood on the ground in Scotland made it quite possible. I suggested that a campaign that pitched the SNP as a coalition-maker (or sustainer) on a pro-Scotland, drag-Labour-to-the-left agenda would be hard to fight against. I told him that the numbers on the ground were massively stacked against the pro-union parties. I calmly repeated the polling numbers being achieved by Ed Milliband personally in Scotland.

What I got back was a series of pretty contemptuous and unmistakably hostile put-downs. Ground campaigns don’t matter, he said. Labour had the real fighting machine in Scotland, he said. No-one would buy for a second the line that the SNP could hold anyone to account at the UK level, he said. But above all, it was numerically impossible and since everyone knew it was a fantastical proposition my every argument was invalid. At one point he demanded that I stop talking so he could espouse further on his theories – which I thought rather inverted the concept of journalism.

The same journalist recently ran a front-page story predicting a Labour wipe-out in Scotland.
In looking for a moment which encapsulated what happened in 2014 in Scotland, this phone conversation seemed appropriate. Utter certainty about things which are wrong. Lots of (expensively procured) data but no knowledge. A yawning chasm between the professional observers and the reality they claim to observe. This conversation contrasts sharply with one I had with a journalist whom I hold in much higher esteem (though who also writes for an anti-independence newspaper). In the spring he phone me up and said simply “I have this feeling that I have no idea what is going on”. 

This, as simply and as briefly as I can, is what I think was going on in 2014.

Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved

The rules of courtly love are strangely familiar and yet distinctly odd. They were an extended part of a chivalric code of honour which prescribed the expected behaviours of a medieval knight. The tenets of courtly love are filled with swooning and fainting, cast-iron commitments and handy loopholes. They tell us that every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved. And yet biologically speaking no-one really turns pale on a regular basis as a result of meeting someone else. So the court becomes a fog of whitening powders and feigned fainting. Since everyone agrees that the recently-applied paleness is a sign of true love and since anyone who disagreed would be base in their morals, no-one does. In the closed confines of the courtly system, power, money and influence mean that whatever they decide to be reality becomes reality. The other key thing to know about the chivalric codes is that they do not apply to anyone outside the court; chivalry easily accommodates mass slaughter.

The primary feature of 2014 in Scotland was the end (fingers crossed) or at least the major disruption of court politics. In 2013 if you wanted to be a political correspondent in Scotland you could probably get away with having only 30 phone numbers in your contact list. All you really needed was one each of an official contact, a gossip and a rent-a-quote from each of the political parties, the business organisations and the Scottish establishment. You would speak to everyone else (including the trade unions) so rarely that you could just look up directory inquiries. If you were a courtier in one of the political parties you would have a similar looking contact book. If you were a mover and shaker in the Scottish establishment you’d have the same numbers too.

Here too a set of obscure rules define reality. For example, if two people in one political party hold a view which is anything other than both identical and expressed identically, the fabric of the space-time continuum will be disrupted. Acceptable behaviour and unacceptable behaviour are universally agreed. So for example a weekly parlour game in which Johann Lamont rolls out synonyms for ‘you’re a dirty liar’ is scored according to the balance of oohs and aahs from the press gallery. Three councillors carefully burning a document over a metal bin in ‘the real world’ however is nothing short of the rattle of the barbarians at the gates.

Outside of court, people think differently. If you wish to call someone a liar then the honourable thing to do is to say it – and prove it. I genuinely wonder if the media have any idea how little regard the outside world holds for a clever simile. On the other hand there is an undeniable honesty in an act of defiance like the burning of an inanimate object.

I imagine the whole damn court being shifted to my local boozer. I’d like to see them function by their courtly rules among the commoners. It would be entertaining to see how they deftly call Big Rab at the bar a prick – but totally get away with it because they paraphrased TS Elliot. I’d equally like them to successfully have Wee Rab (there are quite a few Rabs) thrown out for the unacceptable act of scrumpling up a newspaper and chucking it into the fire uttering only the one word “pish” as it burns.

“But” says the courtier “that’s all well and good for ordinary people but our world is different”. Yup, that’s the point. Your world is fake. We don’t believe it. For almost two years I spent most mornings reading the newspapers and most nights in town halls at public meetings. I heard what people talked about, what they asked, how they asked it, what they expected in a reply. I saw a whole generation of new political figures emerge untouched by the court system. I heard them cheered.

I watched politics change before my eyes and it did not come from the court. I read newspaper articles in late summer about how ‘the SNP’ had now brought the NHS ‘into play’ as part of either a smart or desperate gambit. I note how in fact Phillipa Whitford (a breast cancer specialist, not a politician) made a series of searing speeches in early spring that went viral on YouTube. I spoke at meeting after meeting throughout the spring and summer in which a whole succession of Yes speakers raised and repeated the analysis of the danger the NHS faced. I watched room after room change its opinion. I saw the Daily Record catch up on this months after it happened. I saw the SNP catch up a couple of weeks after that – and then saw the rest of the press pack catch up only after all of that.

The court clung desperately to the belief that its only job was to compare the Scottish Government’s spreadsheet with the UK Treasury’s spreadsheet and to inform the public who won. Scotland has been spiralling out of its control ever since. Things may possibly revert to normality for the courtiers. God knows they are trying to reassert their outdated book of etiquette, to pull up the drawbridge, to confine politics once more to their tiny, limited domain.

Until they do, it is simply impossible to understand Scotland until you understand that the courtier system has broken down and the political narrative in Scotland is being defined from outside. Thirty phone numbers in your book just isn’t enough.

A man, plunging to his death, says ‘so far so good, so far so good’

A man stands on the edge of a skyscraper. He looks down, takes a step forward and falls. As the pavement below rushes towards him he repeats over and over to himself “so far so good, so far so good”.

Such is unionism in Scotland. The defining characteristic of British nationalism in Scotland in 2014 wasn’t swagger, fear-mongering or entitlement but confused befuddlement. As politics escaped from the court system and leaked into real life it kept coming back in ever-more altered form. The total certainty of what ‘the commoners’ wanted, believed, hoped for, responded to was used to shape the dog whistle that was blown. The size and shape of the dog that appeared scared the pants off them.
This is all because British nationalism created a new place for its own convenience – let’s call this place Scotchland. Scotchland is a barren land in which proud patriots scrape a living so they can watch Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend. The people of Scotchland had bestowed upon them great riches. They benefitted from both the NHS and the right to buy their council house while sheltering under a nuclear umbrella of peace. It was a happy place, content with the synthesis of all that was great about the British Empire – until it was split asunder, torn apart, betrayed by the idea that something could be different.

Better Together fought its entire campaign in Scotchland. The media printed all their newspapers there. British nationalist leaders built their castles there. It was like one giant role-playing adventure game where they got to write their own history, create their own characters and enact their every fantasy. The Scotch, after all, can be measured, weighed and counted. It is possible to prove that they are most certainly not special in any way. And in the end, the unionist forces triumphed emphatically in Scotchland, securing its borders for themselves for another thousand years.

It was Scotland they had trouble with. The problem with manufacturing conceptual entities in the pursuit of political goals is that at some point reality intervenes. Barring a hard-core of extremists Scotland is a country without a nationalist bone in its body; in which two out of three people in the 2011 census described themselves as ‘Scottish only’, rejecting entirely their British identity. It is a nation of people ashamed of Braveheart; who still like Braveheart. The unionists never understood Scotland’s expression of national identity. Watching them trying to recite the words was disturbing as the plummy vowels of Gordonstoun and Loretto and Heriots were distorted horribly into the grating, jarring syllables of ‘proud, patriotic Scot’. It was like listening to a wolf trying to baa.

If their trouble with identity was bad, their problem with empathy was positively tragic. They really, really thought that we’d be grateful for being humiliated. They thought that a Tory Chancellor arriving in Scotland to put out of our heads any silly notion of our right to the infrastructure of our currency would be met with affection and gratitude. They did not get Scotland at all – or rather, they could not understand any part of Scotland which did not fall for Osborne and his tough love. They still don’t.

In Scotchland there is something else which is ‘true'; no-one is neutral (apart from the IFS). All are in a fight to the death with justice and honour at stake. When the barbarians are at the gate, anyone without a musket in their hand is a traitor. It is the comfort with which the media picked up arms and joined the fight that shocked many. Perhaps the biggest disjunction left in the clash between Scotchland and Scotland is the ongoing belief among the unionist-activist hack-pack that they have any honour left. Despite the universal knowledge that by any definition of democracy the Scottish media failed and failed miserably, you will travel a long, long way before you find any contrition. Put simply, the Scottish unionist media is more than proud of its year.

This is all a complex subject; there are many journalists you may well assume to be No men and women who were no such thing. The Scottish media remains full of good people. But they don’t get to write about Scotchland and Scotchland is the only place their newspapers reported on. Once major newspapers reported the entire campaign with as little as three arch-unionist journalists – and in once case two out of the three were based in London. They wrote about a Scotland so backwards, so inherently pre-modern that posing a democratic question to its people was far too risky. We’d be tearing each others throats out on the street. Those who want to pose the question are outside normality. Their actions can always be understood as barbarism. Britain – their Britain – is civilisation. (As always, the Sunday Herald is to be honourably exempted…)

In the end, reality wins out over fantasy. No blood was spilled, no glass was broken; Scotland lived up to its democratic duty in a way and with a maturity that should shame the current British Empire. Remember, Scots-born voters voted Yes. Without ‘English immigration’ Scotland would now be independent (English-born voters voted three to one against). Yet everyone of us ‘barbarians’ embraces the ideal of those resident being part of our community wherever they started their lives. Not a single one of us has formed a UKIP, not one of us has talked about the ‘English problem’ or asked whether these incomers have distorted out politics and what we should do about it.

The new project is the re-provincialisation of Scotland. All that ‘proud patriot’ stuff was for last year. This year even our ‘quality press’ shall continue to report on our future mainly in terms of which cat is stuck up which tree (or more accurately which issue of local bureaucratic administration has been marginally mismanaged). The Scots got to talk about monetary policy and macroeconomics for a year and they nearly went mad with power, demanding some sort of say in how their lives are run. It must never happen again.

Here’s the big news. Scotchland never existed. Scotland, on the other hand, largely learned to be happy to be itself. I sit with my legs dangling over the edge watching the unionist fantasy plunging ever downwards.

So far, so good. So far, so good.

If Scotland in 2014 hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet

In quantum physics, a subatomic particle exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time but, until you measure it, it has little or no characteristic. This madness was until comparatively recently simply the conjecture of quantum physicist Niels Bohr. He said that if quantum mechanics hadn’t profoundly shocked you, you hadn’t understood it yet.

And that’s the thing. Prior to 2014 real, involved and participatory democracy in Scotland was simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Everywhere because each citizen was engaged in their own discussion about the nation in which they lived, whether they knew it or not. Nowhere, because these discussions were invisible, had no agency, acted upon and changed nothing, just as if they were never there in the first place. The only thing that made them real was when they were measured.

And guess what? When you measure democracy in Scotland it is something quite different than what we thought it was before we measured it. Unionists hate the fact but Scotland is already seen by many around the world as a case study in ‘quantum democracy’ (no, no-one is calling it that…). It is in the act of measuring it that democracy becomes real. Everything looks different.

Labour is dead. Not in the way people think (though why not a single mainstream media source seems the slightest interested in how many people voted in the Labour leadership election still surprises me, even in their bias). It is much deader than that. If Labour was to be anything in Scotland it had to be a radical reforming entity. Quite how it could be that thing is hard to say, but that’s what it had to be. I suspected that Labour was no such thing anymore, but only when it was measured did the scale of the problem become clear. I had rather assumed that Labour in Scotland was a right-of-centre organisation. I assumed it simply because virtually every one of the left-of-centre people I knew when I was a member of the party had left in disgust. The fact that there were so many alternative options in Scotland made it easy. But since Labour in Scotland doesn’t do democracy, for our knowledge of what Labour ‘is’ we’ve mainly relied on what Douglas Alexander told his cheerleaders in the media.

But here’s the thing; there simply isn’t a more right-wing figure in the party that could have got the leadership job than Murphy. The ease with which the remaining members of the Party picked him strongly suggests that there is little left sentiment remaining. But that’s not the alarming thing. There has always been an assumption that only the trade unions could save the soul of Labour in Scotland. And yet, even with a very vigorous and very visible campaign, the trade unions barely managed to get half of their own affiliated members to vote for their preferred left-wing candidate. I’ve met some awfully reactionary trade unionists and I knew they had no difficultly making Labour their home. I know that most socially progressive trade unionists have long since disaffiliated to Labour. But even I was surprised at just how blatantly right-wing much of the trade union vote turned out to be. Labour can say whatever it likes about its left credentials in Scotland but there is damn little evidence that this is reflected in its members, its politicians or many of its voters.

Forget for a second that it is a husk of an organisation with no activists and no real staff. Forget the plodding weakness of its politicians. Forget the manufactured radicalism of Gordon Brown as finessed by the unionist media. Look at what Labour really is. It is a home for a unionist vote that is mainly right of centre but which doesn’t vote Tory. Labour in Scotland, like it or not, is primarily a unionist party. In fact, it is fast becoming the United Unionist Party of Scotland. Tactical voting pacts with the Tories are not uncommon conversation points among its activists. When Neil Findlay’s campaign manager decides to criticise Jim Murphy it is not because of his right-wing politics but because he has shown an insufficient commitment to opposing Scottish national identity.

Labour as a mass party of the working class is stone dead in Scotland. It is now an expression of British nationalism for those that can’t quite stomach the Tories. It is not a future I’d like to be living in if I was a Labour person.

But it is most certainly not just Labour which is suffering from the shock of democracy. I’ve heard party managers in the Scottish Greens assure me that a three-fold increase in their membership has just made them more like themselves. It’s not true; there has been an influx of people with a Green social radical agenda but not an influx of the ‘middle class recycling set’ which also made up a part of the Green membership. So it has become more radical whether some people like it or not.
However it is the SNP which is the real democratic shock. And the early signs of how it is coping are mixed – to say the least. The SNP, post-referendum, has been protected as a totem of the Yes movement and this has meant that there has been a remarkable self-restraint in the wider movement in analysing the failures of the campaign. In reality, the SNP spent a year being dragged around behind a much more vibrant non-party campaign that did most of the groundwork. It wasn’t the SNP that changed the discourse in Scotland – in the early stages of the campaign the ‘don’t rock the boat’ message was the gospel. It was when the public responded to campaigns by RIC or Women for Indy or NHS Yes or Business for Scotland or National Collective that the SNP appeared almost forced to come in behind a campaign that was distinctly more radical and imaginative than anything it itself anticipated – or seemed to want.

The shock of democracy is hitting the SNP as much as anyone. Nicola Sturgeon has made some wise noises about become a different kind of party. In government, a much better than expected land reform bill is probably its first expression. And yet the party’s own courtiers still seem to think it wise to block popular figures from the campaign like Craig Murray because he isn’t tame and compliant in the manner expected. Indeed, the party’s more craven members took to social media to discredit Craig Murray as if the last year hadn’t happened. And if the leadership can’t understand that politics has changed it will suffer; suspending councillors for acts of protest (burning the Smith Commission report) was foolish in the extreme. They’ve just gained 60 or 70 thousand members, almost all of whom came into the party through the real and direct democracy of the referendum campaign. I doubt there is a single one of those people who thinks protest is an invalid part of politics.

The SNP is Scotland’s great hope of the moment. When democracy was measured it showed two things; a massive desire for change and a real willingness to see the SNP as the vehicle for that change. If it can channel that great reforming energy effectively it will change Scotland forever. If it behaves like it has behaved in the past and has started behaving again – well, it has nothing to lose apart from 60,000 members.

Because that’s the other shocking thing about Scotland in 2014; it turns out that leadership is not a title but an action. The SNP manager class would have lost the referendum in a dispiritingly weak manner had it not been for the leadership of others – locally by individual activists from within its own party, nationally from the many non-affiliated Yes groups, intellectually from almost anywhere but from within itself. Likewise, the voluntary sector, the trade unions, the churches and the rest may well claim that they couldn’t participate in the campaign for various reasons. Fair enough – but you can’t just give up on leading when it suits you and think you can return seamlessly to that role at a later stage.

Democracy is everywhere and nowhere until you measure it. We measured it in Scotland. No-one expected what we found.

In the warm light of amber and the harsh glare of the future

During the referendum we were told there were two possible futures for Scotland. There still are. One is a warm, comfortable place in which time is suspended as if we were trapped in amber and insulated from reality. That future sounds very much like ‘accept your defeat, make your hopes and aspirations go away and cede the future to us’. It is the future of Scotchland. It is a retirement home for the courtiers. It is the End of History for Scotland. And it is a desperate fantasy of a British unionist elite which knows it is in trouble.

The other is hard. In it the many things we Yes campaigners warned about will happen – not least awful, biting austerity, its human toll, the collapse in public life it will engender and the likely return of a Tory administration to Britain. But that harsh future seems to be galvanising those who are not British nationalists, the many people who surprised themselves by voting Yes – or who nearly did. We have captured the politics of resistance and it is us who seem best prepared to live in the future as it really is.

So this is the battle ahead, I think. Will the political court beat back the barbarians at its gates and secure its future as if nothing had happened? And remember, that court stretches beyond just unionists – there are a few in the SNP who love that world and also wish it to return. Will the narrative about Scotland – its people, its democracy – continue to be provincialised? Will New Scotchland emerge, King Jim on its throne striking down foes with the Daily Record? Will we lose our new democracy now it will only be measured in the old Westminster-style way?
Or will the new forms of political structure and the new intellectual climate in Scotland combine with the greatly-strengthened desire for change among activists to create a genuinely new Scotland, different from the Britain it inhabits.

I suspect it’ll be a long battle. But here’s the thing; just like the journalist with whom I opened this piece, reality is reality. If the SNP wins big in 2015 and again in 2016, that reality is unmissable. It is a plea for change. And as a result, one way or another, change will come."

No matter who you are or where you are I hope that 2015 is good for you and makes life better for you and those you care about. All the best from us here in the house of Crivens Jings

Listening to:



Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Sunday Posts2014/Embro Toun



Salt on yer tail – she’s a hotterin stew
O the kent, the fremmit, the auld, the new
The cassie-claik o the Embro hoors
Rikkin an rerr as Turkish flooers
Fur coat frills on a bare bumbee,
Is the show a stoater? Pye an see!
Clinkin thochts are a chinkin glaiss
Wit is gowd, an pretension’s braisse
Dour an dozent, or sherp’s a gleg
Are they takkin the rise? Are they pullin yer leg?
In howf, or close, or a wee stairheid
Bards in the makkin, bards lang deid
Shak doon wirds like a watter spoot
Idée fixe’s a cloot wrung oot
Haive yer havers heich on the pyre
Gin ye’ll nae thole heat – bide ooto the fire
Embro toun – yer a blacksmith’s haimmer
Scotia’s anvil – strike ye limmer!

Sheena Blackhall

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas one and All



On window panes, the icy frost
Leaves feathered patterns, crissed & crossed,
But in our house the Christmas tree
Is decorated festively
With tiny dots of colored light
That cozy up this winter night.
Christmas songs, familiar, slow,
Play softly on the radio.
Pops and hisses from the fire
Whistle with the bells and choir.
My tiger is now fast asleep
On his back and dreaming deep.
When the fire makes him hot,
He turns to warm whatever’s not.
Propped against him on the rug,
I give my friend a gentle hug.
Tomorrow’s what I’m waiting for,
But I can wait a little more.

Bill Watterson

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening



Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   


My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   


He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
 
Robert Frost,
Photo By Alistair.

 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/Caledonia



I don't know if you can see the changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid that I might drift away
So I've been telling old stories, singing old songs, that make me think about where I come from
That's the reason why I seem so far away today

Let me tell you that I love you and I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me and now I'm going home
But if I should become a stranger you know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything I've ever had

I have moved and I've kept on moving, proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing, found others on the way
And I've kissed the ladies and left them crying, stolen dreams, yes there's no denying
I have travelled hard sometimes with conscience flying somewhere in the wind

Now I'm sitting here before the fire, the empty room, the forest choir
The flames that couldn't get any higher they've withered now they've gone
But I'm steady thinking, my way is clear and I know what I will do tomorrow
When the hands have shaken and the kisses flow then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you and I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me and now I'm going home
But if I should become a stranger you know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything I've ever had

Dougie MacLean

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/ Along the Fields



          Along the fields as we came by
          A year ago, my love and I,
          The aspen over stile and stone
          Was talking to itself alone.
          "Oh who are these that kiss and pass?
          A country lover and his lass;
          Two lovers looking to be wed;
          And time shall put them both to bed,
          But she shall lie with earth above,
          And he beside another love.

           And sure enough beneath the tree
          There walks another love with me,
          And overhead the aspen heaves
          Its rainy-sounding silver leaves;
          And I spell nothing in their stir,
          But now perhaps they speak to her,
          And plain for her to understand
          They talk about a time at hand
          When I shall sleep with clover clad,
          And she beside another lad.

AE Houseman
Photo by Alistair.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance



Remembrance. Today, tomorrow, always.

Sam Robertson. Royal Scots Fusiliers. WWI Gallipoli
Thomas Hughes Royal Flying Corps. WWI France
Sam Robertson RAF Bomber Command 1945
Pride, Respect and Gratitude

A short film made by me. {1st draft}


Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Sunday Post/ Remembrance: A Hundred years



Remember today; brothers, fathers and sons.
The blood, the bullets, the terrible guns.
Far away places, far distant times,
Old family portraits, those names brought to mind.
Pause and reflect a moment or two.
But for them it could have been you.

Consider a moment a life unlived
How could it feel,
To give your expected days
And future stolen in myriad ways.
No mark on the world, all your dreams unfulfilled.
No aspirations, no regrets,
No life ever built.

Remember today;  brothers, fathers and sons.
The blood and the bullets, the terrible guns.
Far away places, far distant times,
Old family portraits, those names brought to mind.
Pause and reflect a moment or two.
But for them it could have been you.

Words and image by Alistair.

.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/ Fields of gold



You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in fields of gold

See the west wind move like a lover so
Upon the fields of barley
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth
Among the fields of gold

 I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We will walk in fields of gold
We will walk in fields of gold

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold
When we walked in fields of gold

By Sting
Photo by Alistair.
 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/ The King's English




 I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead: It’s said like bed, not bead --
For goodness’ sake, don’t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat…
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not the moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, nor broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose --
Just look them up -- and goose and choose.

And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Why, sakes alive!
I’d learned to speak it when I was five.
And yet, to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

Anon
Photo by Alistair.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

What A State to Get Yourself Into.


Let's just take it as read that I was heartbroken by Scotland's NO vote to independence in the referendum last week. Take it as read because it's true and it's taken me till now to sit down and write even a few lines without wanting to slip into tears or throw my computer at the nearest wall.  Now, having wallowed in as much disbelief and despair as I can take, maybe - just maybe - it's time to try and take some positives from a ten point defeat. 55% to 45% in favour of staying part of the UK, a union that has existed since 1707.

Ten points eh? That might sound like a lot but it's not really. Just two hundred and forty thousand votes from a voting population of 4.5 million would have changed it. Careful Alistair, don't start greetin'** already laddie!

I keep thinking of the British national anthem. Few people know the second verse. It's not considered politically correct to sing it any more - officially at least. To be fair it was written in the aftermath of an armed uprising.

'May he sedition crush, and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush
God save the king!'

No change there then.

The political, media and business establishments threw everything - and I do mean everything - at us in the last week of the referendum campaign, triggered by just one poll that showed that the YES side might have taken the narrowest of leads. There had been two years of patronising, dismissive complacency as Westminster, or the three main UK political parties, had previously disdained any thought of getting involved or even talking about potential independence as 'an issue just for the  Scots people alone' so far was it from even the merest possibility in their minds. Perhaps they were entitled to that opinion because the referendum started with a poll that showed those in favour of independence as around 27% of the population and anyway, voter apathy would be in their favour as those most likely to vote - the older generations - would be against it. And - they had played it smart in refusing the Scottish Government's demand for a question on the ballot papers asking if voters would simply want more power devolved instead of full independence. So in their minds they had it well sown up from the start: No obvious voter appetite, the most-likely-to-be-favoured-option denied and the starkest of questions to make all but the most fervent nationalist baulk at the ballot box. Simply: Should Scotland be an independent country? YES or NO. Finally a defence campaign called 'Better Together' led by the most prominent of the three main Westminster parties in Scotland: The Scottish Labour party who had dominated Scottish voting for generations until a majority government for the Scottish National Party just in 2011 - and that must have been a minor blip, an aberration mustn't it?

A done deal. They could ignore it as an irrelevance while they got on with all that important stuff that goes on in London and the South East and once those nippy Scots had played in the corner for a while it would all be 'Rule Britannia' and 'Land Of Hope and Glory' break out the champers all round and those nasty splittists could be put firmly back in their box again for the foreseeable future.

So it started. There was two years of campaigning ahead before the voting date. That's a long time. Long enough perhaps for voters to weary, become disenchanted. Politics can be heavy stuff and as Johanne Lamont, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and a key figure in the NO campaign said,  'Scots are not genetically programmed to make political decisions'. Yes really. That's what she said - ON CAMERA. Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland and another key figure in the NO campaign, has previously stated in a speech to the Conservative UK conference in 2012, that '9 out of 10 Scots are a burden on the state' It puts into perspective  some of the opinions of the political class and the high regard they have for the electorate they want to represent doesn't it?


It's often said that Westminster has been captured by a professional political class. This Scottish campaign has shown how amateurish these professionals can be, so badly did they misjudge us. Many people seemed keen to reduce yes voters in Scotland to bitter caricatures, motivated by a hatred of the English. A tiny minority of the country is indeed this crude, atavistic, small‑minded and prejudiced. But for the most part, our frustration is not directed at “the English” but at London, which dominates the UK so comprehensively, so complacently and so carelessly.

What started a so unlikely a proposition walked on slowly: talking, explaining, challenging. It was a collaborative coalition of groups across a wide political spectrum who shared many common aspects in wanting a fairer, more equal society and who saw that could not or would not be delivered by a political class who were not invested in change. The largest of these groups and who would become the focus of the anti-independence campaign, was the Scottish National Party which also had a majority in The Scottish Government. Their leader, Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister would become a focal point for interviewing and especially for targeting of attacks against the wider movement. It is far easier to demonise one person than a whole movement, Shamefully he -  oddly more popular in polls than any other UK party leader - would be demonised as a 'dictator' a 'Hitler', a 'Robert Mugabe', a 'charlatan' amongst other things by mainstream politicians and newspapers.



  It was obvious from the start that  Scottish newspapers were against independence. The disparity between positive and negative leaning articles was starkly in favour of The Union. Articles led and closed with pro-union statements leaving the YES campaign as a defensive centre segment Ultimately every Scottish daily newspaper came out against independence but that was obvious long before any statements were issued. The English press remained silent and probably unaware for at least the first year, slowly gaining awareness over the course of the second year of the campaign but also were overwhelmingly pro-union, although a few lone journalistic, usually left-leaning, voices spoke out, seeing something unexpected happening, hearing something worthwhile that could cause potential for a revisioning of wider UK politics. Those who watched, saw a burgeoning political awakening across the breadth of Scots society. People were talking politics - at home, at work, in bars, clubs and in public meetings people came together to discuss the kind of society we are and the kind of society we could be. This spread like wildfire into social media as groups without any representation of their voice in print or broadcast found ways to get their message and views out there. Pro-independence media outlets sprang up in radio and in broadcasting podcasts etc. A few Scottish journalists were avidly for independence and voices like Leslie Riddoch and Derek Bateman began to be heard as they used their professional background to lever points of view out. A left wing movement called 'The Common Weal' became a platform for many other groups. Bloggers too were important and influential. Sites like ' Wings over Scotland', Bella Caledonia' and others grew in popularity. 'Women for Independence' appeared and proved to be a fantastically energised, vocal and thought provoking group of campaigners. While mainstream media stuck firmly to establishment messages and refused wider  access other groups set up 'Newsnetscotland' to try and provide access to opinions opposing establishment viewpoints. A group of more than 3000 business people became 'Business for Scotland' and tried to represent business views other than large conglomerates and to clarify some of the confusing and downright deceitful messages that were being put about. The BBC became the focus of anger by campaigners who felt that the organisation - with some exceptions -had lost its ability to distinguish between what was a Public Service and State Broadcaster.



Southern and world journalists slowly awoke to the massive energy of what was happening up here in Scotland but many English scribblers simply appeared not to grasp the implication or political reality of anything of magnitude happening so far away from Westminster.

Despite the poor starting point the YES campaign had slowly reduced the lead of the 'Better Together' campaign. They had a positive view of a possible future while their opposition focussed almost exclusively on negatives. Many people were uneasy that all three UK parties had banded together despite huge ideological differences and didn't believe this was for anything other than purely self-seeking motives. Many found that constantly being told that they couldn't do something made them feel  even more determined to do just that. Polls narrowed and the gap slowly got closer and closer. The closer they got the more desperate became the negatives, more dire the warnings. Despite this YES still grew in popularity as again and again the establishment, business and media interests were blatantly shown to collude against democracy.

And then. That bloody poll!

One poll showed YES had taken the lead 51% to 49%.

Suddenly - no longer 'an issue just for the Scots people alone'.

'May he sedition crush, and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush
God save the Queen!'

The three UK party leaders absented themselves from Prime Ministers Questions - a key Westminster sitting - to come to Scotland the very next day, a whole train load of MP's a couple of days after that. The 'Better Together campaign was effectively told to step aside, they would take it from here. Speeches were made in safe locations, amply covered by every media medium around. A desperate, pleading, disbelieving tone showed they could not believe it had come to this point where a potential majority of Scots wanted out of the UK. Desperate times require desperate solutions and so the PM went back home and held meetings with business leaders and banks who then obediently trotted to the media and pronounced doom and gloom for all above the Tweed should there be a YES vote. Prices up, pensions already guaranteed suddenly no longer affordable, collapse of the National Health Service, finance industry headquarters leaving en-mass {including one already based in London for more than 30 years!}The oil industry came out against independence {for tax purposes}, An army General was quoted in all mainstream media that voting for independence would 'shame the memory of Scots servicemen who gave their lives for Queen and Country' On and on and on. The Queen stated discretely but tellingly {against protocol} she 'hoped people would think very carefully'. It could almost have been funny - if it hadn't worked. And last gasp a couple of days before the vote a renewed, energised, cast-iron guaranteed promise of ' Even more 'more powers for the Scottish Parliament' {Remember those extra devolution powers originally refused to be on the ballot paper way back at the start of all this?} A vow of 'significantly more powers, almost federalism'  absolutely guaranteed again and again {and again} Every newspaper, every TV station, every radio news bulletin. Faster, better, safer change.......



But what was in the promise? We have never been told precisely – because they didn’t have time to work it out in any detail fast enough to save their skins – and now in the warm afterglow of victory they are jostling to turn it into something to suit their own petty party agendas and particularly to protect themselves from the wrath of English MP's and public opinion, especially as UK elections loom large ahead.

I wanted rid of the British state for this very reason – you simply  can’t trust them. Not ever. We are now their mouse to be toyed with, allowed to escape for a moment, then trapped and reeled in again. What fun.

It was all so depressingly predictable.

It is all so predictably depressing.

But.

Come on Alistair this was supposed to be looking for positives!

The independence movement is still there. It's growing in multiple ways .
SNP membership has trebled since the referendum result.
Scottish Labour look likely to fall apart at the seams and are being predicted to be wiped out at the elections next year.

We have the most politically educated and aware population in the world right now.
We turned out to vote en-masse. 85% of us.
A politically aware and energised electorate who are going to vote?
Now that's any politicians worst nightmare.

Politically energised certainly, but to do what? Win 20 seats in the 650-seat Commons in a few months time? Haud me back. There will be ferocious campaigns to come but the harder we all work the larger will loom the question:



Why didn’t we take all the power when we had the chance and get rid of this bastard chimps’ tea party that is British politics?

This huge YES vote ensures that Scotland will remain central on the UK agenda. I believe the union is on death row and the no vote  has simply earned it a stay of execution.The establishment parties are now in the process of organising their appeal. That has to involve real decentralisation of power and an end to regional inequities. They never wanted this. It was the very last thing they expected to have to offer. They will grudge every inch, every ounce of power given to The Scottish Government with every fibre of their unionist bodies no matter how positive a spin they put on it. Do the political classes have the stomach and the spine for this?

A devo max that gives Scotland the power to raise taxes to pay for welfare programmes, but not reduce them by opting out of Trident and other defence spending, while maintaining the oil flow south of the border, without even an investment or poverty alleviation fund, is a sham, especially as it was denied at the ballot box. It may be perceived as setting up the Scottish parliament to fail, and undermining devolution. That is a huge risk to store up for the future.

However, it's probably the case that anything more than that would be unlikely to be palatable to the major parties or the broader UK electorate. The biggest problem for the Westminster elites now is not just to decide what to do about Scotland but, crucially, how to do it without antagonising English people – who might feel even more that the tail of 10% is now starting to wag the dog of the rest of the UK. The sentiment has come quickly to the front of some politicians arguments. Getting any agreed powers through English dominated Westminster and into law is far from certain



Many (including quite a few in the no camp) became uneasy by the negative, desperate campaign orchestrated from Westminster, and if the yes campaign excited us to the possibilities of people power, the opposition one showed the political classes, their establishment masters and metropolitan groupies in the most cynical, opportunistic light. From the empty, manipulative celebrity "love-bombing" to the crass threats and smears issued by the press, around half of Scotland might now justifiably feel classified as the "enemy within", that stock designation for all those who resist the dictates of the elites' centralised power.

The YES movement hit such heights because the UK state is widely seen here as failed; elitist, antiquated, hierarchical, centralist, discriminatory, out of touch and acting against the people. This referendum has done nothing to diminish that impression. Against this shabbiness the Scots struck a blow for democracy, with an unprecedented 97% voter registration for an election the establishment had wearily declared nobody wanted. It turns out that it was the only one people wanted. Whether this Scottish assertiveness kick-starts an unlikely UK-wide reform, or, through the ballot box at general elections, we decide to go the whole hog of our own accord; the old imperialist-based union is bust.

Us Scots, so often a regarded as a thrawn** tribe with their best years behind them, have shown the western world that the corporate-led, neo-liberal model for the development of this planet, through G7 'sphere of influence' states on bloated military budgets, has a limited appeal.



Any politician or party who disregards the 45 per cent {and rising} or tries to manoeuvre it into a flimsy deal will truly create huge political waves in Scotland. There is a passion that could easily organise into civil disobedience if its aspiration is flouted through hasty promises being recanted or redacted at leisure. 

I hope it doesn't come to that. That would be a shameful end to the wonderful democratic process that put Scotland on the world's lips and in their minds.

In 1707 English gold sweetened the deal when offered to those privileged few aristocrats who had the power of the vote on a Union. It carried the day. Robert Burns wrote,

" We are bought and sold for English Gold,
   Such a parcel of rogues in a nation."

With this promise we were bribed to stay in The Union. Ironically, shamefully, since they merely 'vowed' us more control of our own taxes and own resources, they bribed us with our own gold.

Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP and Scotland's First Minister resigned, stating "We lost the referendum vote but Scotland can still carry the political initiative. For me as leader my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

It's time to wipe our eyes, get back on our feet and start again.

** To 'greet' - lowland Scots 'to cry'
** 'Thrawn' - stubborn




Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/ He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven



Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

WB Yeats
Photo of The Cathar Memorial, Minerve, by Alistair

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/A Parcel o' Rogues




A lament for the loss of independence in 1707 due to the power, influence and financial weight of England. It seems tho' much changes, much abides across the centuries. Now it's time to wipe our eyes, lift our heads and start again

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O would, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Robert Burns
Photo of Linlithgow Palace by Alistair.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why I will vote Yes with a passion





 This is in part effectively a response to a newspaper article by an English journalist based in London called 'Why I'd Vote NO With A Passion'. You can read it here.

I would rather be a good neighbour, reaching out a hand in friendship as an equal to a true friend than a surly lodger who feels ignored, neglected and constrained, forced to conform to the choices of a rapacious and absent aristocratic landlord.

I am fervently for inclusion, multiculturalism and multi-nationalism but our political system increasingly denies and demeans the reality of those things. Lip service to these values, to social justice, economic equality and to a progressive, inclusive society isn't enough. It's not good enough for me and it's not good enough for those generations to come. You deny my culture and nationality when you deny me the political, social and economic means to express it and to fulfil the dreams it carries. Now you make a minor gesture of more power but retain control and in a conceited lack of understanding expect me to conform to your limited concept of who I am and be grateful, docile and amenable while I do so. How dare you equate my nationalism with the extremes of the 20th century. You shame yourself in promulgating such absolute deceit.




You acknowledge we're different but don't understand why. That's why you cannot grasp why we recoil from a political system insistent on treating us like a fiefdom. If you lived here, far from London-centric economics,  with its political establishment and inherently superior 'Westminster village' mentality you might feel different too. Few journalists or politicians really understand what this feels like. Those who do speak out find a London dominated media and political system that struggles to hear anything not spoken in a London accent or in big business interest. We feel demeaned and sneered at for being welfare junkies, benefit dependants who spend more - £1200 more per person per annum - on our public services than the UK average while you are ignorant of the reason for this in delivering even limited services across Scotland's scattered communities.

Because of this we are 'taking more than our fair share' and face increasing demands that spend is cut to the UK average. You do not recognise that we pay heavily for this, contributing £1700 per person per annum more in tax than you do and therefore it is we who subsidise you.. Perhaps the more affluent South should contribute the same amount as we do to our union in this unequal society instead. While thousands live in poverty and depend on food banks, in our grotesquely unequal society our taxes  - that should be working for us - subsidise highland estates to encourage the worlds rich to come and shoot birds and maintain their workers on poverty pay. 60% of all private land in Scotland is owned by less than 1000 landowners. Our millionaire Prime Minister likes to come and shoot things on his mother-in-laws 90,000 acres of the island of Jura.

 Meanwhile you, the decision making political class - actually 'elite' is truly the right description -cannot represent an electorate you don't hear or understand as you tread the path of self perpetuation and blatant self interest. Only now, faced with a threat and reality brought on by complacency, conceit and neglect do you actually begin to do what you should be doing every day.  But you're not working your socks off for anything else other than the status quo.  You professional politicians, too often the privileged and privately educated sons of inherited wealth, display a staggering belief in your entitlement to dictate our lives, set us in thrall to the power, influence and demands of global corporations and show a complete disconnect from the reality of everyday life of the vast majority. You make promises and arguments couched in deliberately complex, convoluted language so they can be denied, qualified, redacted and reduced when convenient or challenged. No matter how we vote we are outnumbered ten to one in this fair land and our voices are heard only in a rare chime with English partners. You treat our demands for financial and social independence like the petulant whine of a misguided adolescent, reject and deny legitimate claims with impunity and threaten to withhold our pocket money while you already prescribe how much of our own money we get and what it can be spent on




 You are still that same establishment who, when oil was found in the 1970s,  buried a report for ministers by the senior civil servant Gavin McCrone that predicted an independent Scotland would be richer than Switzerland because you were afraid that an informed, burgeoning Scottish nationalism would split the union and result in a wealthy independent neighbour. You just couldn't have that could you? That was kept secret for 30 years and allowed you to needlessly squander £300 billion in oil revenues without setting up an oil fund to benefit UK society. There are only two oil producing countries that have never set up an oil fund. The other one is Iran. How's that for a comforting comparison?

Scotland is the only country to have produced oil and got poorer. The UK has nothing to show for it and you have the audacity to tell us we couldn't possibly do a better job on our own.. Now we're told the oil will soon be gone and estimates of  remaining value are vastly exaggerated. Our economy will collapse our pensioners will starve. Exactly the same fear mongering you worked to prevent the establishment of limited devolution in 1979. Shame on you for trying that again. Shame on us if we believe you have only our best interests at heart when billions of pounds of investment are being poured into existing oil fields and new ones are about to be opened up.

Now we have the bribe of more powers but, even this last minute offer of as yet undecided amounts of limited power reluctantly given - once it's been diluted, nipped and tucked by Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in the comfortable afterglow of a 'NO' vote - will be ripped to shreds to get it through a parliament stuffed with English MP's. It won't be fit for purpose for real change and the wish to be responsible for ourselves. It is beyond meaningless and beyond too late. You smile and tell us to be reasonable, you need us, we're better together, you care, ask us to think about our shared history, our heritage. You cajole us and tell us we're too small, too weak, too poor and too dependent on you to go it alone. You threaten us, scaremonger the elderly about our pensions, our economy, our health service and encourage your friends in big business to roll up and tell us in droves they will leave, will hike prices, reduce jobs, cancel investments, that oil and gas will run out. You say the world is safer if we are strong together while you park your nukes next to our largest city.

You don't deserve us any more.

Devolution has made significant positive changes, for example the emphasis on early years provision, early intervention and prevention which the Scottish Government has driven and invested in, the protection of free higher education, free personal care for the elderly and free prescription medicines for all. These all have the potential to make major differences to many lives, immediately and into the future but only barely scratch the surface of our hopes and ambitions. These are the things I value. With limited devolution whoever ultimately holds the purse strings wields the highest power. When it comes to making decisions that affect Scotland, that control should be by the people of Scotland. I believe independence, with complete control over our budget –  both income and expenditure, how we raise it and how we spend it – is the only way we will ever be sure that our priorities are our focus for
action.



This is about a positive vote for our future and is not about voting for any particular political party – that comes later. None of us will get everything we want – but we will certainly be better able to influence a positive future, relevant to Scotland’s specific aspirations and priorities when we decide what we can do rather than being told what we can’t.

In an independent Scotland we can together identify the fundamental principles that will address what we care about and believe in - our aspirations for our country. I believe the way to assure a positive future for Scotland is to be a country that values, nurtures and protects all of its people and its future generations, something they have a right to expect from us. I am not naïve enough to think it will all be plain sailing but how we resolve difficulties will be our decision and for me that is important enough to live with the challenges along the way. We can take a few years of hardship to have control of our destiny. I doubt we will have the kind of hardship you describe though.

There will be no borders, no lack of regard or respect for shared history and heritage from this side at least. But it will be as equals. I believe you will always find Scotland to be your firmest friend and staunchest ally. I will always have friends and relatives living in England. It will never be a foreign country to me. Part of me will always be British but win or lose this referendum I will never choose to be governed from outside my country.

That is why I will vote YES with a passion on Thursday.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

It's Not About The Money, Money, Money.




My name is Alistair Robertson. I am a Scot, born and raised in a small and poor working class community in the coal fields of South-West Scotland. I am not academic or intellectual but that's not important. I am a Scot and today my homeland is on the threshold of one of the most critical points in out history for generations.  A decision must be made on if Scotland should become independent and break a 300 year old political union with the United Kingdom or should we stay. This decision will be taken on 18th September, just a few short days away. Not one of us has a crystal ball. None of us can accurately forecast the future regardless of whether that's as an independent country or continuing as part of the UK. I am a nationalist. I am not anti-English. I am not nationalist the way that determined a National Socialist Germany seventy or eighty years ago and nor am I nationalist in the way that would determine a member of the British National Party today My political leaning is to the left. I'm a nationalist but would not define that by race or ethnicity. I am nationalist because I believe in our right to self determination and in our ability to take responsibility for our own future and that that future should be significantly different to the society we live in today where the poorest in society are shouldering an unfair and unequal burden by being subject to increased taxes and reduced welfare while being stigmatised as workshy or benefit dependent while the gap between poor and wealthy grows at an ever increasing rate.

At  the moment Scotland has a devolved parliament within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with fiscal responsibility for about 7% of our national expenditure and restricted responsibility and policy freedom in areas of taxation, welfare, monetary policy and a raft of other areas affecting the kind of society we are.  Politically speaking, Scots have voted for parliamentary representation that, due to the country's size, has been unable to credibly influence the direction taken by a Westminster based UK Government elected by significantly different political agendas to our own for more than 40 years. With Scotland having only 8.4% of the UK population and MP numbers to match, that is a situation that is unlikely to change without radical action.

We are a nation rich in natural resources, with a diverse economy and the kind of potential in renewable energy that puts us near the top of future green energy producers per capita in the Western world. We will most likely be able to export green energy within a generation. We have abundant - but finite - hydrocarbon reserves of oil and gas that will last conservatively, at current production levels, for thirty plus years, even without further discoveries {which may be considerable} - easily long enough to bring on-stream technologically advanced streams of green energy. The Scottish economy currently produces more Gross Domestic Product {GDP} per head than the rest of the UK which means we pay into UK finances more than we get back. Even without oil revenues Scotland is acknowledged to be comfortably placed within a table of the world's wealthiest nations. {and many of the top ten wealthiest are small countries of about Scotland's population} Despite that we are part of one of the world's most unequal societies; a situation that has consistently worsened since the world economic recession of 2008. The Conservative Government, in coalition with Liberal Democrat MP's has led an austerity driven agenda which many feel has stigmatised the unemployed as workshy, penalised the disabled and most vulnerable with benefit cuts while the richest have thrived with tax breaks and a protective attitude displayed towards them as 'wealth creators'. This is a system in which all major UK political parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoliberal economics over all other aspirations. It treats the natural world, civic life, equality, public health and effective public services as dispensable luxuries,treats workers as no more than commodities and supports the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor as non-negotiable.



The Scottish Government is led by the historically right leaning Scottish National Party {SNP,} who have always aimed for an independent Scotland, but the current independence movement is a much wider grass-roots movement which spans the gamut of political parties to a greater or lesser degree and is also densely populated with individuals of no party affiliation whatsoever. This movement believes Scotland can only be the kind of society it desires by gaining full control of income and spending, making different choices on welfare, taxation and economic investment and development. Most tellingly of all perhaps, it believes that a smaller unit will be able to hold its politicians to account and make them more responsive to the electorate in comparison to the current situation.

Some of you reading that will no doubt be screaming " So what are you waiting for?"

But.

Things are not so simple as the information above would indicate.

Scotland has been in a political and economic union with the rest of the UK since 1707.  There have been many generations who have lived under the union. Scotland -  often by political design but also by circumstance - has a huge history of delivering its manpower into military and administrative service of Britain's empire. We have shed blood and given our creativity to build an industrial, economic and social entity that has worked for most of those generations. The ties are long and they are strong for many people. While older generations may wait in hope for the Labour Party to rediscover its working class mojo, others are fine with the status quo or scared of the scale of the change - and challenge - we may inflict upon ourselves. Many others, I included, feel there is only one choice. The opinion polls are showing a 50-50 split at the weekend.

As far as the future of the country is concerned it is all still to play for.





Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2013/ Oppression



Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.

In some lands
Dark night
And cold steel
Prevail
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Break
Its jail.      

Langston Hughes.
Photo by Alistair.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/Warning



When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.       

Jenny Joseph.
Photo By Alistair.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Sunday Posts2014/ Aye. Believe

Vote Yes


Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it.

Poem: Edgar A Guest

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2013/ Peace


1914-1918



We passed their graves:
The dead men there,
Winners or losers,
Did not care.
In the dark
They could not see
Who had gained
The victory.

Langston Hughes.
Photo by Alistair.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Not Bad Just Unfortunate.





In my dream I take a deep breath and the long-forgotten smell of the wooden floor and stairs in the hall of my grandmother's house fills my nose. Standing in front of the slightly open door to the lounge I tidy my hair, sort my jumper into a child's semblance of tidiness then pull my socks up from around my ankles and clean my shoes by rubbing my right shoe on the back of my left sock and my left shoe on the right before doing a final check of my pockets/hands/mouth for any incriminating evidence. I knock, as bravely or happily as circumstances or guilt allow and enter, trying not to seem out of breath. 

"Hello Gran, were you looking for me?" 

Don't get the wrong impression. I wasn't a bad kid. Just unfortunate - I usually got caught.
 

I’ve never been a good liar. Even 50 years later, as an adult with a lifetimes experience I choose honesty. Not that honesty is simply the right or adult thing to do, always the best policy or even my preferred option but my blush response is too well-developed and independently minded for me to get away with any hint of being economical with the truth. So, honesty is the best policy or normally anyway. I can do fibs - those little lies that people normally describe as "white", even when they’re not strictly speaking in the other person's best interest. Yes I can do fibs - most of the time. 

Back then my tactic was to try and look cool, calm and collected, as innocent as a new born babe and to say as little as possible in an attempt not to incriminate myself with any old story, excuse, explanation lie. The trick was keep schtuum for as long as possible to try and calm your mind and get the story straight in your head before the grilling began. 

Granny Robertson undoubtedly had one of the most penetrating glares I have ever come across – then or since. Her eyebrows would twitch together and her nose would wrinkle in disdain as if dishonesty was a bad smell she could detect at a thousand paces. Her head would slowly lower until she looked at you over the top of her glasses. That look could find darkness in the soul of an angel, or would have persuaded said angel to confess there was darkness in there. What chance did a mere boy have, especially when that look was accompanied by a voice that prompted truthfulness as the only option for she already knew your innermost secrets. Granny Robertson could have outdone every interrogator from the Spanish Inquisition to the Secret Service. She’d probably taught Obi-Wan Kenobi that old "these are not the droids you're looking for" Jedi mind trick. What chance did a mere boy have, especially if he was guilty?  

Not bad you understand.  

Just "unfortunate". 

But she was more than some extraordinary witch finder general. She was the glue that held my childhood together; she was babysitter, nurse, refuge, teacher, historian, storyteller, fount of all knowledge, maker of sense for all things perplexing, confidante, diffuser of worries and prodigious knitter of multitudes of embarrassing jumpers socks and other oddities. There was no situation that could not be made better by a visit to and a cup of tea with Granny Robertson. Even those – ahem -‘relatively’ rare situations where a young miscreant had to stand and confess his guilt to some nefarious deed or other was cathartic, no matter how uncomfortable reaching that confession had been or the consequences would be after. But a summons to ‘tea’ on your own with granny was a welcome occasion, except of course when something would best be kept hidden to avoid repercussions. It was her way of checking everything was okay and giving you the chance to talk of any worries that may be troubling you. She had, it seemed to a small boy, a bewilderingly innate sense of timing. 

In my dream I take a deep breath and the long-forgotten smell of the wooden floor and stairs in the hall of my grandmother's house fills my nose. I smile at the overwhelming familiarity and comfort it brings after all these years. , I know my clothes are tidy but still  raise my hands and run careful fingers through my hair. I look down at my shoes and even though they are clean I lift my right foot and rub it on my left calf and the left shoe on my right. My hands automatically move for my pockets but I stop them before they reach. I look down at my hands and find I am trembling and yet smiling. I knock gently on the slightly open door and step through.

“Hello Gran, I’ve been looking for you…..”
 

Listening to
 

















Saturday, 19 July 2014

A man Of Independent Mind.




In just under two months the people of Scotland will vote Yes or No in a referendum asking if they want independence from the UK . As you would expect, it's dominating the political agenda here. Britain's three main political parties; Labour, Conservative and Lib – Dem  have united in an uneasy alliance for this one issue to campaign against separation despite vastly different  political positions.  The campaign to vote Yes  is led by the SNP,  the Scottish National Party, who control the devolved government in Scotland but it also includes voices from other political parties, including increasing numbers of renegades from the Scottish Labour Party acting with their conscience against the wish of their Westminster masters. 

The two different camps have vastly different ideas about what an independent Scotland would look like. In the No campaign’s independent Scotland nothing will work: we can’t use the pound, afford pensions, a welfare system or health service, we will lose investment and businesses will leave, there will be border controls and passport checks between Scotland and the South, we will be outside the EU and it will be difficult and expensive to rejoin, taxes will be higher and food more expensive. Every man and child will be £1400 a year worse off. In short everything will be worse. They've done everything but claim the oxygen will leave.

On the other hand, the Yes campaign takes a different view where we have plenty of money and resources to afford spending on pensions and health, on justice and welfare. We will have an oil fund to provide for a safer future, we will be rid of nuclear weapons, use the pound and be welcomed into the EU with open arms, we will have a wealthy, socially just society where there is equality, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit by the bucket load and we live in social, cultural and economic partnership with the rest of Britain.. Our national football team will win the World Cup. (Okay – that one’s just me)

 But these are pictures painted by politicians and you'd be a fool if you believed them completely.

The response by the media has been interesting. One Scottish broadsheet newspaper has come out wholly in favour of the yes campaign while the majority of the others espouse neutrality yet publish more stories supporting no than yes. The BBC in Scotland struggles to resist the establishment’s endorsement of the status quo and maintain objectivity while in the South the issue is largely ignored and underreported. Populist newspapers often see the referendum in bemused stereotyped terms of "Why do they hated us so much" or "those bloody jocks are it again", as if we all have on kilts and have freshly painted our faces with woad and are ready to charge southward waving our claymores as we scream "FREEDOM!"

In two months time I will vote yes to independence and to separate from the United Kingdom. To be more accurate perhaps, I will vote to separate from political union with the United Kingdom. I don't hate the English. I don't hate England, Wales or Northern Ireland. I am and always will be proud to be both Scottish and British but we are different. I am increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy with the direction in which our society is going led by Westminster. This direction doesn't represent the wish of the Scottish people and hasn't done for generations. The Scottish electorate has traditionally voted centre left politically while England, particularly the South of England has voted centre-right. In all of my adult life Scotland has never had the government it voted for. We’ve never determined our own future or the kind of society we can be.

 I want that. Pretty damned badly.

But I'm just one person and no matter what my point of view is or how strong my belief in our potential and our abilities, I live in a democracy and there are other options possible. No matter how we vote in two months time I hope that the debate we are having now helps bring us all to better understand our differences, our strengths and weaknesses and above all the opportunity and choices we have to make this country a better place to live for everybody in it.

If we have nothing more, surely we deserve nothing less

 

The Sunday Posts 2017/ Hush Hush

Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'. Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'; Dreams of peace and of freedom, So smile in your sleep,...