Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Watch Out

 Aberdeen Townhouse 
(print by Willie Rodger)

It's easy to feel powerless now that we handed our sovereignty back after "holding it in our hands" for a day, in the words of Jim Sillars. I certainly felt that way at first, but it didn't last long. In fact it probably lasted about 72 hours in total in my case.

What empowers us now is our activism. In Aberdeen two key indyref groups continue to be very active. One is the one I head up, The Indy Quines (or to give us our official title Women for Independence, Aberdeen) and the other is our local RIC. The Yes campaign, although no longer called that, have dispersed into various new set ups. Last week I visited our new Common Weal group, who had an agenda so long it would have comfortably fitted on a roll of wallpaper. Aye, cool wallpaper, none of yer woodchip or flock, mind. If they manage to do even a fraction of what they are discussing, it'll be impressive and empowering stuff. They are only a month old and there's a healthy contingent already getting stuck into community council meetings for one thing, with bigger plans afoot.

The period we are in is tricky. Only two months ago we had one goal. Now we missed it (that's the football analogies over, relax), we seem to have hundreds of campaigns on our hands. Too many to tackle at once (OK, I lied). However in Aberdeen we have a real and pressing problem and that is the cavalier behaviour of our (narrowly) Labour run city council. One of the many problems with the administration is their Finance Convener, a man called Willie Young. For all intents and purposes Mr Young acts like he is Council Leader although he is careful to keep the responsibility of that position at arms length. However,he happily acts as spokesperson at any opportunity and seems to see himself as some kind of kingmaker. Indeed, it was Mr Young who waited until his colleague, and former council leader, Barney Crockett, was on council business in Houston (that's the one in Texas, not the one in Renfrewshire) until he staged a coup and had him replaced. Even the docile and largely unquestioning local press lead with the headline "Et Tu Willie".

During the referendum for independence Mr Young spearheaded the decision to include a paragraph stating the council's belief that Scotland should remain in the UK in the council tax letters. Yes, you read right- in the COUNCIL TAX bills sent out to every household. At the time a great deal of us wrote letters of complaint but our local Radical Independence group went one step further and organised a campaign to have them investigated by the Public Standards Commission. You can read RIC organiser and my friend Myshele Haywood's full account of their campaign here.

I am delighted to say the complaints have prompted a Public Standards Commission investigation.  It is imminent. The report below came out in the Evening Express on Saturday just as Myshele was preparing to give a speech mentioning it to 3000 people at the RIC Convention in Glasgow. Empowering stuff, eh?

 Willie Young is the one in the middle 
who looks like Mayor Adam West
(Click to enlarge)

Similarly, Women for Independence were quick off the mark in drawing attention to another misuse of power by the same administration. Only weeks after thousands of previously disenfranchised voters put themselves back on the electoral roll (again thanks in no small part to the efforts of our local RIC), the council announces a move to claim POLL TAX arrears using the new double sized register. We immediately wrote to the Herald and were quoted on the front page condemning the decision. The decision was overturned by the end of the week- OK Mr Salmond waded in too- but we're not going to quibble over who had what idea first. (My full letter is here)

Now we are waiting to hear what the Smith Commission comes up with in terms of extra powers for Scotland. The Indy Quines spearheaded a training and letter campaign which saw hundreds of Aberdeen and shire citizens, who otherwise might not have managed, to send full and comprehensive submissions in. We blogged about it, we had public discussion sessions, we had stalls with quines and stamps and envelopes, we got organised. We'll do the same again if they fall short of our expectations, or the local council gets up to any more jiggery pokery.

One thing is clear, having had our eyes opened to the machinations of local politicians, we are very reluctant to let them away with anything at the expense of the public who rely on them to run their city. It was one thing to see them allow Better Together to stash their leaflets and stall in the Town House until the next Saturday when the rest of us had to give our cars and spare rooms over to campaign materials (we know this because we followed them one day), it's another to see them ride roughshod over democracy with gay abandon.

Be warned, Aberdeen is active.

As I suspect everywhere else is too.

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Monday, 24 November 2014

I Can't Believe I Forgot Cludgie!

One of the many things I've loved about this mad year is our increasing confidence as a group of folks. I use that term carefully. Notice I'm not using the term "proud Scot". The only time I heard this phrase used was when Better Together politicians were trying to prove that they identified with their country, which in most cases, the fact that they had to say it proved that they didn't, not really. When I feel pride, is generally to do with my family or friends when they've done something amazing, which they frequently do. I am not a proud Scot, though; I'm a confident Scot.

Confidence is more meaningful than pride. Pride in just merely existing is daft. Pride in achieving something, I'll give you, but in just BEING because of geographical accident. Nonsense. I have never felt more that the group to which I most associate myself, that is, people who want Scottish independence, are the most culturally confident they have ever been. One of the ways this manifested itself was in the use of our many Scottish words and phrases in our debates, our arts, our BADGES. "Aye We Can", "IndyQuines" etc...To unapologetically and confidently use your ain tongue is a mark of cultural confidence. It's no mistake that our most successful  and beloved writers use their local dialect or language. Hello, Mr Welsh. Let them subtitle you, if they dare!

I was asked by a friend to do a piece of art for her sister who lives in England and was feeling a bit left out with all the #indyref stuff. Prone to homesickness generally, she was looking on from afar and felt she was missing out on more than usual. So I decided to do her a map of words and phrases. I had loads of my favourite ones to stuff in there but I took to Twitter and asked for yours too. I spent most of the evening laughing as I put ink to paper. It's a wonder the letters are not a lot more shoogly.

Anyway, here is the result. And thanks to everyone who joined in. I haven't heard "Away and run up my humph" for decades. And a note to the folk who suggested "stauner", "Skitters" "sees a swatch o yer fannie" and "Nat king Cole"- maybe one day I'll do the filthy version, but for now, I'm keeping it family friendly....

You can buy a print of it here if you like it.

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Friday, 21 November 2014


 Katy Docherty
The Scottish Sun

Dear Katy

I sit here writing this to you mindful of a few things which I feel I must come clean about before I tell you my news. I am wearing no makeup therefore I shall stay indoors for fear of being ridiculed. I have painted toenails but a couple of them are badly chipped possibly risking this post from having the effect it otherwise could have. I am four weeks away from having had my highlights done and a thin line of regrowth is in danger of threatening my ability to be taken seriously. Teeth-wise, despite having had a brace at the age of forty I've still got a slight snaggletooth problem which may lead some people hearing me talk in public to have concerns over my ability to be there in the first place. Clotheswise, I'm not going to lie to you, I'm wearing jeans that I've had for over 10 years and tshirt that is a smidge too tight. Possibly too tight for a woman of forty-five to seriously get away with. And I've just had a quick look- I've got some armpit hair, which I suppose is exactly what you'd expect from a feminist, eh? My legs, yup, just looked, add grist to this particular mill. Please don't tell anyone, I've got a presentation to deliver next week and I'd rather folk didn't know in case it impacts on the content.

Despite these obvious disadvantages I have managed to get through my professional week. On Monday, I hosted an extremely successful and well attended new members meeting for Women for Independence. We've increased branch membership by over 200 since the referendum. Thank goodness no one noticed that I hadn't Jolene bleached my upper lip or it would have been a disaster. 

Then on Tuesday I delivered two corporate videos to clients. They seemed happy with the results, so they can't have noticed that I hadn't blended my foundation particularly well and underneath my outfit I  was wearing big comfy pants.

Then on Wednesday I taught my students how to do live studio directing. I'm one of those learn by doing practitioners very much following the experiential learning approach as written about by Kolb and Dewey rather than a more didactic approach that did me no favours at university. It went pretty well and the students went away with a whole host of new skills. No thanks to my lack of eyeliner though, which thankfully none of them noticed or it could have been a vastly different outcome.

Then last night, I attended a meeting of the newly formed Common Weal in Aberdeen. I gave a short presentation on how the mainstream media are failing us and suggested a few routes locally to having a more progressive and representative local, citizen led new media where the rule book could be rewritten and people could feel that they are represented in a more empowering way. However, after the meeting I went home and found that I had a small snag on my tights which everyone must have seen and I now worry that everything I said could be for naught.

Still, enough about me. How was your week. I see you got quite a big piece published in the Scottish Sun about the fact that Scotland has their first ever female First Minister, making her one of under ten in the world. Quite an achievement for both you and her eh?

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Trouble with Bob

 Bob about to say f**k on telly probably
like a normal person

Better writers than I have written about their uneasiness with Bob Geldof and the "new" Band Aid single today so I'm not going to give chapter and verse on my range of reasons. But I too won't be buying it, preferring instead to give money when I can afford to charities run by ordinary people working hard with local people to mitigate disaster and poverty, not publicity vehicles for celebrities. I mean, it's not as if we didn't know about the Ebola crisis until we heard the curly one from One Direction singing about "them" not knowing nothing about our winter holidays. I have the same problem with Comic Relief and Children in Need, especially when I read that Jonathan Ross admitted for many years he never put his own hand in his pocket while he was the presenter or Terry Wogan commands a substantial fee whilst everyone else works for free. Being invited to perform on the Band Aid single is like the world acknowledging that you are the chosen ones, rather than any selfless act of charity. Right now Cheryl Cole is probably bloody raging she wasn't included, signifying her star in the descendant. The warm fuzzy feeling they get performing is less about doing good and more about the fact they got the call in the first place. Good on Adele for not picking up and just quietly giving some money to Oxfam without a fuss.

I have other niggles. Loads of them in fact, to do with the fact that charity picks up the slack of bad government and no-one makes as big a deal about the bad government. Tax payers being asked to give more money when their tax should be keeping child poverty in check, whilst tax dodgers do neither. We all know the statistics on which sections of society give the most; it's the ones with the least money. 

The other niggle is Geldof himself. My family have had two slight brushes with Geldof and both speak volumes about the man's character, I think. The first was my mum who observed him using his celebrity to try and cadge a free coffee in a cafe in London, and the second was my husband who, with a friend, was the support act for Bob Geldof at Aberdeen's Lemon Tree many years ago. Meester M was a Geldof fan, not so much of his music but of the man himself. He had read his autobiography and was impressed and excited to meet him, not least because he was doing a project on humanitarianism with a class of his at school. Let's face it, he wanted his pic taken with him for the classroom wall frieze. "Here's me with 'Saint' Bob, kids!"

On arrival at the venue he was to be disappointed. Geldof's management had made the venue sign an agreement that nobody was to approach him. "But I'm on the same bill. Surely he'll be ok about meeting the support act", Mr M said. But no, the contract was clear; any approaches by anyone out-with his own entourage could and would result in him pulling the gig. Seriously. Personally that would have been it for me. I'd have walked away, played my set, possibly trying out an impromptu song called "Bob's an Ass"  and then left with my fee in my pocket before Bob's minder could kick my butt for me.

Mr M wouldn't let it lie though and played the teacher card. He got a message to his management saying that he'd like a photo with him for the project he was doing at school- he possibly over-egged it a bit and said the whole project was about Live Aid or simply a big old celebration of El Geldof himself. Anyway, whatever he said worked and after the gig he got his photo. I wish I could say I have a copy but it's been lost. But I remember it clearly. There's Bob with his arm around Mr M like they were big mates; for all to see an image of bonhomie and Bob being a "good guy". Yet know this, Sir Bob did not once look at or exchange one word with Mr M. The moment was over in seconds before Bob sloped off.

Never meet your heroes they say. Still at least everyone seems to have forgotten that my husband's band also once supported Rolf Harris.....

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Political Knotweed

A few years ago there was a programme about bad neighbours. There was one particular landowner that wanted a wee cottage owner in the middle a group of their fields that belonged to someone else. The owners refused to sell. So the landowner decided that their only course of action was to make the cottage owner get so fed up of them that they'd sell them the cottage and move out. They would start all types of noisy, time consuming and pointless work in the fields at all hours of the night. Tractors would be sat  a metre away from the perimeter with engines running wasting diesel all night to keep the cottage dwellers awake. It didn't work. They then started to erect ridiculous view blotting fences and structures and dig massive trenches churning up the fields just to piss the cottage owners off and ruin their nice vista. When the owners still refused to sell they planted all manner of invasive and horrific plants which actually did damage to their own land but were designed to make life intolerable for the cottage landowner with their small garden. They surrounded the square perimeter of the cottage in horrible fast growing dense leyandii conifers which not only blocked out the light of the cottage but whose roots invaded their grounds and began to take up paving and lawns. They also introduced impossible to kill Japanese knotwood into their land so it would creep across and start damaging the foundations of the cottage.  

I mention this because something really odd and quite similar is happening with Scots Labour. It seems even the fallout of their getting into bed with the Tories during the referendum has still bizarrely left them wanting more of that posh boy action. In Aberdeen alone I have heard reports from friends that Labour is out canvassing and their message on the doorsteps is, quite frankly, mental. It is Vote Labour or vote Tory.

Of course this is designed to do only one thing and that's get as many people as possible to vote for any other party than the SNP. That's the singular message. It's not a message of what Labour can do for anyone when in power but one simply of "We cannae stand the Nats, let's make sure they don't get any seats for we hate their guts". They'd rather you voted for ANYONE than the SNP no matter what the implications.

On Saturday the SNP MP Angus Robertson reminded the SNP conference of a fact which many of us have forgotten which was that after the last general election when there was a hung parliament, Labour had the chance to work with the SNP to stop a Conservative coalition from happening. They refused point blank. They would rather not be in government at all than work with the SNP. They let the Tories in instead.

This is simply tribal. And it not only is killing Labour in Scotland but it is completely missing the point of their existence. What are MPs for? Is it not to serve and represent the people, is it not to make society and life in general better for people? (Am I naive? Don't answer) If you would rather that an individual voted for your most ideologically distant competitor than the party that just happens to keep beating you in elections, yet, on paper, has much more in common with your supposed ideology then we, the public, have a problem. If a party would rather policies which go against every fibre of their being were introduced by that ideologically distant competitor just because it was preferable to seeing their nearest ideological neighbour doing better than them, then we have a problem. If a political party acts more like a football team than a political party which is supposed to exist to do a job for people and have ideas, rather than just winning things,  then what is the point in their existence?

And if that party would rather introduce the political equivalent of Japanese knotweed into their home just to muck it up for everyone just because they can't have it, then I'd suggest they are not fit to be in charge of a pair of gardening shears never mind a country.

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Still Working

I never write about my work. It's tremendously interesting and I have loads of funny stories but I lecture and it's off limits as far as I'm concerned as material for blogging.
However I am going to make mention of it today, for a simple reason; recently someone who I don't know tried to come between me and my work. In short, they attempted to take something from my life outside work and use it to get me disciplined, or who knows maybe their intention was to get me sacked.

I've been lecturing on and off for  20 years. In that time I've only had two threats to my professional reputation. The first time was when I'd only been teaching for about 3 weeks and a lassie got up a petition against me because an assignment I'd set was too difficult in her view. For about 24 hours I was horrified, until I came into work the next day and found out that nobody apart from her had signed it and her guidance tutor had told her to get on with the work and pointed out that in the time it had taken her to organise the petition she could probably have completed her  assignment. She was a young lassie quick to react, and I too was only 23, and too quick to take this kind of thing seriously and have a sleepless night over it. 

I am a lot older now, and shrug things off more easily. Which is what I did with instance Number 2. A few weeks after the referendum I saw a tweet from a person from the Aberdeen No campaign. It said, "I voted yes but now I won't be joining the SNP" There was a link beside it. I have a screenshot of it here:

Anyway, I retweeted it making the point that it was designed to look like the author of the tweet was the person who voted Yes and that, in fact I knew this person was part of the No campaign and had been at the Aberdeen City count.  The link went to a blog post but it was from an unnamed source, so I felt the misrepresentation stood.  I happen to have over 4,000 followers so this observation got retweeted a lot. Out it went into the so called twitterverse and multiplied. At no point did I make direct contact with its author, but Twitter being Twitter, lots of other people did.  It transpired that I couldn't see any of the original tweeter's replies as at one point I must have blocked him. I cannot remember why, but during indyref I campaigned and was often on panels. I tended to find once I got home from panels that audience members would have used my @misssym name  in tweets and my timeline would be full of observations that they did not see fit to make in person to me whilst I was in the room . Often I got not very nice things said about me from the No campaign, particularly the younger campaigners, so I would just block them.  It's really all you can do to keep yourself sane in these situations.  Maybe he had been one of them. I genuinely don't remember.

So far, so what. However, what I couldn't see was that this original tweeter, a certain Braden Davy, was making mention of my professional life. He had clearly been  googling me. Nothing on my blog or twitter feed makes any mention of the lecturing I do or who I work for. In fact, you have to actually go quite a few pages of google results in to find out where I teach. However a few people started mentioning to me that he was attacking me in my position as a "teacher". I pretty much ignored it.

About a week later I get a phone call from my work saying there has been a complaint put in about me. It was from a chap called  Braden Davy who was accusing me of being unprofessional and leading a bullying campaign against him. After the initial explanation by the person from my work they quickly wanted to say before we went any further that they completely supported me and did not see this as having anything to do with my work with them. In short, they were great. In fact they were fairly incredulous that someone would take the time to contact a person's work to complain about something they did online which had nothing to do with their employment, made no mention of the institution, and was, in their view nothing to do with them. They would be replying to that effect to Mr Davy and wanted me to know they would not be taking anything any further.

In short the whole thing was ridiculous. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and I also found out from a couple of them that they had seen tweets from him about me which claimed he had also contacted the local police. I never got a visit from the police.
I forgot about all of  this. Until last night. When I heard that Braden Davy had been selected to fight MY constituency of Gordon on behalf of the Labour Party.  The guy who had try to lose me my job could be my MP. I believe he has already been out on the doors canvassing for votes.

All I can say is, I look forward to you appearing at my door to tell me what you can do for me and my family, Mr Davy.

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