Sunday, 21 September 2014

What Happened #indref

#indyref  When it comes down to it we were not able to convince people they would be better off, both financially and economically, in an independent Scotland. We were told we are one of the wealthiest nations and many must have thought - well we are doing OK then aren't we the way we are. Even as all our oil money has been lost and we have expensive and unnecessary nuclear weapons.
The little old ladies and their pensions and sitting on their properties, decided months even years before to vote NO. If you take the over 60s (who are doing fine thanks and probably think at the age of 85 why change anything and not think of the future for their grandchildren or children) out of the vote altogether, there would have been landslide for YES!! All the other age groups (apart from 18-22 at 48%) overwhelmingly voted for YES! 
The debate has been about decentralizing power.... as the debate unfolded it has more and more become about true democracy. Perhaps now a Scottish Yes Party or Scottish Democratic Party for me. It needs to be something forward looking for all the young people who want a voice to build this democracy. 
Questions. How are we governed? Can they debate all this in a couple of months? Devolution for England. And Party self interest...and the West Lothian questions..Set up a separate chamber etc. etc.

The Better Together sent out easy sound bites - safety, security, risks, etc. Perhaps the YES message was too complicated and most don't have the time or can't be bothered researching for themselves.
**The Way Forward
-My hope is through social media. Whatever government gets elected they will continue to ignore the voice of the people at their peril. 
-This vote is NOT about powers or the constitutions - it was about equal opportunities. Under Labour the divides between rich and poor have widened and I don't trust them.
- We require a Scottish Broadcasting channel. 
- Rebrand the SNP as the Scottish Democratic Party?
- Should there be a debate on why we need nuclear weapons?
- Do we live in a free democracy when we don't have a free press? 
Perhaps the north of England might join our campaign too - and show this is NOT about boundaries and borders - in fact its about breaking down these unwanted divisions.      
A country not in charge of it resources is not a happy place.  I heard the House of Lords (reformed?) took over control of Scotland's energy policies recently (nothing in the press?) and is now deciding where fracking will happen. Loch Lomond first? 
If this is all about economics and defence - and I look at say Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway - most others small countries with less resources than Scotland are doing extremely well thank you.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Independence Day!

Will we have fireworks! There is an expectant stillness in the air today as the Big Vote is on us....It has been  a very long road for some of us dreaming of a better way for Scotland and believing in it with heart and soul.... head too! Over the decades I have felt my vote and voice made no difference at all. For the first time in my life my vote can count and make a difference.

i don't want borders or boundaries or any of these other tired clichés I have heard of. I am voting YES for a new start for democracy where all the voices can be heard  - and not only a small elite who ignore the people. 
I have always thought first past the post system of voting was a ridiculous old fashioned system, the adversarial confrontations of right or wrong of the Westminster politics and their  short sighted policies....

I want to see a greener, more forward looking, more open-minded, inclusive policies. I hope the people of Scotland will seize this one chance to run their own affairs.
The people of Scotland never voted for the Union in 1707 - only a tiny number of rich nobles did (who were bribed with gold). The rich bankers are still wanting to bribe us with false promises - DON'T believe a word they say!

Its been very hard in the media with all the bias - ONLY one Scottish paper for independence and all the BBC bias, both obvious and more subtle. . 
There are many stories to be written and re-written now. But I hope we are on a journey to where we want to be as a country. I hope no matter what the vote Thursday, that we have all learned a great deal about ourselves and can move forward with more hope and faith in our shared future.

This debate has brought out a sense of community and shared dreams across our country. A strong sense of identity matters a great deal for a successful future.  The eyes of the world are now on us - lets not disappoint them by acting in fear....  but rather with confidence and hope in ourselves, our heritage and our beautiful country...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Resurgence in the Scottish Arts

I am listening to Scottish singer songwriter Dougie MacLean who lives near Perth and is best known for his wonderful song 'Caledonia' which he sang at the Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony to great effect in July.  He wrote the song on a France beach when he was thinking of his homeland of Scotland. 

Since the 70s it has been truly wonderful the resurgence in the Scottish arts. Back then Scottish music was viewed as twee or backward looking but not anymore!  In fact a lot of the music coming out of Scotland is admired worldwide.  I used to travel across Edinburgh on the top deck of the bus via Princes street to my  secondary Grammar school (these don't exist anymore) in Leith and I wondered who these young people with their fancy blazers and posh English accents were.. shockingly a quarter of Edinburgh's children attend private schools!  We were made to feel second class then in Scotland. This is not the case in Ireland - my parents come from Ireland and we visited there each summer and it seemed to me that the Irish had more pride in who they are. 

Informed journalists are for YES.
Most Scottish musicians, authors and artists are for yes. Our respected historian Tom Devine is for yes. 
Scottish authors are also having a golden age with many respected writers - Iain Banks, Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Irvine Welsh, Christopher Brookmyre, Liz Lochhead, Alan Bissett, Iain Macwhirter, Ian Bell, Ian McEwan, Alasdair Gray, William McIIvanney.
Admiral Fallow
My most respected musicians (who now feel proud to sing in their Scottish accents)  - Dick Gaughan, Dougie MacLean, Phil Cunningham, Karine Polwart, Donald Shaw, Aly Bain, Emeli Sande, Biffy Clyro, Rab Noakes, The Proclaimers, Gerry Rafferty, Julie Fowlis, Eddi Reader, Michael Marra,  Chrvches, Frightened Rabbit,  Lau, RM Hubbert, Admiral Fallow, 

I have been fortunate to photograph many outstanding Scottish artists, my Scottish portrait gallery here -
Emeli Sande

Karine Polwart
Does this matter, of course it does! 
It used to be we were told we were too wee, too incapable and too poor. At the same time we had this hidden history of a past Scottish golden age that we were not taught at school - great Scottish inventions, The Enlightenment, trade with Europe, The Declaration of Arbroath and influence on America's founding fathers and more. I did History higher in Edinburgh when I learned of the Tudors and 17th century European history!.  

I attend Edinburgh book festival, as well as Celtic Connections, each year and it seems that there is a flowering of Scottish talent and pride and identity does matter a great deal. 

Women and Image

Hollywood star Lauren Bacall died this week. She was a strong, assertive woman both on screen and off who knew her own mind and how to express herself without fear of backlash in a man's world. 
Back in the Hollywood glamour days there were other strong women - Vivien Leigh, Marlyn Monroe, Betty Gable and Olivia de Havilland.  They were central figures in their films. In the 80s we had more strong women with the actresses Sigourney Weaver, Nicole Kidman and others. These women appeared in control of their own image.

I am concerned with the dawn of the Internet age we have gone backwards again. We now have pop icons for the younger generation - such as Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus  who are exploited to expose their bodies for men's enjoyment. This must have a poor effect on young girls and make them think to gain attention it is all about body image and exposing themselves, rather than character or any substance.   

While too there are still some strong women female leads today such as Angelina Jolie, who is both attractive but also a women of substance. 
Today I have to wonder what has happened to women of character - such as keen writer Jo in the novel Little Women or Jane's Austen's Elizabeth and speaking up to posh Mr Darcy??  These women had other interests apart from finding a man and they were portrayed through women's eyes. It concerns me that few men read women writers and don't they wish to understand how half of the population thinks and feels?  I happily admit to having read many great male writers, why not, I want to understand men too.   

In recent years women's magazines have appalled me mostly. Cosmopolitan is not what it once was - back in the 70s and 80s it was a new platform for women but I haven't bought Cosmo for the past decade as it has become bland and predictable. In the 80s I bought Vanity Fair both for its interesting articles and photography or Vogue, also for the photos.  In the past few month is have bought Bazaar for its photography and text too, which is often written by respected authors.  

I also buy magazines on music and photography, which are in the men's section on the magazine racks.

I used to teach 7 and 8 year olds. I noticed if I asked them to draw a picture that the boys would draw all kinds of things - war planes, Roman soldiers, ships, battles, aircraft, monsters, space, volcanoes, cars - wheras the girls usual drew mostly houses and flowers. It concerned me that girls seemed to have much fewer interests. I brought up two sons and a daughter when I noticed in the toyshops the boys toys were fun - building blocks, lego, airplanes, cars, transformers, spaceships, more, more....

!  By comparison the girls aisles were pink and fluffy - with rows of dolls (my daughter wondered what on earth you were supposed to do with the dolls?) I bought her lego, play dough and pencils to draw with.  I admit she loved her teddy -  then again my boys loved their dog and blanket respectively!   

Perhaps mums can boycott pink and fluffy in favour of buying their daughters toys that are proactive so that girls can learn to be more active with toys such a building blocks, play dough, lego, crayons or sports equipment. As opposed to superficial brushing hair or changing outfits.
I believe girls need just as many interests as the boys, so they can be outward looking like men rather than inward looking. . I lived in America for ten years when my children were young and girls there play much more sport. Sport teaches us how to be team players, which are crucial skills for many careers.  

It concerns me that nothing much has changed and the Toy shop aisles are still for girls pink and fluffy and the boys aisles are full of road racers and transformers....   

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

EIBF Diary 2014

Day One: Edinburgh. The book shelves are stuffed with referendum books - What is Britishness? The Scottish and English Union and Disunion; The Road to Yes. So many questions? Yet also the fact we are asking them is a good thing in itself. I hope after the Referendum that both Scotland and the rUK we are still asking the important questions - challenging and still actively engaged. 

I always feel I have to come back down to earth after the whirlwind that is Edinburgh International Book festival 2014 (EIBF).  For two and a half weeks each August Charlotte Square becomes a haven for book lovers, philosophers, poets, economists, and very much more.  So many creative and artistically challenging people attend - both on the stage and in the audience.

I often think I'd like to photograph those attending also in their low key or laid back, academic or intellectually inclined creamy linen jackets and casual hats. This is a cultured crowd!

Some days there are themes - on one day several strong minded women - Kate Adie, Germaine Greer and Val McDermid. Other days political or economic figures. There is also a big children's section to the festival. The signing tent is lined with today's books and the cafe was full of home baked custard creams, shortbread and layered cakes and queues waiting for the authors signing. The oddest sight was when Huraki Murakami came as he didn't wish for any photos and he signed behind a red curtain.

The festival offers an informed blend of the old and new where the retro and the modern sit side by side here - imaginative fantasy with factual history, romantic poetry and detailed economy, the surreal novel, the researched biography alongside hard hitting political thought. The festival allows all voices a platform to be heard and to exchange ideas and aspirations and celebrates diversity of thought.
Irving Finkel
Martin Amos
In Edinburgh the windy weather can be often dramatic - one moment brilliant sunshine the next torrential downpour for an hour. It keeps us alert for sure! I watch the sun on the elegant Georgian new town with the dark skies beyond.

It is my last day now. The girl in front of me has a strange blue skull tatoo on her back. Anything goes. I am both sad and tired too. Sad that's another EIBF and Edinburgh festival over, as festivals are intense by their very nature and they need to come to and end.  It is also a time of reflection for me -  I have visited my usual haunts over the festival, and walked the ancient cobbled streets of my home town memories and I wonder how much the festival effects the authors that attend.

Jim Sillars
Bonnie Greer


Authors that caught my attention were mostly poets,  journalist or professors

Lesley Riddoch - Blossom
Tom Devine - The Scottish Nation
Linda Colley - Acts of Union and Disunion
Ian Bell - Time out of Mind (on Bob Dylan)
Kate Adie - Fighting on the Home Front
Paul Henderson Scott - Scotland: A Creative Past, An independent Future
Haruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
A Bird is not a Stone - Palestinian poets   

The fringe Edinburgh High Street


It's always part of the Edinburgh festival experience to walk from Fringe central near George square down the Bridges to the high street, just to savour the atmosphere and colour and sample some of the shows on offer for another year.

PHOTOS at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014

Game of Thrones George RR Martin arrives
Kate Adie
Bonnie Greer
Alan Massie
A few images from Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Huruki Murakami at Edinburgh

There was a definite hushed awe over Murakami's rare appearance at a book festival.  Twenty years ago he started the ‘Wind Up Bird Chronicles’.  He usually writes in the first person narrative and he said he was uncomfortable with using the third person - that he didn't want to look down at people, but to rather stand on the same level as his characters; it was more democratic he thought. He said his writing has been a long journey.
His first novel appeared in 1979.  He appeared unassuming and reclusive - he said that he wished to be a quiet person and to live a quiet life. He wrote about extraordinarily strange people and events though!.

He appreciated strong interferences to push the story forward.  He enjoyed irony he said and many of his stories are terrifying and scary.  He spoke of the bloody histories and the collective memories of history and he thought that everybody is cursed and poisoned by the past. The Manchurian history was important for his writing. 

The Well. He spoke of his lifetime dream to be sitting at the bottom of the well where he was super heavy. The water might be coming up. He wrote of nightmares and odd unrealistic coincidences and he said that strange coincidences happened to him.

Questions. He said that the translation of his books were good.
He said that  his stories were not planned and that he had no idea where the story was going. 'It is not fun to know the conclusions. I like to think, what's going to happen today. I like to be spontaneous.
'Imagination is an animal I keep alive.'

He said that once a book is gone, it is gone. 
Why were his characters so sad? I didn't notice he replied, Everybody is sad.
He said he liked to write to music that runs through the novel.' I need music to write on - the harmony and rhythm is important to me to keep the readers reading. I need music.'

I am always looking for the right music to help to me write.,

Murakami is a serene and humble man.

Vic Galloway - at Jura Unbound A night of Music and Words.

A night of Music and Words. This evening was a highly successful one with Scottish voices. Galloway had written a book 'Songs in the Key of Fife'
He spoke of the creative people and places - was it the coastline of Fife or that you use your imagination of die he wondered.

Andrew Mitchell of the Hazy Janes began the evening at the Jura Unbound at Edinburgh International book festival 2014, with a strong set of songs on both piano and guitar.  We were treated to powerful and moving readings by authors - Anneliase Mackintosh, Kate Tough and Liam Murray Bell.
Later we had the beautiful voice of Scottish songstress Siobhan Wilson. 

Michael "Vic" Galloway (born 4 August 1972, Muscat, Oman) is a DJ on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 1, Galloway presents a self-titled show on Radio Scotland (formerly known as Air) every Monday from 8:05pm-10pm and does the BBC Introducing Scotland Radio 1 programme Wednesday evenings/Thursday mornings from 12:00-2:00am. He presents BBC Scotland's T in the Park television coverage every summer and has also presented the station's The Music Show.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Bird is not a Stone: Palestinian Voices

Liz Lochhead
Maya Abu al-Hayyat

Liz Lochhead, Scottish maker, Christina De Luca and Maya Abu al-Hayyat, Palestinian poet gave a talk Edinburgh book festival 2014, on their book A Bird is not a Stone, an anthology of Palestinian poetry and is in English, Arabic, Gaelic, Scots and Shetlandic. 

Maya Abu al-Hayyat, who is from Palestine and only got her visa to come to the festival a few days before the event, is an engineer, novelist and poet. There was the shared joy for the writers to be sharing such a cross border event, exchanging ideas and appreciating our similarities. Lochhead enjoyment of Maya’s reading of her poems in Arabic was obvious.

After an introduction from Liz on how the project came about and of their trip to the camps and crowded place that is present day Bethlehem, we were given three very eloquent readings first in English by Lochhead, then in lyrical Shetlander from Christina followed by Maya’s emotive readings. It was interesting the different rhythms and feel of the readings and the depth and beauty of the Arabic voice.
With the Shetlander voice, Christina said she wished to get the right tone and earthiness.

The poems were chosen by the Palestinian poets and then translated by 29 of  top Scottish poets( )

The book contains a foreword by Lochhead on their experiences. She spoke of the lack of water for several days and how everyone wanted to reassure them that they were not terrorists. She said, what else but poetry has the beauty and truth to try to cross boundaries. The last poem was about the many ways to smile.

A Bird Is Not A Stone is taken from George Wiley’s words of the birds that flew over the Berlin Wall. This event about a project begun in 2012 is very timely with all the dreadful killings of present day Gaza

Art and poetry voices may try to carry the silent voices across the world of the ordinary people’s lives and of the mothers who wish to watch their children grow up in a world that is not torn in two.
They thought a Scottish poem we might share would be A Man’s a Man For A That. A thoroughly enjoyable book festival event. 

Tom Devine, talk on the Darien Project, Edinburgh International Book festival 2014

Devine, respected Scottish historian, recently knighted gave a highly informed talk on the Darien Project, relevant to Scotland’s referendum question, at Edinburgh International Book festival 2014.

What went wrong? Major mistakes. Devine said that the Darien disaster was over blown and exaggerated and his main claim is that the project failed due to poor leadership and that the proposed location for the colony should have first been properly surveyed. These projects required strict military discipline. He also said that at the time many colonies failed in the Caribbean and in the West, including the first English colony.  

In 1698 five vessels left Leith with 12,000 passengers and travelled north round Scotland to avoid the Royal navy. It is a story of both courage and risks to the Isthmus of Panama.  The Caribbean was then a centre of piracy between France, Spain and England. The company of Scotland wished to trade with Africa and the West Indies. There were vast riches to be made in trade with the Spice Islands and with silks. Denmark acquired a colony there just 3 years before Darien. There was enormous opposition from England and the Bank of England withdrew its investments.

The Darien failure was immense costing thousands of lives who were burned in pits and included leader Paterson’s wife and son. Yet also at the time there were quite often devastating famines and death rates.  The after math of Darien caused a collapse in Scottish confidence and a cold embrace with England in 1707.  He said that there were three main layers around the Darien Disaster if you excavated below the myth. 

(1) Unionist Myth. The Dominance of Unionist thought. That Scotland was a land of darkness, faction and poverty with religious rigidity and was bankrupt.  
(2) Nationalist thought in 1960s and 70s, of historical victimhood – such as the Highland clearances, Glencoe  massacre and the Darien Project. .
(3) Modern Spin – which portrays Darien as a mad face. The Darien project has been distorted. What happened was similar to the banking collapse in recent years. The Discourse of Prebble – victimhood nation, which recycled the feeling of misbelief and Scotland became portrayed as a mass deluded country that was small, poor and helpless.
He said it was wrong to view Scotland as naive and inadequate.  In the 13th and 14th centuries Scotland was very active trading with the European continent. There were 125 Scottish colonies set up and we were notorious at under cutting, with trading centres in Holland such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam. He said that Scotland was not naïve or inexperienced.

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603….., the fact that England did not support the Darien scheme proved to the Scottish that when there was a choice the English government would support English interests. The English refused to provide support, food and succour to the Darien project. At the time England and France were battling to control the Atlantic trade and England was desperate to defend its northern territories. Spain was then in decline.

 After Darien a few were offered full financially compensation plus 43% interest if they agreed to the union, which was analogous with bankers and the RBS scandal of today – and that they then voted for the Union. However Glasgow and the Scottish people were against the Union. The Scottish Law and Church were left to be run in Scotland.
He called the Act of Union an Act of Concession and not one of victimhood or biased prejudices.

PS On Saturday Tom Devine made the announcement that he was voting YES in the Scottish referendum  vote in September. He gave his carefully thought through reasons that he sees  a flowering of the Scottish confidence in recent years.  He feels the union has run its course.

Friday, 15 August 2014

George RR Martins Talk at Edinburgh

I am a writer who likes to ask questions. He said he liked to do things that some thought couldn’t’ be done and he liked to break the rules. 
RR Martin brought his spirit of fantasy with him to Edinburgh yesterday. He was spirited in the side gate by his lady helpers to Edinburgh International, Book Festival 2014,and smiled for his photo shoot on the festival walkway.  He has silver white hair and beard and could be one of the characters in his writing.  .

A younger than usual crowd packed into his talk, when he spoke of how Scotland and Scottish history had informed his epic Game of Thrones, now a massively successful HBO tv series.
He spoke with Booker prize judge and literary critic Stuart Kelly, of a visit in ‘81 to Hadrian’s wall, on a cold grey October in the late evening, when he thought of all the Roman legionaries posted there and how it might have seemed the end of the world to them. This later became his Wall of Ice, He also spoke of famous Scottish women who were often Queen Regents to 3 year old kings – such as Lady MacBeth, Mary Queen of Scots. Other Scottish stories have also inspired his writing - the Glencoe Massacre, (the Red wedding) and the writer Walter Scott. He was particularly interested in medieval history and its blood thirsty side.

Martin started out writing science fiction, with a horror twist – such as the Sand Kings. 
He thought since Tolkien that most were writing in a Disneyland style of fantasy. He liked to explore the grittiness of history.

One of his main motivations Martin said, was strong characters who wrestle with the issues. He asked what are their motivations, what is their culture?  Writing about a villain can be fun and looking at their dimensions and motivations. His books are infused with moral realism and he said that he enjoyed writing about broken things – outcasts, bastards as there is more drama and that conflict is the heart of drama.
He was asked about the locations in his books. He spoke of growing up in New Jersey, between 1st street and 5th street and of how he escaped in fantasy to Gotham, Middle Earth and with HG Wells. 

He said , I lived a thousand lives in the pages of books.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Small Beginnings are what bring about Changes

It is only in small beginnings that change can occur. Some think they can bring about changes through some trickle down effect via the big London machine – can we believe this? I think not. It is only through small places that real changes can be made.

When the Union occurred Scotland kept its Church and Law as the two most important institutions.  Then the main domestic policies were then decided by the courts. With the advent of more democracy the Parliaments became more important.   

This Scottish independence referendum  is NOT about boundaries, nationalism or religious divides.
It is about self determination and autonomy and devolving power and better governance that works for Scotland. London's economic policies are NOT in Scotland's best interests.  We have one of the highest levels of child poverty and the divide between the rich and the poorest is only widening here. 

The change Scotland seeks is similar to the autonomy that has seen both Norway and Finland flourish since they both broke away form Swedish control and became independent a hundred years ago. Both countries continue to trade and work with other countries worldwide.

Scotland is much older than the UK – over 900 years! The UK is a newer country so they will need to apply to be members of the EU!  
Scotland WANTS to work with and to welcome its neighbours. The reason Scotland should be independent is because the UK system and Westminster is not working. We can do better!

I hope we can have a better relationship and a more equal partnership with the other parts of these British Islands. The Unionists are not silent either - over 90% of the media is controlled by Unionists. It is therefore hard for the Yes believers to get their voice heard.

In the 70s there was a great deal of bad feeling in Scotland – some of it due to the Scottish oil money being lost. Since then we have been allowed a Scottish Parliament which I believe has made Scottish people feel somewhat better and we are now able to decide if we want to be able to offer all young people the chance of university education …. and not just the privileged few. .  

We might believe that governments in London will offer improvements?  Well I've waited decades for that.................My belief is that change usually happens in a small way – I cannot see how any changes can happen in Westminster that will then flow to the rest of the country. There is no desire for change in the south of England that I can see. Why should there be? In a centralised country it suits the south to have things stay the same. . with corruption and its tiny favoured elite. 

To have confidence in our future matters hugely. As Nick Barley director of Edinburgh International book festival writes, " We hope that this year's Book festival will help readers and writers of all ages to think about and  discuss how to act positively upon the understanding generated by dialogue. The future of Scotland is in our hands." 
In such a forum, admissions fo uncertainty are acceptable.. Changes of mind are encouraged. Imaginative leaps are recommended.”,

The important issue is that we are able to air different views in a way that we are not shouted down. Also – that the discussions are not about celebrities on artificial pedestals, but rather about the grassroots where everyone is free to have a voice.  For me the Scottish questions are one of confidence in our future and in shaping our future country.