Brexit: a depressing day

Today is a depressing day for those of us who believe in European integration.

In marking the day, I posted six photos on Instagram from a visit last week to the northern European city of Schwerin, where trade, religion and art from all across northern Europe has characterised the city and the people. All six are reposted below.

The Westminster government is putting all such connections for the UK at risk, and whilst parliaments/assemblies in Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff may yet help their people retain those connections, in England, there are few such prospects, it seems to me.

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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.

Judy Murray and her tennis proposal at Park of Keir

Judy Murray has helped her sons to become world stars in tennis, and is keen to support others who might want to play too. This is very understandable.

She wants to push through a proposal to create a tennis centre at Park of Keir near Dunblane. Unfortunately for her, locals are strongly opposed to the proposal, as the BBC reported: “There were more than 1,000 objections to the scheme and only 45 in support.” Stirling Council refused planning permission for her scheme.

She and her financial backers decided to ignore the views of local people and the Council’s planning committee, and have taken their case to the Scottish government.

If this is beginning to sound familiar, that’s because you may be thinking: “didn’t Donald Trump do the same thing at Menie in Aberdeenshire?” – and, of course, the answer is that yes, he did.

Ms Murray does not like this comparison, as a Twitter exchange with her today shows. It began when I added a comment to a tweet from Andy Wightman MSP (click the images to see the original tweets):

Andy Wightman tweets about Judy Murray

Andy Wightman tweets about Judy Murray

My tweet, with Judy Murray’s reply:

My tweet, with Judy Murray's reply

I did, of course, respond, with the BBC link above:

My reply to Judy Murray

My reply to Judy Murray

I have had no reply. I understand that she might not like being compared to Donald Trump, but as Andy Wightman notes, she really is pursuing similar tactics.For more information from the local campaign group opposing her plans, see Protect Park of Keir, who say:

What this decision is definitely not about is whether Scotland would benefit from a new tennis centre. Of course the country would benefit from this. But to sacrifice Park of Keir for this purpose is to suggest it is the only place available. Of course it isn’t. There are countless brown field sites that could be used. But there is only one Park of Keir. It has stood here undeveloped since the last ice age. Once it has gone it will be gone forever.

Walter Roberts and 100 years of British militarism

Today is the anniversary of Walter Roberts’ death: 1895-1916.

Roberts studied architecture and was a Christian pacifist and socialist; his brother Alfred was also a conscientious objector. He refused to fight in World War One, but was not granted conscientious objector status by the British state. He was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs before being sent to a labour camp in Aberdeenshire where he was forced to work in a quarry in Dyce, breaking rocks for 10 hours a day. Camp conditions were terrible and inmates were not looked after properly: exposure to incessant rain in inadequate clothing and living under leaky canvas (probably left over from the South African War of 1899-1902) meant a cold rapidly developed into pneumonia and Roberts died within five days of arrival. The Dyce camp was closed as a result of his death; it is now a car park for Aberdeen airport.

Walter Roberts (photo via Peace Pledge Union, from the article in the Manchester Evening News - click image to read it)

Walter Roberts (photo via Peace Pledge Union, from the article in the Manchester Evening News – click image to read it)

Many courageous men and women resisted the drive to war alongside Roberts: another notable campaigner was Catherine Marshall, who developed her campaigning skills in the suffragette movement. In World War One she became the Honorary Secretary for the No-Conscription Fellowship as a result of her campaigning talents (though we might reasonably assume that she was in part also appointed to this role because the male leaders of the NCF were constantly being imprisoned by the British state). Amongst other things, Marshall successfully campaigned to save the lives of numerous conscientious objectors in France that the British state had intended to execute. She argued: ‘… all the horrors of war … do violence to the whole spirit of civilisation, the whole teaching of Christianity…’ (PPU, p4).

These conscientious objectors were tremendously courageous individuals – opposing the public mood of the time, which was overwhelmingly pro-war, would have been very difficult. The public mood in Britain has long continued to be broadly pro-war, no doubt arising from continual military engagement overseas for over 100 years. No other country in recent times has been at war for this long, and it is only possible because the public mood allows politicians to get away with pursuing continual war. In other words, the public needs to be either ignorant of what is being done in their name, or seduced into accepting militarism as a viable tool of international diplomacy (which recent British governments have all clearly believed to be the case). I was reminded of this by an article published today by Ian Cobain entitled Britain’s Secret Wars. He begins with an account of British soldiers fighting in Vietnam immediately after World War Two (26,000 men with 2,500 vehicles and air support committing horrific acts of brutality – but hardly discussed in public):

Back in the UK, parliament and the public knew next to nothing about this war, the manner in which it was being waged, or Britain’s role in it. And it appears that the cabinet and the War Office wished their state of ignorance be preserved.

Regarding Britain’s long-standing military engagement, Cobain goes on to say (my emphasis):

For more than a hundred years, not a single year has passed when Britain’s armed forces have not been engaged in military operations somewhere in the world. The British are unique in this respect: the same could not be said of the Americans, the Russians, the French or any other nation.

Only the British are perpetually at war.

It is hardly a surprise that much of Britain is completely desensitised to the militarism that the state propagates (nor is it a surprise many people argued the British state’s militarism was a key motivation in seeking Scottish independence in 2014). Britain is one of the world’s most militarily aggressive states – a rogue state, by many definitions.

We do well, therefore, to recall with gratitude the courage and commitment of those who resist this militarism, whether this be people in the past such as Walter Roberts and Catherine Marshall, or those today who resist the relentless drive to war and the state’s dedication to illegal weapons of mass destruction, such as:

The most appropriate way to honour Roberts, Marshall, and all who suffered as a result of their pacifist convictions is undoubtedly to support those opposing war today.


Postscript: a few hours after posting this blog, I read an excellent piece by Louis Allday in the Monthly Review: The Imperial War Museum in London: A Lesson in British state propaganda. I would have included this in the main text had I read it sooner. If you want to better understand how the British state encourages its militarism, this is a good place to start.

Brexit – what next? Thinking about the outcome.

I regard the referendum outcome to leave the EU as a disaster for many reasons, as will be clear from my last blog posting, written shortly before the vote. I’ll maybe write something short about my reaction to the outcome in the coming days.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

In the meantime, the report from the House of Commons Library makes for fascinating reading (tweeted in the early hours of 25.6.16).

There are countless useful resources here, such as this note (p12) about devolution and how this situation may affect Scotland, citing Sionaidh Douglas-Scott:

It would still be necessary to amend the relevant parts of devolution legislation. But this would be no simple matter and could lead to a constitutional crisis. Although the UK Parliament may amend the devolution Acts, the UK government has stated that it will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the devolved legislature. This requires a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention. However, the devolved legislatures might be reluctant to grant assent, especially as one feature of the ‘Vow’ made to the Scottish electorate was a commitment to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers, thus giving legal force to the Sewel Convention. So the need to amend devolution legislation renders a UK EU exit constitutionally highly problematic.

Section 7 on the future options for Scotland are also very interesting for me (pp17-19), given that England (and to some extent Wales) voted to leave, but Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. It will be for Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon’s government to chart a course through this situation; I am confident that she and her allies in Holyrood will do this well. Her speech after the referendum indicates as much:

I think it is safe to say that independence for Scotland looks much more likely in the meantime.

Manifestos and Mandates

Andy Wightman (Scottish Green Party candidate) tweeted last night:

Even if your manifesto is a joke, as UKIP’s clearly is (this interview with STV’s Bernard Ponsonby is a must), at least it’s possible to decide that for yourself if you have a manifesto you can read.

I read somewhere recently that Labour are only releasing a manifesto eight days before the election – I find this utterly incredible, given that we can use postal votes and therefore some people will decide their vote long before that. This morning, their manifesto page shows ‘A note from Jim Murphy’ on it! This is obviously from the 2015 Westminster election:

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

The SNP website doesn’t yet appear to include any mention of a full manifesto at all, as far as I can see (I can’t be bothered looking up the LibDems, but I’ll take Andy Wightman’s word for it).

Such lack of respect to the voters should be impermissible. Even a shambolic semi-democratic system like ours should be able to require parties to release a manifesto a set time before postal ballots are sent out – even if it was just a week or 10 days, that would probably be sufficient.

Expecting voters to place blind faith in a party that isn’t prepared to outline it’s proposed programme in some detail is a singular failure in the democratic process.

——

I’m delighted that my party, the Scottish Greens, launched our manifesto before the postal ballot began.  You can read all about it on our website:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

You can also download our full manifesto as a PDF in two different formats:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

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.