Alasdair Codona and Scottish homelessness

Feasgar math h-uile duine – that’s the Gaelic for “good evening everyone”. The first Gaelic speaker I ever met was a music student at Aberdeen called Alasdair Codona. A warm and engaging individual, I shared a flat with Alasdair for a while, before moving closer to the university. We saw each other regularly as we were both involved in the Student Christian Movement, but after I graduated, I lost touch with him. Perhaps, subconsciously, my efforts to try and learn Gaelic now have their origins in my encounter with Alasdair.

A few years ago, however, I saw him completely by chance late one night on BBC Alba, as I was channel-hopping. I don’t now remember what he was singing, but there are some clips available online, for example:

and this one with Jenna Cumming:

and another song with her:

Here he is singing one of his own compositions about Calum Cille (Saint Columba of Iona):

Do take a few minutes to listen to these if you don’t know Alasdair’s music already. Also, if you’ve ever sung ‘Forgiveness is your gift’ in church (no. 361 in the Church Hymnary, 4th Edition, 2005), you’ll see it’s a Skye folk melody arranged by Alasdair.

I wrote to BBC Alba after seeing him on TV, seeking to get in touch with Alasdair, but he never heard from them. And then two evenings ago a friend, Déirdre Ní Mhathúna, not realising that I knew Alasdair, contacted me on Facebook with her page about him: he is on hunger strike, protesting homelessness legislation. The Daily Record newspaper has already run stories about him, but I had missed these: 23.12. and 24.12.

I went to Edinburgh today to meet him, and spent two hours sitting outside the Parliament chatting – we reconnected immediately, and spent some time reminiscing about Aberdeen days, and he then described some of what he has been trying to do. Having experienced homelessness, he has tried to lobby Members of the Scottish Parliament and councillors to change key parts of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, which define who is homeless and give enormous leeway to officials to block people from accessing services to which they would otherwise be entitled. In particular, not having a fixed address of course hinders all kinds of access to services, even to basic ones such as the Post Office Card Account (ironically, run by JP Morgan!). Alasdair feels that he now has no choice but to seek to pressure the Scottish Government to address these issues through his own body, hence the hunger strike, now into the third week.

How you can help

If you live in Scotland, do contact one of your MSPs, especially if you have a connection to one of them or you see that they are on e.g. the Local Government and Communities Committee, or the Social Security Committee. You might ask if they will meet with Alasdair – he is quite literally on their doorstep! – and address the concerns he has. Given the nature of his action, this is obviously urgent. It appears parliament is only in session again from 10.1. – but some MSPs may well be around the Parliament before then.

Wherever you live, a suggestion is emerging about setting up a Scottish Parliamentary petition and anyone can sign such petitions, whether they live in Scotland or not. Do join Déirdre’s Facebook page and follow the updates there for news and possible actions that might be taken.

Finally, if you are in Edinburgh, maybe go and visit Alasdair and offer your encouragement and support – though be aware he is weakening all the time, and you may not be able to stay for long.


On the politics of learning Gaelic

Madainn mhath!  Good morning!

I’ve been learning Gaelic for the last year, and whilst droch-oileanach Gàidhlig (bad Gaelic student) perhaps best describes my efforts, I love it.  Of course, learning any language is a political statement too, and that is very apparent in relation to Gaelic in Scotland: for many reasons, Scots have often scorned Gaelic-speakers, failing to recognise Gaelic’s deep connection to Scottish history and contemporary (self-)understanding, as even this little article in today’s Herald showed.

Earlier this week, The National published an article by Vonny Moyes on Gaelic.  I like Moyes’ commentary and journalistic engagement (and follow her in a list on Twitter), but I thought this was a rather strange article: she was defending and arguing for its preservation, but seemed to do so in a rather obscurantist way, as if resigned to its inevitable decline.  The following day, The National published my letter in response, which you can read here, along with a letter from Aonghas Mac Leòid.

It turns out Moyes is a Gaelic learner too, though I would not have guessed that from the article (and presumably The National’s editor didn’t think that either, or he wouldn’t have published my letter encouraging her to learn it!):

In any case, I really like the fact that an awareness of the place of Gaelic in Scottish life is growing.  This is thanks to the hard work of many people over many years, and it continues today.  If you’re interested in learning Gaelic too, there are lots of opportunities to do so, and the Learn Gaelic website offers details.  I’m doing the Ulpan course at Glasgow University, but there are many other opportunities to learn the language.

And apart from being a political statement, it is also very enjoyable!

Here are (mobile telephone) photos of Moyes’ original article and the letters page.