Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Pyrrhic Victory

Throughout the campaign for independence I met so many incredible people. Inspirational folk. I echo what Lesley Riddoch said on this week's Question Time. We might have lost the referendum but this has been the best year of my life. I'm glad the tshirts I bought to wear whilst campaigning was one that simply said 2014 and my Women for Indy one. Because I'll always love the year and I'll always love my association with Women for Indy who have given me a focus for the rest of my days. Both tshirts lie ready to wear in my chest of drawers. And the Yes badge stays on.

But something's been bugging me. And I know I'm going to get flack for making this personal but I have to write this so I can move on.  I'm going turn my attentions to some folk I met who appalled me and yet at the time strangely delighted me in equal measure. 

One was young Better Together Stephen. I first came across this young man at a BBC debate in Queens Cross church in March. Resplendent in almost a Pearly King collection of UKOK badges I spotted him straight away. He looked too young to be wearing a suit- that's probably what caught my eye. Throughout the debate the hand was thrust aloft in a "Please Sir! Please Sir!" manner no matter what the issue being discussed by the panel was. When the mic was given to him he waxed lyrical on Salmond doing this that and the other, relevance to the issue being unimportant to him. This guy was pure comedy gold. It's as if the Fast Show had come out of retirement. In my husband's inimitable style, he approached Stephen after the broadcast  and borderline Kenneth Williams-like asked him "Were you the passionate young man behind me?" Our new friend then launched into a diatribe about how Yes Scotland was jeopardising his chances of fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be a Labour MP. Meester M loves a challenge so stayed with him longer than I.

Weeks later I saw him again. After months of Yes Aberdeen and Women for Indy stalls taking up the forecourt in St Nicholas Street, a Better Together stall appeared for the first time. And there he was. Suited and booted and shouting "Wave goodbye to your pension!" to anyone who rebuked his advances with the indication that they were voting yes. We still laughed at him because he was ridiculous, often manically heading people off at the pass as they made their way towards us. Folk like him were our secret weapon, I thought. For every Eastern European girl who came over in a state after he and his pals had told them they'd be deported, they'd be more who thought he was barking mad. I thought, they are actually working for us! People will see through this nonsense.

He then appeared at a school debate a friend was organising. The pupils laughed at him as he seconded for his Better Together pal from the Lib Dems, and got all crazy horse, shouty and excited. The Yes gang smirked and let him win the debate for them. Our secret weapon. Let's invite him to all our debates.

I'll come back to more Stephen later but in between all this I met and debated with another secret weapon for the Yes campaign. This time it was local mogul Charles Ritchie, owner of the Score Group in Peterhead, a massive employer for folk in the area and a big purveyor of apprenticeships for young folk. Trouble is Mr Ritchie sees himself not just as an employer but also as a patriarch to the people he employs. Before the debate a pal gets in touch "Just so you know, Charles Ritchie told all his employees as a staff meeting last week that if they were thinking of voting Yes they might as well hand in their notice. I've two pals who work there".

Nice guy.
I worried about meeting someone like this, but Mr Ritchie turned out to be more comedy gold. In the debate he shook and thundered and threatened and to be honest he came off as completely unhinged. He too had an obsession with Salmond, despite asking the First Minister to open his new premises some months before and glad-handing him to the max. His debating partner Christine Jardine of the Lib Dems was kicking him under the table for most of the night and I'm sure privately making a vow to never share a platform with him ever again. His threats to close down his business and move away in the event of a yes vote made him seem quite mad. His frothy mouthed prophesying of doom was like something out of a Dickens novel. Another secret weapon for Yes, I thought, as me and my debating partner delighted in the huge swing to Yes in the exit poll which in all fairness we had to credit to Mr Ritchie.

I never met Mr Ritchie after that but I saw Stephen plenty. Not least on the last Sunday before the referendum where all of a sudden the Better Together stall was massive, and staffed with a good ten people I had never seen before. A lot of them sporting Union flag accessories (someone with an internet shop is rolling in it right now cos of these guys) . I now know that some of them were from the National Front. You'll have seen the pics on Twitter. Some local Labour MPs were less than careful about being photographed with them. I went over to have a look at the literature (as I often did. It's a good idea to know what is being given out to the people that may come and visit your stall afterwards) and got shoved out the way by young Stephen who was pinning a Union Flag to the table. "I hope you aren't as cheeky to the other folk that come over here, Stephen" I said, smiling. "Get out of the way, this is our stall!" he shouted at me. Ah, comedy gold. Our wee secret weapon. Keep on keeping on, son.

Later that day some people were protesting against BBC bias and one of the new BT gang ( a chap with a skin head and union Flag bandana) went behind them and tried to grab their banner off them and did something to the back of one of the chaps holding the banner which must have hurt because he immediately reacted and turned round angrily. Nine months of peaceful campaigning from both sides and now it looked for a second that it might go pear shaped. Our worst nightmare. But it didn't. Thank god.

But ten minutes after this the indy quines and I felt this was enough for the day and packed up. In the side street where my car was parked young Stephen was on his phone telling his pal how they'd wound up a Yesser and he totally went for it and they got it on film and everything and how great it was. I coughed and he turned round to see me. I pointed to my ear to let him know I had heard and he terminated the call. He then chased me all over the square telling me that "What happened happened, it wasn't set up! It wasn't set up!"  Protesting too much. I turned round and said "For months we have been campaigning peacefully and amicably side by side. Whatever happens on Thursday I'll know I never lied, I never did anything to cause trouble. What about you?" He continued to chase me like a wee kid pleading for me not to tell his Mum he'd been caught swearing.

After all this happened I wanted to blog about it. But I didn't because I had to stay positive. having a go at "the other side" was their thing, not mine. I had to move on and keep campaigning positively, ignoring the things I'd seen. The same goes  for things I saw at the count- the cheering by some Labour supporters when Michael Gove came on the telly, or young Stephen standing beside me watching an enumerator and loudly asking his pal if they had enough champagne designed to get a reaction from me as they no vote pile got bigger and bigger in the Mannofield box count.

Why am I writing this now? For one reason. Because for me, I genuinely think we are the winners. If we'd genuinely managed to get the Yes vote we would have been able to sleep at night knowing that we did it by being honest, by being dignified and being a bottom up people led campaign with us all doing it for no personal gain. I am so proud to know so many of you.  

 It wasn't to be, but those who perceive the No vote as a win, can you honestly say the same? Blair McDougal, who led the Better Together campaign said at the Labour Party Conference they'd have had a hard job winning without fearmongering. He admitted that! Finally! Gordon Brown who, under whose authority I'm unsure, promised federalism and Home Rule for Scotland the day before the vote, is conspicuously absent this week, not even turning up to vote in the Commons as they decide to take us into war. Ian Wood, who came out for Better Together with a proclamation of doom with regard to Scotland's oil wealth has been awarded fracking contracts in our country by the UK government. BP who wanted us to stay in the UK and kept stumm about Clair Ridge, this week say it's boom time.

And young activists like our Stephen who started off campaigning to ensure he'd have a political career, or Charles Ritchie who frightened his employees to ensure his own personal wealth , I'll ask you one thing:

Are you aware of the phrase "a pyrrhic victory"?

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Radio Silence

I can't write. 

I can't listen.

 I can't watch. 

 Three of my mainstays are gone. I don't even know how to start this post because I've too much to say and the force of is too much.

I haven't been able to watch or listen to any news since last Monday. This is a big deal for me. My daily routine is Radio 4 Today, Women's Hour, BBC6Music for  Lauren Laverne and then RadMac, and back to Radio 4 for PM hoping it's Eddie Mair on shift because he makes me laugh. Then it's teatime. But after teatime it's the last 3 seconds of Hollyoaks before sitting down to Channel 4 News like a religion. Maybe some Newsnight later if I'm not too tired.

But it's been radio silence for me for over a week. I no longer trust anything I hear on the mainstream media. I'm hurt and I'm angry at them. Even those great shows that I love like Channel 4 who did try to give us a fair crack of the whip, even though BBC6Music only plays music and never mentions politics. I can't switch them back on yet because we need to have some time apart. 

The part that the mainstream media played in convincing 55% of Scots were not able to run our own country and look after our people is overwhelming. And the media is full of ace people- I know a few of them and I met even more during the campaign who impressed me hugely (James Cook is one example- he's great). The BBC has some truly wonderful journalists in there. But editorially we were stuffed and that is out of the control of the journos on the ground. Something has to change at the top and on an infrastructural level. At least 45% of us don't feel served by them any more. I reckon it's well over 45% by now.

I don't buy tabloids so it's not a wrench to boycott them but I feel helpless all the same because people I love buy them and even though they read my posts online and engaged with me in debate I fear the tabloids frightened them into voting no, even though in their hearts they didn't want to. It makes me want to cry that a good Sudoku and crossword page means that lies infiltrate homes and people buy them day after day. What we can do to break this hold I don't know, but somehow we must. We'd all be happier people if the Daily Mail and The Sun didn't exist. 

I have positive things to say about last week. But they will have to wait. For now walking past a newsstand in my local shop was enough to make me furious enough to write this post.

Happy Misssy will be back soon, I promise.

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Letter to an Independent Scotland

I spoke yesterday in a debate at Aberdeen University. The panelists were:

For YES:
Prof Igor Guz, Head of the School of Engineering, Aberdeen University
Gillian Martin, Women for Independence (me)

For NO:
Prof. Hugh Pennington
Dame Anne Begg MP (Lab)

I figured that everyone had seen all the TV debates and people are fed up of the old currency, EU type back and forth so I decided to ask the audience to imagine that Scotland had always been independent and that Westminster wrote us a letter. Below are the Westminster letter to us, and our reply.

 Westminster 2014

Dear Scotland
We have a proposal for you to consider. in short, we would like you to join the United Kingdom. Here's the deal. First off, we'd like you to give us ALL your tax revenue and in return we'll give you a proportion of it back for you to spend on whatever you want. Things might get tighter if the proportion shrinks, I'll grant you, but you'll be able to counteract that by getting rid of free prescriptions, charging for University Education and selling off bits of the NHS.

In addition to that, the Americans have kindly given us a fleet of submarines with nuclear warheads. Now we don't even have the codes for them, but we're thinking that you could keep them for us. There's a place in the mouth of the Clyde about 30 miles from your most heavily populated area that we think would be ideal. How about it?

And don't worry about our enemies attacking you- we can get a naval vessel up to your shores from Portsmouth  to check out any Russian subs in the Moray Firth in a matter of 18 hours. No problem.

Also, let us take care of that burdensome oil. It can be hard to know what to do with all that tax revenue. Let us take the strain.

In terms of representation we propose to give you 59 MPs out of our total of 650. That obviously will make it difficult for you to have an impact on the government that gets elected but occasionally the rest of the UK might vote with you if the Labour party lurches to the right in order to get elected.

Now those MPs will have to stay in London most of the year. But they'll love it. There's heaps to do and many of them will never want to go back to basing themselves within driving distance of their constituency.  I mean, has Le Mis even been to Dundee? Didn't think so.

You may have noticed we're also big mates with the USA and they let us join in their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amongst others, where we can pretty much do what we like. You surely want a part of that action, don't you? Don't worry about the legality- we've got that covered.

In addition we have a once in a lifetime offer to open up your NHS to something called the Transatlantic Trade Partnership. What this means is that American private healthcare companies can start running our NHS for us. Great, eh?  We've some private companies in England who are tremendously excited about the revenue that will earn them. Some of your top businessmen could get a slice of that pie too if you join us.

Hey, I forgot to mention- we're also going to give you the chance to vote to come out of the EU. Don't say we're not good to you. I mean, your votes might not stack up to as much as UKIP voting Surrey, Kent and Essex but that's democracy for you!

Finally we'd like to remind you that our Olympics team did rather well at the last Olympic Games and really that's all the man in the street cares about. So how about making the people happy and joining team GB?

I've attached a petition of millionaires, pop stars, light entertainers and unelected embers of the House of Lords who used to be Margaret Thatcher's cabinet who all would like to encourage you to join up.
We eagerly await your reply

Regards, Westminster

Now for the reply from Scotland...
Scotland, 2014
Dear Westminster

Thanks for your letter. We would have answered sooner but we get a lot of mail from people in your country asking how they can affect change like we did, so it must have got buried in all of that.

We've had a good look at your proposal and must politely decline. Here's why.
We have a constitution that does not allow us to privatise our NHS or charge any fees to students attending Further or Higher education establishments. We decided that it was a good idea to protect institutions by having their protection outlined in this national constitution, so that they would survive no matter what flavour of government was in charge of them. You should think about doing the same. you do realise everyone else has got one. The people of Scotland really got involved in helping us write ours.

We are also not particularly interested in becoming a country which aggressively involves itself in foreign countries under the guise of liberation of peoples when you and I both know it's more about the money that can be made from exploiting their oil reserves. We prefer in fact to use our armed forces for defence, and to be engaged in our communities in times of need, perhaps helping internationally when there are human rights abuses or natural disasters to contend with.

Thanks for the offer of a block grant but we are fine controlling all our tax revenues ourselves. This means we can eradicate child poverty, invest in our schools, hospitals and universities and put a great deal of money into the development of renewable energy. We're involved with a lot of our Northern European partners in that and we'll be back  in touch when it's ready for other countries to purchase.  Mates rates for you guys, of course.

As for the nukes. We're fine without, thanks. In fact we're more than fine. We use the money we save on things like that to fund our defence force and patrol our waters, getting help to those who need it and watching out for anyone who may want to cause us harm. Why don't you just get rid of them yourselves. The Cold War is over, you know. Why don't you ask your people if they want to keep them- you might find out that they don't. 

As for the MPs- we're already good with what we have, thanks. We've got our own MSPs representing every area of Scotland and the people of Scotland can easily get in touch with them as they are close-by. We've also decentralised a lot of our government so it is shared around the country. Aberdeen for example hosts our Energy, Farming and Fishing Ministries. People seem to think that makes sense. We also have proportional representation which our people think is more democratic than first past the post. We don't have a two party system like yours, and we've lots of parties representing a multitude of different political agendas. People are particularly politically engaged. Do you know we have over 80% of our electorate voting at the polls?

So on reflection, thanks but as someone once said "No thanks". We'll pass.
But be assured of one thing, we might not be part of team GB but we will cheer you on with every race you run and every medal you win, my dear friend and neighbour.

Much love

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Monday, 11 August 2014

We Are the Great Leap Forward

In 1990 I was a student in Glasgow and I had to make a film with a group of my classmates. It was the City of Culture but we decided to concentrate on the sub-culture of what was really going on in Glasgow at the time away from the art galleries and the theatres. Our film (which I have sadly lost) included a section on an anti-poll tax concert which took place in the back green of a block of flats in Easterhouse.

19 year old me with my pals at the gig

 It was compered by activist and actor Peter Mullan and headlined by Billy Bragg. I won the toss to interview Billy after his set as well as man the camera during the set. Jammy.

Billy was right in there with the Scots during that year where we felt our rights were being disregarded as Margaret Thatcher's government decided to test out a new universal tax on the Scots a whole year before they introduced it in the rest of the UK. I suppose, if the Scots didn't revolt, then they reckoned they could pass it on with no problems to the rest of the reportedly less feisty paisanos in North or England and Wales.

Billy Bragg during his set, Easterhouse, 1990

Step forward 30 odd years and Billy is with us again, this time being supportive and most importantly, knowledgeable (unlike the We Love You gang) of what's really going on the Scottish campaign for independence.  So I was excited to see that Billy was on the bill of my favourite outdoor festival, Belladrum Tartan Heart. And I was particularly pleased to find out that Billy was doing a Q and A in the Verb Garden speakers tent which also boasted indyref heavyweights like Lesley Riddoch and Tommy Sheridan.

I went right to the front for Billy's set. He was great. I'd have liked The Great Leap Forward but you cannae have all your favourites so I'll stop being a brat about it and settle for the Milkman of Human Kindness instead. It was when Billy started singing "The Scousers Never Buy The Sun" that I noticed a bit of a stooshie happening behind me. A chap I had been speaking to earlier who was wearing a Firefighters for Yes shirt was having bother from a security guard who was trying to take his Yes flag off him. 

As Billy's set went on he used the opportunity to mention in between songs that he was told he couldn't have any mention of the referendum in his set but had cunningly placed a subliminal message on his amp. Here it is:

                                               Spot the subliminal message

He then went on to talk about the referendum anyway. That's the fella! The Yes flags came out in the crowd once more. Being right at the front I could spot one security guard motioning to other security guards at the sides of the audience where the culprits were so that once again, they could be admonished and, if the person was soft enough, have their flag confiscated. More stooshies. Not very Bella, I thought to myself. The same thing happens ironically during "Take Down the Union Jack" which would be funny if it weren't so unfunny.

Billy's set finishes and I get chatting to a couple called Sophie and John who tell me that the night before they caught a security guard at their campervan about to go up on the roof to remove their Yes flag. To stop him trampling over their nice clean van they agree to remove it for him (just to put it up again later, this being a pesky democracy with annoying free speech and all). This just isn't the chilled out Bella vibe at all, I thought to myself.
I am bewildered. I flippin love Belladrum.  I can understand why no Yes flags were allowed at the Commonwealth Games but what harm does waving a Yes flag do at a music festival? In the camping field I see flags with all types of messages on them, I see Palestinian flags clearly in support of Gaza, a CND flag, and others with what could be construed as political meanings. I wonder, would a Union Jack have been confiscated? I can't answer that question,as it happens, as there were none in evidence. I fully expect to find the hundreds of cars with Yes stickers in the windscreens in the carpark with gaffa tape on them obscuring the voting intentions of their returning owners. (They weren't- that was a joke, but nothing would surprise me).

Two hours later I'm sat in front of Billy Bragg and host Gary Robertson of the BBC* for the Q&A and as I get handed the mic I remind Billy of the time I met him in 1990.

"Billy, we met over 20 years ago" I said.

"Oh my god, what's coming next?!" He says to much laughter from the audience.

"I was a student  filming you at an anti Poll Tax concert in a back green in Easterhouse."

"Oh, I remember that," he says.

"You helpfully told me from the stage that I'd do a better job if I remembered to take the lens cap off and I want to thank you for that advice as it has served me well."

The audience laughs again.

I continue. There is a question at the end of this, I'm not just being a daft fangirl, honest. "So we met at that turning point in Scotland's history and here we are again at another turning point and I want to ask you how you feel about the fact that during your songs you sung today which talk about freedom of speech and the rights of the people, that people in the audience were being having their Yes flags taken off them by security?" 

I'll leave Billy's response to the end of the post. Meanwhile I want to tell you why my husband was not with me at that point. It has nothing to do with me openly flirting with Billy Bragg.  He was outside the Verb Garden tent being told he couldn't get in unless he removed his Yes badge. He refuses and decides to make a bit of a stand. He asks the security guard to tell him why he can't wear the badge on camera. He is then suddenly surrounded by three security guards. After 5 minutes of arguing he relents, takes off the badge and goes in. He then spots Tommy Sheridan standing nearby the door with his wife Gail. Tommy is next on the speakers bill after Billy Bragg. "They made me take my Yes badge off Tommy, can you believe it?" A wee bro mo ensues as Tommy gives John a man hug. Tommy is fairly used to being surrounded by security, Meester M, not so much.

Billy Bragg finishes his Q and A and I try to run off with him before my husband gets back. Note: I did NOT pay the bouncers to detain him, the Yes badge stuff is real.
Check Billy wearing the Quines for Indy badge

We then stay to watch Tommy who in his closing speech pointedly criticises Belladrum organisers for taking badges off people which have come in to watch speeches about the indy ref to huge applause from all the folk who no doubt had had to pocket their's until they were inside. No such luck to the folk we speak to later who couldn't get in at all because they were wearing Yes tshirts. Turns out they didn't want to go taps aff. Pesky freedom of speech getting in the way of public order, and all that.

Later on I find out that this has been the order of the weekend. Yes supporters Frightened Rabbit pull out a Yes flag on the main stage despite being warned not to go near the indy ref by organisers (don't bother checking for that on BBC Alba coverage; that bit has been edited out). 

Capercaillie fit in a wee quick "All the best on the 18th, do the right thing" as they go off stage". And do you want to know what Billy Bragg said in response to my question?

He said, "Fuck them. Just keep on doing it."

You can't argue with that; it worked in 1990 too.

* Note that in answer to an audience question about who was behind the confiscation of flags and badges Bragg and Robertson both say that the decision had nothing to do with the BBC.

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