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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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Funny Games

One thing really bothered me about last night's debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling on STV. Bizarrely it wasn't anything Alistair Darling said; all that was predictable and expected. It wasn't the aggression displayed by certain audience members grinding axes rather than asking questions; again all too predictable and expected. (Note to producers: far better to make all audience members undecideds).

No, what got me riled was a Tweet read out by the presenter in the so-called Spin Room towards the end f the show.  To be precise it was this tweet.


You can decide if you'd like if Mr Burham's comment was a joke or not by reading the article he made it in here .  Or if you cannae be bothered look at this extract here:

A joke or not, comments that make outrageous claims about what will happen in an independent Scotland are effective. They are effective because sadly people believe them. They work. That's why the members of Better Together nicknaming their campaign Project Fear also wasn't a joke, cos frightening folk really does work.

Now, one could scoff at the gullibility of people. But that would be unkind. Because, these comments directly influence the vulnerable in society.  They are designed to confuse the vulnerable voter; the less educated, the poor with no access to online sources, the young who are not engaged in the issues but worry that their mobiles won't work in an indy Scotland, the elderly, the masses who read tabloid newspapers unflinchingly believing every word. In short, quite a lot of ordinary folks.All with votes.

 Lob a claim that overnight our whole traffic system will change and folk will believe it. Now they won't believe it if it is said by Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle, as their profession as comedians will infer very strongly that their comment is a joke, mainly since making folk laugh is their stock in trade. However, let's look at the job description of the bloke above. Andy Burnham is Shadow Health Secretary. Shadow Health Secretaries do not have a summer season at Blackpool or a regular seat on 8 out of 10 Cats to my knowledge. Number one reason; they'd be shit at it. Number two reason; they are elected members of parliament with the job of talking seriously in subjects and maintaining a level of public trust. Call me old fashioned, but I kind of like it that way. You don't expect a man who went for leadership of the Labour Party to be a jolly japester. You need to know where you stand and that PMQs aren't a stand up routine.

Last night I tweeted Mr Burnham in response to his claim it was all a big wheeze. 

He has not replied.

Every single week on the Women for Indy stall in Aberdeen we get people speaking to us who believe what someone the more "comedic" supporters of Better Together say.  The  other week an elderly lady said to me, "You're much nicer than that guy over there," (points towards the No Thanks stall fifteen feet away), "he told me I'd lose my pension if I voted yes".

It's pretty pernicious content in these "jokes". I have been first hand witness to some of the content of the Better Together stand up routine on what indy Scotland would be, not by exuberant volunteers on doorsteps but perpetrated in a public forum by those officially representing Better Together. A couple of months ago I blogged about the speech made by erstwhile Lib Dem EU candidate and potential heir to the my local constituency, currently held by Malcolm Bruce. (you can read it here, if you'd like ) 

Christine gave a flamboyant opener to her speech, dressing up her reason for being 2 hours late to the debate with a colourful odyssey through the border between Scotland and England on her way up from Westminster.  She marvelled about the following:
  • ·         How great it was to not have to stop at a border control and show her passport
  • ·         How great it was not to have to switch to driving on the right
  • ·         How great it was to be able to read all road signs in English and
  • ·         How great it was to know that the National speed limit would still apply in Scotland.

No joke.

I have it on good authority that this shtick is a regular feature in her presentations for Better Together . But then, maybe she's joking. Maybe, she too is hoping that she'll get a slot in the Edinburgh fringe like so many up and coming comedians before her.

Joking aside, I want to end this piece with a true story told to me by one of the Yes campaigners I was speaking to at our Women for Indy stall the other week. Out canvassing in one of the local Aberdeen areas, he chapped on the door of a woman in her late seventies/early eighties. This is what she said when asked how she would vote in September.

"I'd love to vote yes, son. But I can't"

Asked why she couldn't by my pal, she went onto say that she's been visited by someone from Better Together who told her that she would have to apply for a visitors' visa at great expense to be able to visit her grandchildren who live in England. She didn't like that idea, and was worried she wouldn't be able to afford the visa. She was genuinely upset.

Still think these jokes are funny, Mr Burnham?

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