Sara Sheridan: New Year’s Resolutions? New Life Resolutions more like it

Poor wee blog withering away on the vine, lonely and forgotten. But still loved, at least by me.

And thanks to friends, about to get a wee burst of life at year end. The last time, Sara Sheridan posted on this blog, it created an unedifying storm of comment.  Women has views, shock horror.

It’s fair to say that since then, Sara has been – using the X factor parlance – on a bit of a journey.  From dubious to interested to full on Yes.  She was one of the stars of Edinburgh Women for Indy, going wherever asked to speak and engage with women voters.  Often at a moment’s notice, despite her busy schedule.

Because in between all the politicking, Sara is still a writer and cultural commentator. And very good at both. She is on twitter @sarasheridan and on FB: sarasheridanwriter

Enjoy her New Life Resolutions. 

It’s that time of year – the time when you can’t help reviewing what you’ve been up to and thinking about where you might be going next.

2014 was a seminal year for so many people in Scotland. For me, it was revolutionary! I’ve never been interested in politics before. When the Referendum came along it set me alight – suddenly I was up late reading statistics, trawling articles for information and engaging with friends in debate. Some people I know stayed in either a Yes or No bubble but my family and friends came from both sides and I really enjoyed talking to the people around me about the issues.

2014 changed my life. It’s as simple as that.

On 19th September I was gutted. I cried every day for nine days about the No. I still find myself tearing up sometimes. That’s the risk you take when you fall in love with a dream. So that first horrible day, around me, as everyone struggled to rally I was moved by the way we pulled together. A No campaigning friend arrived with a bottle of whisky and we Yessers laid into it! Quite apart from the dreadful disappointment (and let’s face it, one side was always going to be disappointed) I found myself floundering. My life had changed. I had changed. I couldn’t imagine a way forward and I certainly wasn’t going to go back. I have a lovely life, a job I enjoy and a fabulous family but that wasn’t enough any more. In a way politics had made me greedy!

During the referendum I had written articles, appeared on TV and radio and occasionally spoken to meetings. Afterwards, the calls kept coming but somehow, it felt odd, almost purposeless, to pitch up to a morning radio show and air my opinions, when the possibility of real change had been removed. Within the Yes movement people rallied at different paces (some with astonishing speed) but I found myself going slowly. I’m not a party political person, never have been – I am driven by issues. While my husband and several of our friends joined the SNP, I knew that wasn’t for me. They had my vote but not my membership.

In a way I think I was heartbroken. The Referendum had been for me, a love affair with my country and it had given me passion for possibility of changing it for the better. It had set me alight. Like a teenager at the end of her first affair, I struggled to come back down to earth, to align what I had felt so passionately with the day to day reality I came back to when the party was over.

Gradually, I realised I had to find things I could do. Maybe not huge things, but things that were worthwhile. I discussed it with my husband and we made a vow (one that didn’t appear on the front page of the Daily Record) to boycott the organisations and businesses that we felt had behaved dishonourably during the campaign. I’m not talking about people that came out for No. People were entitled to do that. But supermarkets that claimed prices would go up, shops that said they’d fire people and relocate. We made a list and we’ve stuck to it – our shopping habits have changed.

The biggest shock of the Referendum for me, though, was the role the mass market media played and particularly the BBC. I had always trusted the BBC and from time to time I’d worked there. The ongoing bias infuriated me (it still does). We considered cancelling our TV licence. At first I thought this was a big ask – after all, I was now fascinated by politics, how would I do without the News (twice a night) and the rest of UK broadcast political programming? We switched off the telly though and tried it for a week and lo and behold we found we LOVED it. It was strange and very unexpected but not having advertising in the background and being able to pick and choose what to watch (because like many people we had had a lazy, if it’s on we’ll give it a go attitude). We also found we could pick up news stories online easily and in the end, we felt more informed, not less informed by boycotting the television. If you’d like to try it, there is a guide to the ins and outs of cancelling your licence (scroll down) on Wings:  http://wingsoverscotland.com/enough-is-enough/

Boycotts are positive consumer action but I also wanted to find ways of boosting the causes I agreed with as well as moving away from businesses and organisations with whom I did not. When the National came out I had a policy of buying 2 copies and leaving one in a local coffee shop or restaurant with the rest of the papers. I made donations to a few crowdfunders and also to the Common Weal. I became a joiner (not political parties) but other organisations, including Women for Independence, which I find completely inspiring.

I still don’t know the way forward. Not really. But I know how I want to vote (which is something I haven’t always known 6 months before the polling date) and I feel good about where my money is going and how it is being used. I suppose the Referendum has given me a sense of responsibility that I never had before.

All of this is not enough. I’m looking at other ways of making a contribution, of shifting my day to day life to let me take part and express myself politically. But it is a start. A step in a different direction and into a different life. I might not have the governance I had hoped for coming into 2015 but I have prospects and I have hope – a hope that change will come, more slowly than we might have liked, but come nonetheless.

And I’m sticking with it – in for the long run.

Dear Good Morning Scotland – an apology

But first let me explain.

Hillsborough is one of those events in life when you will forever remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened.

I was in the pub, having spent the first part of the day in the library revising (sic) for my finals.  We had just settled down with our pints and everyone in the pub had their necks craned to watch the wee TVs up high in the corner of the ceiling.  It was packed.  There was a lot of hub bub and excitement.  In those days, we didn’t get a 24/7 diet of football so cup semi-finals were a big deal to football fans of any persuasion.

But what we saw unfold caused the babble to ebb away until we all sat and stood in disbelieving silence at what we were seeing.  Beer never tasted so bad: few could finish their drinks.  People – grown men even – began crying openly.  Still no one uttered a word.  Some shrugged on their coats and hurried home, to be with loved ones.   By six pm, the pub was empty and we were all at home, in a state of shock.

The appalling lies printed in the aftermath by the Sun about rioting fans robbing dead people and urinating on supposedly heroic policemen did not tally with all that we had seen.   There were no riots.  There were no thugs.  Anyone watching the TV could see that this was a tragedy, a terrible thing to happen, caused by who knew what then, but certainly not football hooligans.  So many of us who witnessed Hillsborough happen knew right from the start that something smelled rotten.

It’s important, too, to understand the context of time and place.  Hillsborough came at the end of a decade of Thatcherism, whose political philosophy was to reinforce class divides.  We had had an escalation of the troubles in Northern Ireland and the hunger strikes;  we had had inner city and race riots;  we had had mass unemployment;  we had had the dismantling of mining communities and traditions, aided and abetted by brutal policing of the strike in 1984.

We had a working class way of life which was being compelled into extinction.  And every Saturday, we marched in protest.  Young people like me were utterly politicised by what was going on all around us, all over these islands.   It is hard to believe now, but the 80s were an edgy and a brutal decade where at any moment, you sensed that it would all kick off.   And Thatcher reigned over it all supreme, nurturing a sense of divide and rule, of them and us.

And love him or loathe him, Derek Hatton as leader of Liverpool City Council refused to give in.  He took the fight to Thatcher and was supported by the people of his city to do so.  Few of us watched the right wing establishment response to the Hillsborough tragedy and did not suspect that if it had happened to any other community but Liverpool, the response might have been different.  This was Liverpool getting its just desserts for refusing to show any modicum of electoral gratitude for such policies as right to buy and inner city regeneration.

So, what the Hillsborough report made plain this week, matters.  Not just, although especially, to the families and the community who have campaigned for 23 years for justice, and are still infused with a sense of righteous anger, but to us all.  For it shows – definitively – that there was a campaign of concerted cover-up by West Yorkshire police, devised and planned with the help of others, including Tory MPs.  And it shows that even when given the opportunity by her Home Secretary to investigate the performance of the police and emergency services on that ill-fated day, the Prime Minister refused and turned her sights instead on football, that bastion of working class maledom, which personified all that she thought wrong with our society. And it shows that everyone and anyone who had ever so much as hinted that those to blame for the death of 96 people and serious injuries of dozens more were the victims themselves were utterly wrong and complicit.  And it vindicates all of us who have fostered a righteous wrath against Thatcher and all that she stood for, ever since.

Which was why I was angry that the day after the report’s publication, the feats of a world record-breaking guinea pig and of preparations of some city in the US to honour Neil Armstrong seemed as important to your news agenda as Hillsborough.  Because to me, such programming suggested that you, as with most other news outlets in Scotland, had failed to appreciate the enormity of what this report represents.  Not just in England, but in Scotland too.

Maybe it’s an age thing but actually that worries me more, that significant events which reflect and shape our times can appear to be dismissed by those too young to have borne witness. Hillsborough was of its time but its happening has stayed with many of us into our adult lives and indeed, has helped shape what those lives have become.  It has become a symbol of all that was wrong with those Thatcher years and the report now demonstrates how wrong they were and in so many ways.

And maybe Hillsborough couldn’t happen here, what with our distinctively different policing culture.  To which I respond, aye right.  Because it could and it does.  And to add a little contemporary twist, the creation of a single Scottish police force lacking local democratic scrutiny, with accountability only to its political masters, no matter what caveats are put in place, just made the likelihood – or at least, the possibility – of police graft and corruption on the scale of Hillsborough more likely in 21st Century Scotland.

But the airwaves and press pages in Scotland should have been dominated by Hillsborough, by forensic examination of the details of the report, with layers of reaction, for one reason above all.  Because Hillsborough was not a tragic accident but effectively mass murder.  Destroying not just 96 lives, but all those injured and who have never properly recovered, and their families too.   And when families and a community tenacious as this hold fast for 23 years in their search for the truth, we should all pay our due respects.

So, I apologise for criticising your coverage of Hillborough last week.  You are, after all, much better placed than I am to understand what needs to go into three hours of morning news to give it shape and tone and depth.  But in doing so, I hope you understand, even a little, what prompted that criticism.

Vote! On the BBC/First Minister spat

Another Saturday, another tale of nonsense from the BBC.

This weekend, the state broadcaster has given us two upon which to grind our teeth.

First, the astonishing decision to axe the Janice Forsyth show from Saturday morning schedules.  Now, I would admit that I only occasionally listen to it   It’s on at an awkward time for me, I’m usually out the door by then, busy with bairns’ stuff.  But when I do get the chance, well it’s pretty much perfect Saturday morning listening.  Great choons, a witty and articulate presenter, interesting guests, good chat.

But the Saturday morning schedule does seem a bit jumbled.  News review followed by sport review followed by a magazine show.  The mix doesn’t quite gel, although maybe it doesn’t have to.  Maybe if BBC Scotland was thinking about the diverse needs of its potential audiences, the mix hits the mark.

And it’s this issue that bothers me most about the decision.  Where is the diversity in BBC Scotland’s approach?  The plan is shockingly two-dimensional:  chat through the day, music at night.  Anything falling between those stools will be jettisoned.  Our brains are so unsophisticated it would appear, that unless the BBC helpfully puts everything into wee boxes for us, we cannot cope.  Words fail me.

I also can’t help suspecting that the BBC is guilty of some pretty unsophisticated thinking of its own – and it’s also fairly unsavoury.  What kind of chat are we likely to get on a daytime schedule that is already dominated by sport – football in particular – and male voices?  Hmm?

More innane wittering on about football?  More blokes gathered in a cupboard joshing and puffing themselves and their opinions up?

Don’t get me wrong – I like my football, I love pottering about on a wet Saturday with my radio tuning in to matches.  It is not unknown in my house for all the radios to be tuned to different matches simultaneously – it can be exhilirating if also confusing.

But that isn’t the point.  It is simply unacceptable for the state broadcaster, paid for by the public purse, to exclude one half of the population from its daytime Saturday schedule.  There are few enough female voices on Radio Scotland these days – even though there is no shortage of excellent female journalists and broadcasters in this country – without a whole day being allowed to become male dominated.  Moreover, since when did the whole population “like” sport and only want sport from one half of the weekend schedule?

I may, of course, be getting ahead of myself.  Maybe the slot will be filled by a chat magazine show that discusses “women’s issues” – a kind of Caledonian women’s hour.  Now that would be interesting.  Or a politics discussion show with only women participating – again, an interesting concept.  Or at the very least maybe it will be a show fronted by a woman talking about stuff other than sport.  But I hae ma doots.

In any event, this, and the storm of protest on Twitter this morning, is a shot across BBC Scotland’s bows.  If the plan was to fill the Saturday morning airwaves with more innane football drivel and remove a woman from the slot and replace her with a man, well they might want to tear it up and think again.

But this is not the only example of bizarre BBC-ery (it almost deserves a noun in its own right;  for meaning, think fuckwittery).  After arranging for the First Minister, Alex Salmond, to appear on its big build-up to the Calcutta Cup match this evening, the BBC has pulled the plug.  Apparently, it’s too politically sensitive a time, too close to the local government elections (still more than three months away) to have a Scottish politician on the telly talking about rugby and what the match means to Scotland.

Now, those who object to any politician getting involved in talking about sport or muscling in on any big sporting occasion have a point.  There is a principled case for keeping it all very separate and therefore, avoiding the possibility of stumbling into delicate territory.  But a blogpost on the pros and cons of the relationship between sport and politics is for another day.

And this would be fine if the BBC was in any way principled about this but it isn’t.  There have been plenty of times when politicians have been allowed, nay encouraged to be involved in big sporting occasions.  Olympics anyone?  Indeed, it’s not just politicians:  look at how fawning everyone is when a Royal deigns to mix it with the hoi polloi on mass participation activity.  Just like the Royals, politicians do this cos it’s populist and popular.  And the BBC has always enabled it – until now.

The final point is that Alex Salmond is not just any other politician.  He is the elected First Minister of Scotland, our highest public representative and it is entirely within his job description to appear on the telly on the day of a big sporting occasion and talk about his hopes for a Scotland win but probably – as he would have done – about what such an occasion brings to Scotland and means economically and socially to Edinburgh, in particular.  Some may not like it because it’s Alex Salmond getting to comment on all of this, but that is his role, just as it would be Johann Lamont’s if she were First Minister.

The excuses trotted out by the BBC are paltry and small-minded and belittle Scotland.  There is a place for our First Minister, whatever his or her hue, to be part of the coverage of today, until and unless it changes its policy and produces a blanket ban on ALL politicians and public figures (including Royalty) appearing on its platforms in connection with big sporting occasions.

But maybe, you don’t agree?  Then vote!

And in the interests of fairness, here is the question framed differently