En solidarité

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.

Watching the last few days’ terrible and terrifying events unfold in Paris has been compulsive. The live filming of the siege on Friday seemed like an episode of Spiral, which made a welcome return to our screens last night. The shooting of 10 staff and associates at Charlie Hebdo and two police officers was shocking in its brutality, but also in the mundaneness with which armed terrorists were able to plan and execute such a terrible atrocity. Just like that.

You go to work like you do every other day, but today you don’t come home. Just like that.

The atrocity has prompted some outstanding journalism and leadership from newspapers, in particular. They always do cover such stories best, having the time and the keen sense of purpose with which to craft the right words. But perhaps, because it is the inky fingered lot whose freedom to express, to print all the news that’s fit to print, is so regularly threatened – sometimes by their own inability to adhere to the values of independence and non-bias which they maintain, matter so much – by regulation, by the removal of those rights, through owners’ patronage and personal proclivities; political interference; judicial tinkering.

I’ve read a lot that I’ve liked in Scottish newspapers since Wednesday. We are fortunate to have some fine journalists and writers working in our parts and our media culture would be lacking without them. Bravo et encore.

There has also been reflection and introspection about the nature of rights, the balance to be struck between and among rights and individuals’ right to exercise them.  Put crudely, whose trumps who’s?  The right of journalists and cartoonists to express themselves freely or the right of believers to worship their chosen faith free from intolerance and prejudice?  One thing on which we can all agree – no one has the right to kill anyone else to assert their beliefs over any individual, community or society.

And while it is good to be reminded of the point of human rights and why they are vital and fundamental to the well-being of a country, must it always be through adversity? Who in the UK thinks now that rights don’t matter?  Good. You might want to let your MP know then, as there’s a bill before Westminster proposing to remove our human rights and replace them with a bill of rights that creates a new constitutional framework for the UK. Whether it will allow us to continue to enjoy the same human rights as say, the French is as yet not clear.

Today France and indeed, Europe will come together in a show of solidarity, marking the murders in the way the French know best. By taking to the streets, exercising their collective freedom to assemble peaceably. Indeed, the populace will be aided and abetted in its efforts by the availability of free public transport and cut price travel from outwith Paris. Touché.

I am struck by the differences in how countries and societies display their public grief and demonstrate their shared sense of pain. After 7/7, plucky Britain and London kept calm and carried on.  Everyone back to work, business as usual. How a country mourns publicly after such a catastrophic event which touches everyone directly and indirectly says a lot about its culture and its belief system.

And sometimes it takes a terrible happening to be reminded of what matters in and to a society. Liberté. Fraternité. Égalité.

I’m sure many French people have taken a moment or two this week to reflect on these values and what they mean in a 21st Century country. When your country has touchstone principles as powerful as this, it’s vital to keep them alive. Sadly, it often takes death to remind us to do so. And to remember what matters – truly matters – in our everyday lives. It does no harm for us all to reflect a little.

On some levels, Scotland’s independence referendum attempted to hold a discourse on who we are, what we believe in and where do we want to go.  We all nodded – whatever side of the binary choice you ended up on – in agreement with notions of fairness and greater equality in our society.

In writing Generation Scot Y earlier this year, I analysed what young people in both camps were saying about their referendum choice.  What mattered to them and how were they articulating that.  The choice of language was remarkably similar:  young Yessers talked a lot about better, about fairer, progressive, opportunity, democracy and future, while young No campaigners also talked a lot about opportunities, choice, future, rights and things being better. A common language then, if not purpose at that time.

And at the end of it all, now we are out the other side, where stands Scotland? What has become of all that yearning for better, fairer and opportunity in our future? Can we find away to make the purpose fit the language? And does anyone even want to? We’re One Scotland no doubt but surely it takes more than trite messaging and imagery to make it so.

We may wish to engage in a little schadenfreude and nod to the rise of the right in France and a level of racism, intolerance and prejudice that does not exist in Scotland as reasons why it could never happen here. But France is a much more multi-cultural country than we are: not only was a Muslim police officer gunned down by Islamist extremists, but it was a Muslim employee in a Jewish supermarket who protected other shoppers, including a child. France has its issues but there is also much to learn from a culture which aims to assimilate and adopt a melting-pot approach to immigration and where identities – as they are in so many other countries today – multi-dimensional.

And today, we will watch – yes, in solidarity – as a nation mourns, as a nation gathers to remind itself of its founding principles and of what truly matters to its society, its sense of self and its well-being.  Je suis. Nous sommes.

We – I – will shed a tear and quietly, timidly ask how do we prevent this happening here –  happening anywhere – again. As Dani Garavelli points out in an excellent opinion piece in today’s Scotland on Sunday, “days later, the indefensibility of the attack on Charlie Hebdo remains, but almost everything else is shadows and fog”.

We may wish to call on the wisdom of Robespierre in our search for some answers and a solution.

Wanted: a little fraternal solidarity

One of the reasons many Labour folk cite for not supporting independence is because they care as much about the child growing up in poverty in Camden as much as the one in Calton.  They just about manage to stop themselves from breaking into song on how children are our future.  I jest, but I do accept they make a serious point.  We should care about the fate of all the people on these islands – and I agree.

But I don’t like the opposite preposition – that you people don’t care about children in poverty anywhere other than in Scotland – being tossed carelessly as a jibe at SNP/independence supporters.  Because it’s false.

It is hard to articulate but in some respects, my passion for changing things, for throwing out the old order and defining and re-imagining a new way for Scotland is absolutely linked to a wish to participate fully on the international stage and to be in a position to contribute more effectively to the lot of other communities.  It’s something shared by many other supporters of independence.

Hence, I would like to think, that an independent Scotland would have a different approach to asylum-seekers and refugees, and a *door more open* attitude to economic migrants too.  Scotland, as we all know, is far from full up.

I’d also like to think that we might commit to a decent sum towards international development activity, playing a full role in addressing absolute want in countries and enabling impoverished nations to grow and build their way to a better future.

Having a seat in the EU and the UN would enable Scotland to speak up and speak out on international issues: I’d even like to think that on occasion, our wee voice might be heard and listened to.  Sometimes, too, we might act not only for our own common good, but for others too.  Wee countries can and do make a difference.

The alternative is to stay as we are, largely as international pariahs, trading on a reputation long since burnished.  We get involved too often in the wrong wars. We throw our weight around.  We like to think we are military players: there is no shortage of belief in the right thing to do when it comes to tooling up.

But when it comes to leading on other matters, we’ve become, under this Conservative-led government, Pontius Pilate like.  Old instincts die hard and this lot learned their craft from the Thatcher creed.  Thus, a distrust of all things European, which often betrays itself as outright prejudice and disdain, is the tie that binds the Tory lot.  Playing hardball with Europe has become the bone which Cameron throws to his dogs to satiate their appetites.  It turns my stomach.

As does the idea that we in the UK can withdraw from what is going on over the water, as being nowt to do with us.  When it is everything to do with us: some of our banks helped to cause it, after all.

We are so tied into the idea of the banks being too big to fail, that instead we are prepared to allow countries and peoples to fail instead.  As long as the paper moneymakers remain unfettered to continue doing what they did, who cares who pays the price.

Well, I care and I know others do too.  What is happening in Greece right now is desperate.  There are real people – little people – hurting and I feel their pain.  The country is being asked to deliver impossible levels of cuts, ones that will effectively destroy its economy and society, in order to meet its debt.  I can see why the other members of the Eurozone have insisted on such a course of action, but frankly, I’m toiling to understand it.

Yes they had to attempt to keep Greece in the Euro, to avoid total meltdown of the currency zone.  Yes they could not allow one country to default on its debts for fear of a domino effect.  And yes they had to try and keep all economies inside the tent of the prevailing economic orthodoxy.

But not at any price surely.  Some have pointed out, that this monster was not of Greek origin, yet Greece is being lined up as the first sacrificial lamb.  The financial institutions now appear to be the arbiters of countries’ activities – they set the rules for nation states, while not accepting any brakes or rules to be applied to their own activities, of course.

At what point does someone – anyone – break cover and say enough.  We are brothers and sisters and we cannot, will not enforce poverty and instability on our neighbours.  Being in this together means exactly that.  We cannot inflict financial torture on others, on innocent individuals, in the hope that doing so spares us, yet the behaviour of our UK Government suggests precisely this insouciance.

Today, I am not only feeling the Greeks’ pain, but also sharing their anger.  I am angry that no politician or country is prepared to stand up and be counted on their behalf.  To offer an alternative solution to the shocking fiscal requirements being imposed on Greece.  To signal that it is does not have to be this way, that if we are to prevent this happening again in future, we must work together – as a family of nations to find a different way of financing ourselves and our economies.  One which does not involve a handful of untouchables dictating to the rest of us how to go about our business while taking no ethical responsibility for how they do theirs.

And I am utterly resolved that things in future must be different.  That there is nothing to be gained from staying within the UK, from remaining part of a union of nations which is prepared to abandon its fellow men and women to their fate.  Whether they live in Camden, Calton or Crete.

#sp11 Regions revisited – Glasgow

Well, we finish on a damp squib.  There’s not a lot to disagree with in Jeff’s final analysis of this region over at Better Nation.  So I’ll save you any pain for very little gain and simply say…

I agree.  With all the constituency predictions. Though interestingly, using the ICM poll (which is now pretty out of date but not that wide of the mark), ScotlandVotes predicts that Glasgow Southside will fall to Labour.  On this occasion, we’re right and they’re wrong.  The SNP will hold this seat with Nicola Sturgeon returning.  But other than that, Glasgow will be its usual sea of red.

So far, it’s eight for Labour and one for the SNP.  Just like last time.  Just as Jeff said.

On the list seats, the SNP will dominate as it has in previous elections, taking four, which will see not one but two BEM MSPs entering the Scottish Parliament.  Hurrah!  The Lib Dems will fail to return a list member for the first time since 1999 and hell mend them, for dumping Robert Brown.  The Conservatives will scrape one home with Ruth Davidson but I reckon their vote is going to plummet in regions like Glasgow so it will be a scrape rather than a mid table election, as Jeff indicates.

Patrick Harvie will get back for the Greens but it will not be as comfortable as the Scottish Greens seem to think and I reckon that the SSP and Gorgeous George – for Respect or Solidarity or whatever – will run them close.  Glasgow does gallus like no one else and it likes its celebrities to wear their hang ups on their sleeve.  George has the chutzpah, the well cut suit, the anti-establishment swagger and the patter to appeal to a significant section of the electorate.  But it won’t quite be enough.

So far so good, but what of the last seat?  It will go to Labour, for the reasons Jeff lays out.  But since starting this little game, I’ve done a wee bit of digging.  And actually, it’s a bit of a fallacy that Labour’s support transfers on the regional vote.  Someone, somewhere on a comment thread pointed this out and I was intrigued and had a wee bit look and think.  They were right, of course.  So taking into account that Labour often wins the regional vote out of each constituency in Glasgow combined with the increased votes/divisor calculation, they will take this seventh seat.  And yay, another BEM MSP is elected.

So, that’s , four SNP, one Conservative, one Green and one Labour.  Just as Jeff said.

Which makes our final tally a dead heat.  Not a jot of difference to be found, except for maybe the actual placings on the list.  Labour will elect nine MSPs from Glasgow, the SNP five, the Conservatives one and the Scottish Greens one.

There we’re done, only not quite.  I’ve still to do my round up and in bowling along, I’ve realised I’ve misplaced a Highlands and Islands seat so that will need to be sorted.  And looking at my tally so far, I seem to have predicted light for Labour.  I know, scary isn’t it?  So might have to have another wee look at some of those predictions and revise.

Just don’t expect fancy stuff like over at Better Nation.  Charts and colour, whatever next?!

Laters though.  The garden beckons…