Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My Journey from Union to Independence

There was a time when I was a unionist. I opposed Scottish independence because the union with the rest of Britain had served us well, although initially imposed utterly against the will of Scotland's people, who were never asked. It gave us access to England's trade routes and colonies, which suited our entrepreneurial nature, and it gave our artists access to a far wider public, and our nation access to deep pockets, which was important as England had pretty much bankrupted us by ensuring the failure of our plan to create a colony in Central America, a plan that had been massively subscribed to by our nation and our moneyed classes. On the whole, caveats aside, the British Union had been good to us. And as an ardent supporter of the European Union, it struck me as foolish to leave one union only to join a bigger one that included everyone we had just got away from.

But I always understood that it was Scotland's decision to make; the Scottish people's decision to make. And I supported federalism, at all levels, within Britain as well as beyond it. That included regional governments within England as well as home rule for the Celtic nations of these islands (and home rule had been a Liberal policy at the time for over a century, considerably longer than the SNP had even existed).

In 1997 came the referendum to reconvene the Scottish parliament. I was an enthusiastic campaigner for that despite having just suffered a stroke, and victory was sweet. I admired SNP leader Alex Salmond's handling of the campaign and his relationship with the then leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Jim Wallace.

In that campaign, I attended a party for the count and met SNP members, who seemed reasonable and to have reasonable arguments. And I was reading newspaper article comments, where the arguments of the dreaded "Cybernats" made a lot of sense to me. I became convinced that an independent Scotland would be viable, lost all fear of it, but still supported the union because I believed in abolishing international borders and not creating them.

Then, in 2007, the Scottish National Party won the Scottish parliamentary elections, but with a minority of the seats. There could now be a coalition between them and my party, the Liberal Democrats, and a referendum to let the Scottish people express their support for independence or for the union. But to my astonishment, dismay and disgust, the LibDems refused to accept that: the heirs of the Liberal Party's century long commitment to home rule, these passionate (once) about democracy and self-determination political progressives, stood with the fusty and exhausted Labour Party against allowing Scotland's people to decide their own future.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back. All of Britain's democratic deficit flooded my mind; the reality of Scotland's being governed almost all the time by governments it opposed and of being forced into subservience to the London based parties was, I now saw, indefensible on any democratic grounds.

In 2011, after four years of good, competent government without even having a parliamentary majority, the Scottish people gave their verdict on the SNP by returning it to power, but this time with an outright majority that ensured there WOULD be a referendum.

We're in the middle of the campaign now; the referendum will be held on 18th September this year. And my goodness there's been a lot of information that makes a compelling case for independence.

In the 1970s, when oil was discovered off the Scottish North Sea coast, the UK government quickly realised that if the already restive Scottish population knew what vast wealth they were sitting on, there would probably be an irresistible demand for independence. So they lied-- flat out lied-- and told us the oil wasn't worth THAT much, while burying the true numbers and confining them to secret vaults. If you search for the McCrone Report you can see the whole sorry tale.

Meanwhile, it turns out that, since World War Two, there have been virtually no UK governments elected which would have been any different without Scotland's votes. Only in the 1970s was there a period when Scottish MPs actually made any difference. That decade ended with a majority vote for a devolved Scottish assembly, which was deemed insufficient under the dishonest and undemocratic rules imposed by the Westminster government (that said there had to be a majority of votes AND 40% of the entire electorate for it to pass; in other words, not voting was effectively counted as a No vote).

It continues. Far from being too poor to be independent, for every single one of the last thirty-three years, tax revenue per head in Scotland has been higher than in the rest of the UK, which means we're actually wealthier than the rest of the UK, and than every single region of it other than London, which continues to suck at the teat of these islands and devour money raised in Scotland and elsewhere. AND Scotland spends less of its income on social welfare, including old age pensions, than the UK as a whole, which means we can actually BETTER afford to look after our ageing population than Britain can, contrary to all the scaremongering by the No campaign.

Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent, Trident (which in fact isn't independent at all as it can't be used without the permission of the USA) is sited here in Scotland. All of it. Which gives Scotland a higher concentration of nuclear bombs for its population than anywhere else on Earth. Westminster explains that it can't go anywhere else because it would be too dangerous to put it near a major population centre. But... it's in Scotland's central belt, where most of our people live, and only thirty miles from Glasgow, our largest city. An independent Scottish government could remove it, and if that government is the SNP, WILL remove it. The remaining UK could then choose to put it thirty miles from one of ITS cities or get rid of it. Scotland could then spend all the money we're paying for it to better use (along with the £50 million we spend every year sending useless MPs to Westminster).

In independent Scotland, there would be no bedroom tax further impoverishing those too poor to pay their own housing costs, no threat to our free education or free prescriptions unless it's from people we elect ourselves, and no more of the hated "fit for work" tests by the appalling Westminster appointed Atos "Health Care", which have been known to remove benefit from people with no legs, no sight or with just weeks or even days to live. We will be able to further improve our already excellent record on renewable electricity generation as a hedge against the day, about forty years from now, when the oil runs out. And when that day does come, we have a full quarter of Europe's wind and sea generation potential (and 37% of its annual fishing catch, without the power to negotiate for that).

Of course there will be challenges and difficulties, and times when our governments make mistakes both small and huge, but that's normal for ANY country. With independence, they will be governments elected by US, and not by people elsewhere who do not have our interests at heart. None of the quibbling, whining and boasting about a pound here or five hundred there can gainsay that democratic fact.

It's time for freedom. It's time for independence.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Rest now, Madiba

The first time I heard the name of Nelson Mandela was in 1981, when my native city of Glasgow became the first in the world to award him its freedom. At the time, it was controversial; he was in prison in South Africa, so how could he be free in Glasgow? And wasn't he a terrorist? The city, many people felt, had made a laughing stock of Glasgow. These naysayers included my parents.

Then I discovered he was an enemy of those who in 1976 had made the news by slaughtering schoolchildren in a far away place called Soweto, and started to feel he couldn't be ALL bad. As I grew older, became an adult, I learned a lot more about him and his struggle.

As a member of the Anti Apartheid Movement, I attended demos, rallies and leaflettings and I scoured the news. And the Nelson Mandela I learned to know was not a terrorist but an extraordinary hero.

Apartheid South Africa treated its majority black population not just as second class citizens, but not even as citizens at all. It was racism taken to its logical conclusion. The brilliant young lawyer Nelson Mandela wasn't allowed to vote, use the same swimming pools as white people or even live where he chose; his children wouldn't be able to attend decent schools. It was utterly evil. Not unreasonably, Madiba (his clan name and a term of respect) decided this system should be torn down and became a member of the ANC (African National Congress) to fight it, and he moved swiftly through its ranks. He led the movement to using armed force against military installations and other infrastructure, although never against people. In 1964, along with seven others, he was sentenced to life in prison, with hard labour, on charges of attempting to overthrow a government whose overthrow was in truth a moral necessity.

The convicts were sent to Robben Island, where they broke rocks in a quarry every day. They also discussed politics and the struggle. Madiba was there for eighteen years and then transferred to a mainland prison where he lived in conditions that were a bit more humane. In all the time that he was imprisoned, his reputation grew while the apartheid government's reputation became ever more notorious and a steadily lengthening list of countries imposed economic and other sanctions against it. Eventually, those sanctions took their toll and the regime was forced to start talking to Mandela, by now the unquestionable moral leader of his country.

They tried to soften him by offering him privileges such as visits from his wife (married not long before he was sent to jail) and family. Madiba refused such privileges because they were not on offer to his fellow prisoners. His moral constancy, along with the economic woes produced by sanctions, finally wore them down and on the momentous day of 11th February 1990, after almost 27 years in an apartheid prison, he was released.

Those who felt that the elderly, white-haired man now among his people would not be able to maintain his legendary status were soon to be disappointed. Far from being violently embittered, Madiba told the movement's hotter heads to throw their pangas into the sea and called off the armed struggle. Far from hating white people, he put them on his staff and even in his personal security team. He fought, as he had said, against white domination and against black domination. One person one vote was his immovable objective, and the regime could not in the end stand against the supreme morality of that objective. In 1994 there were extraordinary scenes as millions of people bore the blistering African sun to queue (in some cases all day) to vote for the first time in their lives in their country's first ever free election.

The result was never in doubt. The ANC was handed a landslide victory and Nelson Mandela became his country's first black president, to waves of joy in South Africa and around the world. After that, his by now vast moral authority never wavered. He could have been president for life, but, true to his democratic ideals, he stood down after just one five year term.

He then became a kind of global moral champion. He stood up for gay rights; he helped find justice for the family of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered by four racist thugs in South London; he undoubtedly contributed to the civil rights advances that helped Barack Obama to become the first black president of the United States. He became admired and loved with a breadth and depth matched by no one in the modern age, and that means by no one in the history of humanity.

In 1993, he came to Glasgow to receive the award made twelve years previously, and this time it wasn't controversial. Thousands of us stood in the rain in George Square and cheered, chanted and sang for this astonishing man, who spoke from the stage and even danced for us.

And last weekend, as my wife and I sat watching television, the broadcast was interrupted by the shocking news that Madiba had died. We had always known he was old and would die some day not VERY far in the future, and that he had been very ill for most of the year, but still the news was like a heavyweight punch in the gut. We were in shock, and then in tears, as the story unfolded and as his remarkable life story was retold and retold, over and over again, on almost every channel. As I write this, his funeral is only hours away. It will be an emotional day, hard to take but necessary to take part in as far as is possible from six thousand miles away.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba, the father of modern South Africa and surely the most loved human being who has ever lived, is gone. I remember that anew every day, and every day my heart sinks a little and the world feels far less than it used to be because he is no longer in it. But we still have his shining example, his glorious example, and we still have all of the beautiful memories he has left us.

Madiba will not be forgotten.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


This time, a poem.


I am a human being, like any other.

Like any other, I have a body. Like any other, I have skin. Like any other, I love. Like any other, I chose none of these.

I did not choose black skin. I did not choose a female body nor to be a woman. I did not choose to love mainly women.

Some people hate others with black skin, with female bodies or identities, with same sex lovers. Some people choose to silence such people.

I choose to speak out.

I choose to defend my fellow humans, no matter their skin; to defend them, no matter their body or gender; to defend them, no matter who they love.

Will you defend my right to choose that? Will you let me speak out? Will you allow me my voice? Despite hate?

I do hope so.

I did not choose black skin, nor the white skin that I have.

I did not choose a female body, nor the male one that is mine, nor my male identity.

I did not choose to love women, but I do, and one above all others.

Will you let me speak out? Have you chosen?

Friday, 26 July 2013

On Dodophobia and insignificant difference

When I first created the word dodophobia and the poem Dodophobia, it was a joke: a phobia is an irrational fear and you can't get much more irrational than fear of something which doesn't exist. Maybe a slightly self-conscious joke, maybe even a wee bit up my own arse, but there you go. By the way, the poem is in an earlier post here and I'm not going to paste it into this one; if you want to read it you'll have to exercise your scroll button.


The joke's on me, because I've realised that dodophobia really exists; maybe not literally, but, in terms of fear of the non-existent, definitely and absolutely.

The United States has been convulsed lately by the soul-crushingly abhorrent George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. George is white (at least that's what he calls himself, for whatever reason, although there are those who insist he's actually hispanic, no doubt for a multiplicity of convoluted reasons). Trayvon, his victim, was black (or African-American, or whatever other label you might choose to attach to his particular melanin level). And there began the problem, because George is a racist. Whether he has no melanin in his skin, a tiny bit, or a slightly higher amount, he hates/fears/dislikes/mistrusts (delete as desired) people who have as much of it, or a similar amount, as Trayvon.

But here's the thing.

If you lined up every human being with the Celts (pale blue) at one end and the central Africans (jet black) at the other, in strict order of the amount of melanin in their skin, you could tell a Scot from a Rwandan, but if you started at one end and moved along the line you would never be able to tell when one race ended and another began. So how would George and his ilk know when to stop loving and start hating? Human skin colour is an infinite individual spectrum, not a bunch of demarcated groups; there is more genetic difference between two neighbours on that line than between the aggregated left end and the aggregated right end. And it's utterly, insignificantly minuscule between neighbours (it's barely 1% between a human and a chimp).

But I'm not advocating colour blindness. The racists don't deserve to get off that lightly. Racism exists. Racists exist. George exists, and neither he nor any racist deserves to get off lightly.

The effectively arbitrary distinction between people of differently coloured skin has had huge historical consequences, has massively altered the experiences of individuals. Wars have been fought, nations raised and destroyed, cultures arisen and faded, cultural forms bloomed, survived, fused, divided and evolved; genocides have been attempted. Much serious shit has happened on that insignificant basis.

And we are all human. We have evolved these relatively massive brains, every one of which is buzzing with curiosity and wonder, and memory. And we need to study; we have to learn. We have to honour the victims of wars, genocides and murders by recognising and understanding what happened. And we have to celebrate and cherish the cultural sparks and individual brilliance, the memories, that have been spawned by the insignificant differences, racial, sexual and otherwise.

We have to learn. We have to understand. And we have to spread our learning and understanding until every human being shares them. Until racism disappears. Until hatred disappears. Until our George Zimmermans disappear, and we can all live.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Happy New Year!!

It's been a busy old time. Susan arrived in August, we got married in October and then into the festive season. Not had much time for anything else, but I have been feeling guilty about leaving Dodophobia alone, so here's a post.

On 19th August, myself, my mother and my two sisters headed out to the airport, clad in Susan's favourite colour, purple, to meet her plane. She was flying in from Iceland, but I found out just before leaving that they were landing first in Manchester, so we headed for Domestic Arrivals, bought a coffee at Starbucks and sat down. I immediately got up to have a look at the arrivals board and Susan's flight was listed as "landed". So I stood and waited. And waited. People came through, but no Susan, must be a different flight, so I kept waiting. And waiting. After about three quarters of an hour I was getting truly worried and started texting her; half way through my text, my phone rang. It was Susan, with a panicked "WHERE ARE YOU!?!?!?!?"  For some reason, her plane had landed at International Arrivals despite having just flown from Manchester, so I warned the troops and headed more rapidly than I have walked for a long time to the other end of the airport. There was my Susan. We hugged. And hugged. And hugged. Susan hugged the three others and they hugged her. I held Susan and she held me. Then we all headed for my sister Karen's car and drove to our flat. My other sister, Lesley, had put a Welcome Home banner across the door, so I handed Susan the keys and she broke that and opened the door. She loved the place, OUR place, and tripped jollily from room to room. After a diplomatic five minutes, Karen left and we were alone in our home. To tell you the truth, it had felt to me like Our Home from the moment I first saw it, and I had made sure the choice of colours and furniture and so on was a joint effort between Susan and me to make it even more so for both of us. But now it was whole. And that's how it has remained.

The wedding was in October, but that's a post all of its own, which I will be writing in the next few days. There is going to be a bit of a rush of posts in the next wee while, and I hope to keep up a more regular flow after that than I have done recently.

Welcome back, me!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Things are getting exciting.

Oh yes they are! Susan is, as previously noted, coming home, and it's getting more real by the day. She has her flight booked for 18th August, arrives here on the nineteenth, and the wedding is booked for 14th October, which will give us a week of married life before the world ends, if Harold Camping's calculations are correct. The reception's booked too, food dude and disco dude are re-engaged and it's all systems go.

We have a new flat to go with our new status; I will have moved in before she gets here but it is OURS, and we are making decisions jointly regarding decor and so on. It's one bus stop from where I am now and is in an ideal location for us, AND it's rented from the local council, so we have a secure tenancy, no problems with repairs etc, and a better flat than we could have got for the same money renting privately, not to mention central heating and laundry facilities including driers in the building. I have been out just today and bought us a suite for the living room, with couch-bed and easy chair. I will make a phone call tomorrow to arrange delivery of that, and also expect to speak to a painter and decorator about our walls. I'm feeling more married every day, and it is absolutely wonderful.

And then, if all that weren't enough, this week came the exciting news from Albany that New York state has passed a marriage equality law: all our gay friends there will now have the same right to marry as we would if we were there. As that includes at least one couple who have been together for over thirty years, this is in truth merely correcting a nonsense that has existed until now, is just putting right a long-standing social wrong, but it is also another sign that we are in the middle of a civil rights revolution that matches the great victories of Martin Luther King and his allies in the US in the fifties and sixties. Of course it also means that Anthony and Bob might now be married before Susan and I are, but hey, you can't have everything, and it would mean they were dancing at our wedding as husbands legally and officially as well as in reality.

Well, anyway, I just felt I had to get that lot off my chest. And besides, it's been a while and I've been neglecting my dodophobiacs.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A visit from the moos.

This was actually written a while ago, its seed first planted just over a year ago on my first visit to Susan's relatives in New Jersey, including my new (in at least two senses) niece.

She was eight months old and had
never seen a beard before. It
bewildered her, scared her, she
shied away from this furry monster.
But a week of my silliness made
her curiosity overtake her terror,
and she finally reached out a tiny
hand to touch and examine this
extraordinary thing. She performed
a small act of science, and got her
first lesson in the truth that different
does not equal bad.