Sunday, 9 June 2013

A Ray of Sunshine

So, I haven't posted on here for a while.


I'll confess its because I have been getting a bit down and depressed by the poor quality of the debate from both sides of the independence divide. Bickering over the smallest issues, down to the price of a stamp, trying to personalise the arguments with 'Calmangate' and the side-show japes of Nigel Farage's trip to Edinburgh have all made depressing reading over the last few weeks.

However, yesterday I read something which put a bit of a spring back into my step, and which I recommend to all.

Coming hard on the heels of Ed Miliband's speech in which he offered to out-Tory the Tories on austerity and social security, it really brought home to me that what's on offer here is not only the chance for us to walk a different path, but to even have the chance of any choice at all, rather than the practically identical neoliberal options being offered at Westminster.

Now we just have to take it!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

500 Days and counting

The great Scottish novelist, Alisdair Gray, once wrote that you should "Work as if you are living in the early days of a better nation."

It is 500 days until the referendum, and for those of us on the Yes side, we do indeed fervently hope that we are in the early days of a better nation. A nation in which we have control of our own destiny. A nation in which we always get the government that we vote for, not just when that choice happens to align with those in the South East of England. An independent nation, but one that works to be a constructive member of the international community. A nation that presents its own face to the world.

We have 500 days to persuade those who are undecided to choose a hopeful future, and I am sure we can do it. 500 of those 'early days' start now.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Funeral Blues

The death of Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher, whose funeral it is today, has left me profoundly sad.

Now, this wasn't my initial reaction. I'll admit to a brief moment of elation when I first heard the news. And unlike many others, I'm not going to criticise those who have celebrated more fully. I wasn't directly affected by a lot of her more destructive policy decisions, but I can understand why those who saw their livelihoods and way of life decimated, or their families descend into despair, divorce and sometimes death, could be tempted to raise a glass or five to mark the fact she has gone.

But the reason some folk have had street parties, or  tried to get a tune from a 70 year old musical to number one, is the reason that has made me so sad - because its the only thing they can do. Nothing meaningful can be gained from celebrating the death of a senile old woman, but that's all a lot of Thatcher's opponents have left to do, because in almost all other ways, she so utterly and comprehensively won.

Just days before her death, her political and spiritual heirs brought in legislation that reduces the already small amount that those on benefits, including those who are unable to work due to disability or illness, are provided with if the government decides their houses are too big, an idea that wouldn't have seemed out of place in a Dickens novel. But the real kick in the teeth that this policy shows is that it's not even something that the Tories thought up themselves, but is in fact something that the last Labour government introduced - the blue Tories have just extended it to include those in public housing as well as those in private. And the biggest irony of all is the reasons being given for these policies - a need to reduce public spending following a 'banking crisis' caused by rampant speculation and a lack of any suitable oversight, and a lack of suitable social housing, caused by councils being forced to sell off their housing stock at knock down prices then being prevented from building suitable replaces with the proceeds. And how does the red Tories spokesman react to this and the other swathe of changes to the welfare system? By promising to be 'even tougher'. There now seems to be simply no place at all in mainstream UK political discussion for the suggestion that the individualistic, selfish, market worshiping approach of Thatcherism, and the continuing demonisation of those on welfare, might not be the only option. Maggie would have been so proud!

There are, however, two things which I am thankful to Thatcher for.

The first is the impact that she had on the campaign for Scottish self governance. The Tories started with 22 seats in Scotland at the 1979 election (only 31% of those on offer, and half that won by Labour) , and after a decade of Thatcherism, that had halved to 11 seats (15% of the total, and 38 behind Labour). This disconnect between the votes of those in Scotland, and the make-up of the government at Westminster help greatly in the drive for Devolution, as people sought a bulwark against the depredations of a government that seemed at times openly hostile to the interests of the Scottish people. However, given that we are in an even worse situation now, (the senior party in the current coalition has just a single solitary MP in Scotland) it would seem clear that the only permanent way to ensure that Scotland never again gets a government lead by a party with so few seats here is a Yes vote next September.

Oh, and I mentioned a second thing I'm thankful to Maggie for, and that's her work for Lyons in developing emulsifiers for ice-cream. So, if we get a Yes next year, I'll be sure to have a raspberry ripple 99 in her honour, for everything she did to help us get there!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Iain Menzies Banks

I was deeply saddened today to read Iain Banks' announcement that he has terminal cancer of the gall bladder and liver, although in typical style he was even able to bring a touch of mordant humour to that by also mentioning that he'd asked his partner Adele if she would do him the honour of becoming his widow! (She was happy to accept by the way, and they are currently off on their honeymoon).

I first encountered one of his books when browsing in James Thin for something to spend the book token I had received at school prize-giving. I had already gathered an eclectic selection of a P.G. Wodehouse omnibus, a collection of short essays by Henry Rollins and 'It Crawled From The South', Marcus Gray's exhaustive examination of the early years of R.E.M., but I still had enough for one more. They had a display of signed paperbacks near the till, so I picked one up and, leafing through, encountered what is still my favourite opening line of a novel ever -

"It was the day my grandmother exploded"

This was in 1993, and twenty years later, I'm still happily devouring each of his new works, especially those with the additional 'M' on the dust jacket. It's still not really sunk in that the copy of 'The Hydrogen Sonata' that was sitting underneath the Christmas tree last year will be the last of those, and the upcoming 'The Quarry' will be his final book.

Prentice McHoan's exploding grandmother may have been the first death I read about in a Banks book, but it was far from the last - from the mutilated animals (and Frank's others victims) in the Wasp Factory, the novel use of a cello in Canal Dreams, and the hugely varied and imaginative ways that people are dispatched by members of Special Circumstances in the Culture novels. But despite all this, it is Banks' inherent humanism and faith in the general 'goodness' of most people that seems to inform his view of the future, and what makes it so attractive.

While I prefer his science fiction (especially so more recently), it was also important to me when I was a teenager to find mainstream, critically-lauded books that were set in a modern day Scotland, populated with folk who talked a bit like me, and featured places I'd been to or known about. Banks work helped greatly in the flourishing of a uniquely Scottish cultural identity, just like the poems of Edwin Morgan and the plays of Liz Lochhead, playing an important part in the growth of confidence in Scottish civil society that eventually lead to the formation of the Scottish Parliament, and further on to point where we now find ourselves approaching the referendum on independence. Banks is a fairly recent convert to the idea of Scottish independence, but it is particularly sad that it now seems extremely unlikely that he'll get the chance to take part in the big decision next September.

Its often a source of great debate whether Iain Banks or Iain M Banks' work is best. I enjoy both, but I have to say that my favourite of his books is not a novel at all. Raw Spirit is Banks' tale of his trips around Scotland in search of 'the perfect dram', and it comes across as almost a love letter to the land of his birth. I've read it a few times, and it never fails to make me want to travel north, to visit some small, out of the way villages and islands, and to forget about the day to day drudgery for just a little while. And I don't even like whisky!

As is the case with anyone struck by a terminal illness at a relatively young age, it seems so unfair. But if there is one silver lining to be taken from today's news, it's that Iain will actually get the chance to see just how much esteem and affection people have for him. The site I linked to above is open for comments, so if you have enjoyed any of Iain's books, you can let him know directly there.

And I'll end with the thought that I posted there -

Cheers, Iain, not just for the sheer enjoyment that your books have brought me, but also for helping open this young man’s eyes to the prospect of a positive future both in the short term for our shared land and in the long term for all of mankind.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Spot the difference

BBC 26th March 2013

North Sea oil bonanza 'unlikely', says think tank CPPR

"A think tank has rejected suggestions that Scotland could be on the brink of another oil bonanza.
The Scottish government claimed that North Sea production could generate a great deal more in tax revenues than had been estimated. But a report by the Centre for Public Policy for the Regions (CPPR) said a return to the boom years was unlikely."

BBC 28th March 2013

BP and partners announce $500m Clair field appraisal

"A consortium of oil companies is to invest more than $500m (£330m) in an appraisal drilling programme which could lead to further development of a giant North Sea field. The BP-led consortium said drilling had already started on the first of five wells planned over the next two years at Clair, west of Shetland. Up to 12 wells could be drilled, depending on initial results."


Now, I'm not an expert in oil extraction (nor do I play one on TV), but even I can say that if I had to pick who's forecasts seem more likely, I'd go with the people spending half a billion dollars based on theirs, rather than the folk being paid to do an academic study.

There is one part of the CPPR study that I would agree with, and that's the suggestion that Scotland should be looking to move away from having oil and gas make up as large a percentage of our GDP as it does at the moment, and towards a more balanced economy. But in the meantime it does look to me that the scare stories about it all drying up soon and leaving us penniless and destitute are sounding a bit hollow and in fact, if properly-managed, it could give us a nice little nest egg as a newly re-born country.

Update -

Vince Cable seems to agree that things aren't as bleak as some are trying to claim.