Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wee Free Freedom! (Last part)

Things have been hotting up north of the border. 

It appears that speakers from both sides of the independence debate are getting shouted down at public meetings and in some cases having things thrown at them. With only days to go before the referendum, this is unnecessary and really does not help either side, succeeding only in entrenching and dividing people.
It's also a shame, because the debate on the subject has become much more interesting and nuanced over the past few months, and it's that debate that I want to hear, as it raises issues about democracy and representation for the whole of the UK, not just Scotland.
It boils down to one simple question, really: Who do we want to represent us politically? This, in turn, leads us to ask Tony Benn's 5 Questions regarding power.

What has arisen, I think, is that the 'Yes' camp is far more varied in what it wants from independence than is sometimes represented in the media. Certainly, it would appear that people living in the Shetlands, the Orkneys and the Hebrides either regard Holyrood as being no better than Westminster, or would like to have power devolved more directly to them. By contrast, the 'Better Together' (a.k.a. 'No') Camp seem to be far more homogeneous, to their detriment. Why their detriment? Because they have painted themselves into a corner in some ways: they cannot talk about the issues regarding representation without actually providing reasons to vote for independence.
So, who should be our representatives? Should we be tied in perpetuity to what is in effect a  two-party system? Must we get stuck with politicians who are more obsessed with a party stance and getting elected than actually doing the job to which they have been elected - governing on our behalf? Who controls the economy? Why should a relatively small group of people have so much power and to what extent are they accountable (or not) to the people?
The very best of the debate (and that is most certainly not the televised grandstanding between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling) has asked these questions, and they are pertinent to life within the whole of the UK. With the economy 'recovering' (for whom?), house prices are rising at absurd levels; prices are rising, while wages remain relatively stagnant; The NHS is being privatised by stealth, while it has become abundantly clear that the privatisation of our resources and industries has not turned us into a nation of shareholder, but instead allowed those shares to be owned by overseas investors; The very people who were culpable to a large extent for the financial disasters of 2008-9 are still in position and in fact have done very well from downturn; And the current government seems to be in thrall to the money.
And yet nowhere in England or in Wales is anyone really questioning the status quo. Only in Scotland are these questions being raised, debated and considered.
Quite honestly, given the few issues I've put above, who wouldn't want independence?
Well, I've stated before that I'm agnostic on the issue. And besides, I don't get to vote on the thing.
I think there are two questions that anyone pondering whether to vote 'yes' can ask. They are 'How?' and 'When?', and these work when put to any of the proposals laid out by either side. For example, the one about currency - 'How will we use the pound post-independence?' (a question that to my mind has not been satisfactorily answered by either side), and 'when will this happen?'
If all of the 'How' and 'when' questions can be answered satisfactorily and clearly, then I think that a 'yes' vote is actually a no-brainer. People want assurance, but assurance on such an issue is not enough -a concrete road map of what is most likely to happen will be the thing to win the issue, even if some of what may be will  involve difficulty and even hardship for a time.
Finally, just one thought: There are times, when you don't know what to do and you can't decide, that you've got to take a punt.
Good luck to all of us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Apologies for the long hiatus in writing. I suppose I should apologise for interrupting the silence with writing.
I have found myself, over the last few months, at a loss as to what to say about anything: it seemed every time I put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, stale, lumpen phrases would emerge, ruining the pristine whiteness of the page or screen with a kind of grey detritus. Of course, what we write and say are as reflections of our mental state, supposedly, so I can only assume that my dominant mode of thought has been stale, lumpen and grey. A bit like a dead whale or something. The thing with dead whales is, given the right conditions, they eventually explode.
Now, I'm not saying that my mind is on the verge of blowing up and covering all and sundry with putrid viscera, although you may disagree by the time you reach the end of this article. Rather, I'm writing in reaction to a local something that has left me feeling somewhat beslimed.
I could write about Syria, and Iraq, and Gaza, and Israel, and the whole damn mess of the Middle East, and in fact, I will later; I could write about the Scottish Independence Vote further, and I still have a little more to say about it, in fact; I could write about Ukraine and Russia, or Cops and Residents in Ferguson, MO.
I could write about all these, and mine would be just another little voice, another little article, in the great sea of voices, the clamouring great winedark ocean of opinion.
Instead, I'm going to write about tribes. Or rather, not: I'm going to respond to some spectacularly ill-judged and misinformed statements about 'tribes' that I and several hundred others had the misfortune to be in the presence of some little while ago. First off, would you consider yourself to belong to a tribe? What is a tribe, anyway? Is it the same as a family or a clan? Is it a group of like-minded families gathered together in the name of communal protection? Is it a religious affiliation? Is it a gang? Is it a bunch of people who share the same workspace, or do the same job?
I happen to think the word 'tribe' has tremendous connotations attached to it, and I don't mean 'tremendous' in a good way. It smacks of colonialism to my mind: It has the whiff of a mildewed solar topee attached to it, of an elderly man with extravagant moustaches and a fly swatter made from an elephant's tail regaling someone with tales of the Raj from his retirement villa in Eastbourne. It implies, even confers, a kind of inferiority to anyone so apparently unfortunate as to be assigned to a tribe. The word conjures up images of savages who need to be quelled, educated and conformed. Hence my tendency to squirm whenever I hear it being used.
So you can imagine my discomfort and slight shock when I heard someone say the following: 'In Africa, people belong to different tribes and if they meet, they fight'.
Yes. Right.
I mean, erk.
This statement seems to have come freshly packaged, hot and steaming, straight out of the 1930s. It ignores the fact that Africa consists of more than one country, for starters. It ignores the demarcations of religion, language, borders, culture and politics and jumps for the lumpen blitheness of 'tribes'.
Thankfully, nothing was mentioned about 'waving spears' or 'heathen savages', so thank God for small mercies.
There was, however, more in this vein.
How about this?
'The Sunnis are a tribe. The Shia are a tribe. ISIS is a tribe.'
Yes. Right.
I mean, erk.
Where do you start with this kind of misguided statement? ISIS are not a tribe. Try 'Murderous bunch of apostate millennialist loonbars', and you'd be closer to the mark. But tribe they are not. In fact, they're very much an Equal Opportunities murderous bunch of loonbars, as they will allow anyone to behead somebody as long as they're of a Sunni disposition.
So are the Sunnis and Shias tribes? Er, no, they're sects of Islam, much in the same way that Protestants and Catholics are sects. Along with Alevis, Alawites, Wahabbis, Ba'hai........
In short, the ongoing wars of the Middle East are more on sectarian lines, yet even then that is too simplistic an interpretation. It certainly isn't however, about tribes ganging up on each other.
The speaker hadn't finished there, however.
Here's another little (vintage) nugget:
'In Yugoslavia, the tribes started killing each other there, and look how many died.'
Yes. Right.
I mean, erk.
I'm pretty sure the Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, Slovenians and Montenegrins would not see themselves as 'tribes'. When it fractured after the end of the cold war, it split along spurious ethnic and religious lines - in particular between the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslim Bosnians. I say 'spurious' ethnicity because there's precious little evidence to suggest that any of the five nationalities is ethnically different - and indeed, they speak pretty much the same language!
So, a tribe isn't about ethnicity, or family, or language, or culture, or religion (which is admittedly as aspect of culture). Yet tribes, apparently, are a cause of tension, unrest, fear, destruction and death, at least according to the speaker I had the misfortune to be in the vicinity of.
The overall message that the person speaking was I think trying to get across, and failing rather spectacularly, was this: Tribes Kill Other Tribes.
No, they don't. People Kill People. Just because the person being murdered happens to belong to a different 'tribe' doesn't mean it's a 'tribal' thing. And instead of the negatively-freighted word 'tribe', why not use 'group' or 'gang' or, bigger still, 'community' or 'nation'? The speaker could have. After all, if 'tribe' just means 'a collection of people with more or less common affiliation of one kind or other', then that covers a multitude of sins, as it were.
And talking of tribes is so belittling - call them what they are. People.