Thursday, 2 July 2015

Through the Wardrobe

Call me naive but I didn't think it would play out quite so baldly. And so quickly! But Scotland just got completely and comprehensively banjaxed this week.

It may have escaped most most Scots' attention that we've just been pushed into a wardrobe and someone's locked the door for the next five years. Every amendment our Scottish MPs (excepting the Fun Boy Three) put forward for more powers to be devolved to the Scottish government has been voted down in the House of Commons in the last couple of weeks. Overwhelmingly.

I'm running with the admittedly mawkish wardrobe theme. At the moment we're in amongst the fur coats wondering what the musty smell is and jimmying the lock to see if we can get back out, but the wardrobe we've been pushed into has a back door, not of our own making but inadvertently given to us. It's the way out. I'm ending the wardrobe metaphor at this point because there is no Narnia am I'm not touching the queen thing with a bargepole.

That way out is Scotland going it alone. Note, the back door we've found isn't of our own making but it belongs to the wardrobe we've been shoved into. Yes, the metaphor is back. Seems I'm not finished with it after all. Back then, you know in the mists of time of September last year, we were promised the earth. The near-federalism -as-you-can-get line. The Home-Rule-if-my-name-isn't-Gordon-Brown-The-Artist-Formerly-Known-as-an-MP-of-the-Kingdom-of-Fife line. The we-love-you, we'll give-you-what-you-want-what-you-really-really-want line from Tory Spice. The How-Now-Brown-Vow.  Many folk took these promises at their word, having kind of wanted more powers in the first place but a wee bit skittish at independence, which I can genuinely understand if not actually subscribe to, ken.

Like many campaigners I flung myself into writing more words than my university dissertation to Lord Smith when he asked for public submissions. Many of my fellow campaigners shook their heads wearily and politely but clearly were dismissive of the effort. It won't make any difference, they'll do what they want. I carried on anyway with a kind of ye've got to be innit to winnit attitude. I thought we'd get some of what we asked for. I actually thought we'd get most of it. How stupid do I feel? I should have just caught up with all the Coronation Street I recorded but didn't have time to watch throughout indyref instead for all the good it did. Still at least I now know more about the Crown Estates should it ever come up in a pub quiz.

And if I feel like a chump, imagine how the thousands of folk who quietly were disappointed not to have devomax as the third option on the ballot and then were relieved and possibly even delighted  when it got offered last minute felt and voted no to get those "best of both worlds"? They must be really upset.

Upset enough to unlock the back door of the wardrobe? (Still not finished with's working for me.)

We'll see. 

How long do YOU give it til you hear the hinges creak open?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Let's Tell Folk Our Secrets

Not a still from a film: 
our back yard (Newburgh)

I've lived most of my life in Aberdeenshire with the exception of a few  years at university and gadding about teaching in Europe. Every time  I left, I came back. I grew up in Newburgh, went to school in Ellon, and now I'm bringing up my own family in Newmachar. This is not an accident, this is a choice. When I leave I think it's the landscape I miss the most, and it's not just a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. I really do appreciate it when I'm here too. This morning I headed to Newburgh Beach with the dogs, as I very often do. The coast is where I go when I need a think. If you added up the amount of time I spend on Balmedie beach, Newburgh beach, Collieston, Cruden Bay and Forvie Sands we'd be looking at weeks, possibly months of my life. Those places our best kept secret. There are other, really secret ones beyond Collieston heading up to Peterhead that  you can only reach if you have a 4x4 or a car you don't care about too much.  You look around and the views are the stuff of tourist adverts, yet they appear in none.

My husband's family and many of our friends live in the Central Belt. When we take them to these places they are open mouthed. They see them through the eyes of people who do not have access to coastal wilderness on their doorstep. They cannot believe, for example that on Forvie Sands they are standing ten feet from a massive colony of seals and their pups. They stand at the edge of the wee harbour in Collieston and it's the first time they've seen a dolphin outside of an aquarium or Florida theme park. I tell them there have been Orcas seen there too, in fact there was one just outside Peterhead Harbour the other week and they need Youtube proof before they believe me. (Go here if you still don't believe me! 1 minute in for the action

 Not a screenshot from an Attenborough documentary:
 a photo I took on Forvie Sands!

That ruin you can just see on the outskirts of Cruden Bay? Glows kind of red when the sun is going down? Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula used to hang out there. Yes, yer actual "Dracula". They say that the house was an inspiration for the castle in the book. Yet it's Whitby that makes a big deal of the Dracula connection.

                                                  Slains Castle, Cruden Bay:
                                           look closely you might see a bat!

Along the Ythan River as you go towards Fyvie from Ellon there's another ruin. This one belonged to an even bigger literary giant. It's the ancestral home of Lord Byron. Yes, THE Lord Byron. He was an Aiberdeenshire loon, don't you know, as well as being one of the greatest poets in the English language. He's an ancestor of the Gordons.

                                              Lord Byron: Titan of literature 
                                                   (and a loon fae Gight!)

And there's pracitcally nobody at these places, except a few dog walkers. These links to titans of literary history aren't tenous ones, yet we make no fuss about them. In the same way we make no fuss about the fact that our beaches are like being in an Springwatch episode on an hourly basis (but without the over enthusiastic BBC naturalists!). In March I was in the Basque Country and I was taken to a small village that was famous in the area for the fact that Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Miserables, stayed in a guest house FOR ONE NIGHT! There was a plaque and a wee museum and folk taking photos against the little narrow building that he spent less than 24 hours in! Dracula's author and one of the greatest poets of all time LIVED in our area. Something is wrong with this picture!

 Gight Castle
We live in a place that if we really shouted about what we've got  we could give the West Coast tourist industry a run for their money. We could encourage filmmakers to use our landscapes as locations. Could it be that we maybe have to stop hiding our lights under our understated North East bushels? Eco tourism is something we need to look into in a serious way. We need to start telling more people about the people who lived here, the things that happened here. We need to start giving our kids more of an idea of the local and natural history of this amazing place. Maybe it's time to do something that maybe doesn't come all that naturally to is North East folk, and boast a little....

As lovely as it was to walk along the North East coast this morning and only see a couple of dog walkers and a jogger, I feel slightly selfish. Folk need to know what we have here. It's nice to share. And sharing our secrets might just be the making of us, and our local economy.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Holyrood's Zero Hours Contract

Last night I switched over from watching all the (mostly SNP tabled) amendments on the Scotland Bill being voted on yer Parliament TV channel. The Game of Thrones season finale was starting and I figured that a shockingly violent dystopian gore-fest where heroes were routinely stabbed in the back was a less harrowing, vicious, and nerve jangling experience for me after a tiring day at work than spending any more time watching those green benches.

Like many of you, up until that point I watched Alan Bissett's "The Future If Scotland Votes No" monologue come to life on my telly. Everything the SNP wanted amended was voted down, as expected. But what I missed as I immersed myself in my alternative fictional power struggles over in Westeros was one little amendment that everyone surely thought would go through. It was the first line of that there Vow last September and to renege on it would effectively prove to all the so called "soft nos" who took a chance, took a chance, took a ch-ch-ch-chance like Abba that the union cannot in fact be trusted. Just in case they hadn't figured that out by now.That amendment  was to secure the legal permanence of the Scottish Parliament. What? You thought it was already permanent? Here's some news- Westminster could shut us down at any time and sell the fine building off as Edinburgh's latest chichi executive apartment complex. And yesterday they voted to keep it that way. In effect they have just given Scotland a zero hours contract. Put me down for a top floor one with a view of Arthur's Seat.

Of course any government that actually did that would incur the wrath of most of the Scottish people, and possibly trigger a large surge in support for Scottish independence. To remove the Scottish Parliament without any kind of referendum (yes, they don't have to ask us either!) would be a suicidal move on the part of the UK government. So why not make it permanent? Why leave the sword of Damacles hanging from the ceiling if you are never gonnae be daft enough to let it drop?

The reason for this should make us all Scots residents as angry as we would be if they actually removed the Parliament for they have maintained the threat and the possibility of shutting us down, which to me is pretty much the same message. We own you, we control you, and don't you dare forget it.  That we exist on the grace and favour of a UK government is enough to surely question, once again, our dysfunctional relationship with the UK. Don't make me trot out the now cliched comparison to the abused partner in a marriage. Cliche it may be but cliches come from truth, just a truth that's so oft used, it gets boring cos yes, yes, everyone another record.

I'm not saying anything different from many others today. I'm not even putting forward anything approximating a different angle on this. There is no different angle to take.

I am angry. And I hope you all are too. Every one of you who lives here, across the Scottish party political divide, across the Yesses and the Nos and the Dinnae Kens you should all be righteously furious.

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Thursday, 28 May 2015

My Date with Malcolm

This week, eh? It's the gift that keeps on giving. Not least my ex MP's decision to "help"  his former colleague Alistair Carmichael which I imagine he'd like to file in the drawer marked "Hole in the Head" in his office never to be seen again.

It comes as no surprise to me that Malcolm Bruce thinks that obfuscation is de rigueur in the House of Commons for I was once his guest there and got a wee sniff of his character.

The event was called Film the House. You may have heard of it. It's the little sister of the better known and more snappy titled Rock the House, where the public is invited to enter a competition by the House of Commons about the arts. If you want to rock the house you enter a song, if you want to film the house you enter a film. The background to the whole thing is copyright awareness but for entrants there are incredible prizes donated by the music and film industry and it's a great networking opportunity for creative folks. You first submit your entry to your local constituency MP who then chooses the best of the entries and forwards them onto the next stage of the competition to compete against the entries from other constituencies from across the UK judged by a panel of experts. I had been punting the competition  to my students for weeks. Most of my students are Aberdeen City dwellers so I said I would enter a music video that some of my students had helped crew on as well so we also had Gordon covered too. My entry was just over 3 minutes long. This is important to the story. You can see it below. And, yes,  you may like to know that the band is the Lorelei, who happen to comprise of my husband, brother and most of my pals.

It's possible that that the office of our constituency MP was overrun by entries to Film the House and of course my ego would like to think that mine was chosen over hundreds of incredible films.  Probably not the case but it was chosen and I got a letter from my MPs assistant to tell me so. It so happened that my student got a nice letter from Aberdeen South's then MP Dame Anne Begg to tell him that his had been put forward to represent his constituency. She also told him how much she'd enjoyed the film, a 20 minute documentary on the Aberdeen Sports Village. This is important to the story.

Weeks pass and we forget all about it until we are both told by the organisers of Film the House that we have both been selected as finalists in our categories and are invited to the winners ceremony as guests of our respective MPs.  We, as finalists, are allowed two of our crew as guests too, so we pool all our pennies and make a trip en masse from Aberdeen to Westminster. Once we hit the city my student has a vastly different experience to I.  The event itself is not until 7pm but we are all in London by noon. The Aberdeen South finalists have their itinerary packed;  Anne Begg's team has arranged a tour of the House and lunch for her guests. They have a terrific day. The Gordon team kick their heels around London with no word from their MP. It is the bit of The Apprentice just before the boardroom but where the winning team get a fabulous day out and the losing team go to the stinky Bridge Cafe and blame each other over mugs of dishwater tea. OK, Kevin, Sarah and I went to the South Bank Centre and had our own fun but ye ken fit ah mean. 

 On a personal level I'm not as disappointed as my team members who have never been to Westminster. I had already been in the House of Commons with another student years ago and her MP was Angus Robertson who had spent the day with us, given us a tour of Westminster himself and caught up with us for dinner after he had done his parliamentary work for the day. But on this occasion  we wait all day and hear nothing of any arrangements to meet our host, so in the end we just turn up at the Commons and get on with it ourselves.

Me, my students and their folks with Angus Robertson MP

 The first we see of Malcolm Bruce is about half an hour after the event has started  when someone tells him who his guests are at the ceremony that night and he comes over to say hello. Me being me, I use the time I have with my MP to talk about some local issues in our shared constituency. We're in the thick of the Trump carry on and I'm involved in the campaign to save the Menie Sands from the development. I want to know his position.  Malcolm from this assumes that I'm not a supporter of the SNP, given Alex Salmond's intervention in the issue and proceeds to concentrate on the SNP bashing aspect of the debate as well as other issues he disagrees with them on. I decide I have to  put him right on my politics. It's only fair. From that point on he just cannot be bothered with me.  But it's great, because I'm his guest and my video is still in the running to win and he has to put up with me all night in case I win this thing for Gordon.  Hashtag #winninghere

We talk politics most of the evening until the announcements start and it's safe to say Malcolm ain't loving me too much and can't really hide it. During an awkward lull I start to talk about the video. It is immediately apparent to me that Malcolm has not watched the video. So, because I'm a minx,  I ask him why he chose my video to go forward eventually forcing him to admit that he hasn't actually seen it.

"But Susan* from the office saw it and said it was very good" he says. 

My video is 3 minutes or so long. Whilst I can understand why he might not have watched all the entries that came into his office (assuming more than just mine was received),  asking an assistant to do the honours, I would have expected that on the day of the event he might have given it a cursory look at the one who might win for his constituency.

 "Do you want me to tell you what it's about in case I win and you have to make a speech?" I say. With a smile.

Malcolm's loving me less as the minutes tick by. He and I have a had a couple of glasses of wine by this point and it's fair to say they are not oiling the wheels of friendship between us. Mainly because I'm a Nat and he doesn't like them much, I think. But now I'm a Nat who's caught him out and is gently pulling his leg a wee bit, presumably not showing the kind of reverence that he expects.

In the end I don't win. And neither does my student, sadly. Hashtag #naewinninghere. After this fact is revealed  I don't see Malcolm for dust.  Not even a goodbye. But you know what, when all's said and done at least I wasn't subjected to clapping and no one was eating a chip butty. So it was fine, really.

That this week he intervenes in the Alistair Carmichael issue with a pompous indignation that constituents should expect to be lied to by their MP and just put up with it doesn't come as a surprise to me.  It's not a mistake that the site where the public can keep tabs on what MPs say in the House is called "They Work for You". Some of our more comfortable  representatives of yore forgot that. And hey,  look what happened to them.

*Not actual name

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