Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Great Scottish Debate Off

Related image

"It's good to talk", went the advertising slogan, which was probably the next one BT did after they had run out of ideas for Maureen Lipman's granny character, Beattie, and just before they did that whole saga with the romance between the previously married woman with two kids and the frustrated boyfriend struggling to get connected when he slept over. Corny as hell and yes, cynically thought up to rack up the billable minutes, but the sentiment is pretty sound. Most things can be solved by talking. And in our case debating.

Like many of you I sported a "Frack Off" badge throughout the Westminster campaign. I liked the sentiment behind that too and I quite liked the cheekiness of it almost being a sweary badge but not quite.  Because the kids sniggering at the back of the class thing never quite leaves us. Well, I hope not anyway. We, at the SNP like to have a bit of a cheeky swagger about us, as those who witnessed my colleague Alex's entrance to the House of Commons on his first day back after a few years' break can testify. 

This week I have a had a fair few of my pals and fellow campaigners more than a wee bit upset that one of the frackers in question has a stall at our conference this month. That company is INEOS. The fact of the matter is that companies can buy stall space at conferences. It has always been thus. They are pretty pricey and that helps us pay for the conference, which means membership money can be spent on other things like campaign materials to get us elected next year. 

Allowing a company to have a stall at your conference is not an endorsement of any of their activities, past present or future. It is not an indication that lobbying is successful. And it is not an indication of the way any wind is blowing. Companies who rent stall space do so, I imagine, because they want to speak to politicians and membership about what matters to their company and to put their case forward. INEOS, I imagine would like the Scottish government to lift the moratorium on fracking . I would also imagine their representatives will be doing their level best to convince those in the anti camp ranging ona scale from nervousness to outright hostility on the issue is that our fears are unjustified. They may get sympathetic ears and they may not. I would imagine that those manning the stall in Aberdeen might have drawn short straws, but that's me just being cheeky as is my wont.  I won't pre-suppose what might happen on the INEOS stall but given that a shed-load of members also wore the Frack Off badges this year and continue to do so, they might get some fairly mixed conversations going on. Enterprising folks might want to set up a popcorn stand right next door, in fact. INEOS also have interests and operations in the North Sea, so again, I would imagine that their presence at our conference also has a lot to do with that.

Should we get angry that there are potential frackers are at our conference? No. We should not for many reasons. Not least because this is also a chance for those of us against fracking to question them. This is something that I certainly will take the opportunity to do. We are also having a debate on the fracking moratorium at conference. It's a highly contentious issue. But we are not shirking it. We are opening up debate on it. That debate won't just happen in the hall but it will happen in the coffee areas and the fringe events and that INEOS stall. You bet it will.

Last week many of us had a right go at New-New-Yet-Quite-Retro-But-Not-Really-If-You-Take-A-Closer-Look  Labour as led by Jeremy Corbyn for shutting down debate on Trident. They did so because it was contentious and nobody wants to frighten the horses.  We mocked them for it. And rightly so.  There are loads of contentious things I'd like to see debated at our conference too, some commentators have mentioned that we are playing it a bit safe. Mibbes aye..mibbes naw. I can see that point of view, and yet I also feel that hundreds of motions went in for debate at conference and ye cannae do them all, so you are bound to upset someone. Fracking made it on, and frackers are present. Ooof, that's going to be some debate.

When we do make up our minds on the fracking issue it will not be as a result of jumping on one side without considering all the arguments for the other. Last week I heard all the unionist parties try (unsuccessfully) to rattle Joan McAlpine MSP on Friday's BBC Big Debate by accusing the Scottish Government for not allowing scientists and farmers to put their case forward for allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland. Not only is that not true, but it's interesting that  those parties thought it of the utmost importance that the government speak to all stakeholders before making an informed  decision. Ban fracking without having a debate involving all the stakeholders and the accusations will be shoveled in.

I am personally hoping that we will come down on the side of banning fracking in Scotland and will argue for that as a party member, but if and when we do, we need the folk of Scotland to be confident that we had the debate and that debate wasn't one sided and didn't take into account the views and research  of those in favour of the enterprise. Because that's democracy. And in a democracy in particular, it's not just good to talk, it's vital.

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, 14 May 2015

Living in the Past

                          In the words of Talking Heads, "Same as it ever was"

Society needs its upstarts. The kids who sit at the back and ask the awkward questions. The person who puts their hand up and says "Why?" and isn't satisfied with the answer, "Just because...".

Whilst out in my wee town campaigning for Team Alex the other week I went back to find Alex Salmond who had got chatting to a bloke on the door step. As often happened during our canvassing in Gordon (which he won by the way- don't know if you heard), us canvassers would be streets ahead of our candidate as he got into in-depth conversations with folk, or stopped by kids for a million selfies. Or you, know went for a wee jump on a make shift trampoline. As he does.  

I defy you to find a better campaign photo than this 

We lost our man, so I went back to find him and get him to catch us up. We were walking along with me on the outside of the pavement and he stopped me. 

"I can't do it. I have to be on the outside. It's a habit. My granda taught me that if I was walking with a woman, I had to walk between her and the road. I know it's old fashioned but he drummed it into me ...sorry!" 

We swapped over, presumably in case my wide hooped skirt got caught by a passing carriage or a highwayman scooped me up, held me hostage and threatened my honour.
We then got into a conversation about things that once had a reason to them that everyone had long forgotten but the tradition or habit remained. He told me about this military thing he was at as First Minister where they had to have a second person standing alongside someone loading some kind of a big gun. He asked what the second guy was for. It was because back the day the person loading a canon would have had a horse. The second guy had to hold the horse. The need for the horse and the canon was long gone, but the person remained. It was daft. But the tradition carried on. I, in turn, told a lame story about how my sister-in-law folded wet washing as it came out of the washing machine before she hung it out. When I asked her why she bothered with this extra, pointless step in what was already the most humdrum of all domestic tasks , she didn't know. Her mum had taught her to do it that way and she couldn't do it any other way now. 

"But there would have been a reason way back. Something to do with a mangle that her great granny used, or something!" Alex said.

Cut to this week and our new MPs headed to the House of Commons to check out their new workplace. Charmingly, many of them are tweeting and blogging about, well, how insane and anachronistic the place is. Full of traditions, rules and etiquette that really don't have any rhyme or reason to them but still exist. Apparently, you can't just sit anywhere in the members' tearoom, for example. Each group and party have their own space. This isn't official, or indeed evident by any signage; it's just known. Or not, as the case may be when it comes to our new guys and gals. Of course, anyone who's ever been a teacher will know that staff rooms throughout the world have this carry on. I still bear the mental scars from sitting on the handle bar moustachio-ed Head of English's chair in a Cologne high school when I was a new English teaching assistant. He barely spoke to me the whole year I was there as a result of my faux pas. These rules are designed to let people "know their place".

Users of Twitter would have also delighted in hearing that during an induction of the SNP group to the green benches a Tory MP told them that clapping was frowned upon in the House, and that the SNP group immediately gave him a round of applause by way of thanks for the advice. Just 20 minutes ago Angus MacNeil admitted he'd been the bad boy at the back of the class who lead the wry smiled offensive by starting the clapping. Oh, everyone loves a cheeky monkey!

The right wing gutter press, ignoring the obvious charm of our 56 have decided that the SNP are making a mockery of the traditions. However, they clutch at straws finding actual examples of this making do with the fact that Mhairi Black had chips and white bread which she possibly ate with her fingers instead of a three course lunch during which she used all the right cutlery, knew what a finger bowl was for and ordered the right kind of wine to go with the cheeseboard. And all without using one glottal stop. They wait with baited breath for the sight of Stuart Hosie doing an olly on his skateboard along the red benches of the  House of Lords whilst in session, or Pete Wishart being caught putting a traffic cone atop of Winston Churchill's bronze head.

As trivial as these wee things are, there is a point being made that leads us to ask more serious questions. And the point is "Why?" 

Why do we have anachronisms that are out of date? Why...the House of Lords? Why protect certain people from the law because of privilege? Why start parliament sessions at 2pm into the night when those rules were designed to allow wealthy 19th century MPs conduct their other businesses throughout the day? Why no creche? Why traipse physically through a wee wooden paneled space to vote when you could do it remotely from your constituency where you are supposed to be working with your constituents? Why is everything in London? Why keep letters from a prince to try and exert unconstitutional influence secret? Why have we got a Scottish Office run by the only Tory MP in Scotland when we have a Scottish Parliament? Why are we renewing expensive nuclear weapons we'll never use when we've got kids going hungry? Why have a seat of government which is designed to make people feel small, intimated and know their place when we have a (fairly) modern democracy where all men and women are (supposed to be) equal?

Why fold wet washing?

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