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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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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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

There Will Be Bams

 Sexy, cool, acceptable 1968 

Paris heckling and shouting

One thing in life is certain, there will always be heid the ba's. None more so than in political campaigning. I watched from afar yesterday as a fairly common occurrence that is Jim Murphy being heckled by the usual 3 or 4 suspects turned into a media circus. I despaired as the UK and Scottish media portrayed the same 3 or 4 usual suspects as being somehow connected to the campaign of the Scottish National Party. Let me tell you about the Scottish National Party General Election campaign: the reality of it is pretty dull for journalists to report on. If they did report on it this is what it would be full of:

  • 20 folk stuffing envelopes in a rented room above a shop speaking about the weather and the best garage in the area to get an alternator fitted at short notice that won't cost you a kidney
  • Someone sitting at their laptop punching in tons of canvass return info occasionally stopping to have a cup of coffee and a Rich Tea
  • Trudging round housing estate after housing estate chapping doors hoping to god you get most folk in, that their dogs are friendly and that the rain stays off cos you've worn the wrong jacket
  • Setting up a street stall in the rain and trying to keep your leaflets weighted down in the high winds whilst applying sunscreen for when the weather changes in ten minutes
  •   Sitting on the phone night after night phoning voters, hoping that's your kids finally off to sleep upstairs
  • Applying Norwegian Formula hand-cream to your grazed knuckles after posting 1000 of leaflets through doors with those horrible bristly letter boxes
  • Putting our hunners of chairs for public meetings hosted by your candidate and trying to get a PA you've borrowed from your mate's 80s covers band to work before the public arrives
  • Blood being spilled as you get paper cut from folding a newsletter

That is the reality of campaigns and about 99.99% of folk who consider themselves activists are involved in one or all of those things. It ain't awfy glamorous and it ain't particularly exciting. However there are 0.01% who probably don't really do any of that boring yet necessary stuff and like a public event more.  I'm betting that of the hundreds of unionists who rioted in George Square the night after the referendum result, not one had collected Better Together leaflets from the printers on his way home or chapped one door during the campaign. I'm fairly sure that the mulleted bloke who threw an egg at John Prescott, or indeed the chap who used the same missile at Jim Murphy had not manned one stall in the freezing rain or could write a dissertation entitled "Letterboxes of the UK and their Injury Potential".

On the last Sunday before the referendum there was a mass rally in Aberdeen happening at the same time that the usual Yes, Women for Indy and Better Together stalls took their usual pitches down the road. The rally was fabulous and a nice wee break from actual campaigning. After 30 minutes of singing ,taking photos, and feeling warm and fuzzy I went down the road to the WFI stall to let some of the lassies have a break. Our space at St Nicolas Street was hoaching. My brother, who lives in London had come up for the week was with me and was taking loads of photos. He thought it was like this every week but actually it was quite different. There were people on both sides of the argument that I had never seen before holding banners and waving flags and stuff. There was lots of shouting, and chanting I found it all a bit annoying at points. My brother didn't. He thought it was terrific.

"I tell you if this was happening in London, there would be real argy bargy and the police would be here too", he said.

At one point, a large group of folk protesting about BBC bias appeared with a  big banner. They were posing for photos and chanting their respective slogans. Some photographers and journalists had appeared. Behind them a whole lot of unionists appeared with Union Flags. I had not seen any of these guys before either at stalls, canvass sessions or at town hall debates. They looked strangers to a leaflet papercut.  For a time it was all about who could chant the loudest. A "chant-off" if you will. Then at one point something happened and an anti BBC guy at the front yelped and turned round and started shouting and swearing at a big lad with a Union Flag bandana. For a minute it looked like it might turn nasty. The yelper then checked himself and carried on chanting, but the journalists had what they needed. A "fracas"! A "scuffle"!  A "altercation"! It transpired that bandana man had nipped the BBC protester in the back to get a reaction that made it look like the other side had become violent. Thankfully nothing really happened and it was over in seconds. Everyone went back to chanting and I took a Nurofen Express.

About half an hour later I decided to pack up the stall. The place was too full of shouty folk and we weren't getting to talk to voters and to be frank, I just don't like that kind of atmosphere, but then I'm the sort of people who moans that there's no seating a gig. I would have been rubbish as a Paris student in 1968. I'd have been round the corner in a cafe with a newspaper, some Gitanes arranging my heavy fringe looking in a compact mirror maybe contemplating writing a shit poem. 

"Here, Madame, what rhymes with 'Revolucion'?"

That Sunday, I just wanted to go home and leave the square to the protesters doing their thing. As I was packing my car I overheard one of the younger, more excitable lads on the phone to one of his pals laughing about how they'd set up the whole thing with the nipping so that journalists would catch the reaction and things would kick off.

 "He totally went for it. Journalists there and everything. It was ace!" 

He turned round and saw me listening to him and shaking my head. He quickly turned his phone off and spent the couple minutes following me trying to make out that I had misheard him. I later heard that the bandana man was a  member of the National Front. I'm pretty sure that the Better Together stall holders who had peacefully manned their stall for the last six months were as peeved at this as the rest of us.

So yesterday Eddie Izzard comes up to help his pal Jim Murphy get some press attention and Murphy's three or four usual hecklers (who have been doing the same thing for over a year unreported!) appear as the  Labour Twitter Allstars hoped would happen before the event. 

Mr Izzard, who I believe would like to be London Mayor but might have a problem as Ed Miliband seems to have found himself a new pal who is a comedian whose been on telly more recently than Izzard and might make a sexier candidate that the kids have heard of, said this on being told that the hecklers were not SNP members.

"Well, if they are not the Scottish National Party, then what are they doing here?" Mr Izzard said. "We’re just doing democracy. This is democracy. It's all about voting."

 Sexier than Izzard. 
(No, the one on the left! Jeezo, Mili-fans!)

Firstly, there are a lot of folk out there unhappy with Scottish Labour. The SNP aren't  exactly fans, but to be honest, ex-Labour voters probably have more reason to be peeved. Secondly, the SNP are mostly in rooms folding leaflets, getting their fingers nibbled by dogs at letterboxes and applying Compeed patches to blistered feet after marathon canvassing sessions. We have neither the time or the inclination to go and shout at Jim Murphy as we've an election to win. If we want to hear a shouting Murphy, we'll watch him debate oor Nicola on the telly!

Secondly, if this was 1968 in Paris and some young Parisians were getting shouty, would that be anti-democratic?  Me, as I've said I don't like the shouty and to be frank I think Sean Clerkin is the type of bloke who would turn up to cause mayhem in an empty room if he thought it would get him some exposure. I disagree with how he goes about things, I'm not altogether sure what his game is, I think he's Jim Murphy's dream come true, and I really think he'd be more use sticking address labels on envelopes but there was a hell of a lot of shouting in Tahrir Square in the so-called Arab Spring and I remember the media thinking it was the start of democracy in that area. I guess, that kinda shouting was different, eh? 

Oh, and Scottish media, there's real violence happening in the country. A woman's body was discovered in Maryhill on Sunday- the suspect was arrested yesterday. There's also the ongoing investigation into a black guy's death in Scottish police custody in Fife. And if you want violence related to the election where's the coverage of the lone female in an SNP campaign office in Anniesland who was terrified out her wits as a gang of thugs from an Orange march tried to kick down the door to get to her and then ran off when the police were called? Actual violence, not a staged press event where violence didn't happen but some heid the ba's turned up and made a nuisance of themselves where there happened to be cameras.

Tahrir Square 2011: 
Cropped out of this photo; an annoying man drowning 
everyone out with a ghetto blaster and a mic, 
speaking absolute rubbish

Roll on 10pm Thursday when the charades may actually stop for 24 hours.

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