Sunday 31 December 2017

2017, Year of the Looking Glass

Many in Scotland are angry and frustrated with the incompetence of a Tory elite who believe in out-dated privilege, In today’s modern world, why do we meekly have to accept an enforcement of major changes such as an ill-advise Brexit? 
….and we in Scotia long for self-determination

The Press and Media has become manipulated and controlled by algorithms.

“Thirty years of liberal twiddling with the lies of communication have made it almost impossible to broadcast anything but received propaganda.”  American critic Guy Davenport.
The purpose of journalism is to inform and disseminate, and if it isn’t, it isn’t doing its job.

Brexit is being run by incompetents with no idea of their end goal.

We had the horror of the Grenfell tower fire tragedy – Channel Four news and award winning journalist Jon Snow, exposed that the tower was run by a large incompetent and criminally out-of-touch management company. It is clear that there needs to be urgent changes made so that people can have a say in how their homes are managed.

In 2017 women roared and spoke out against the bullish bully Harvey Weinstein. A similar bully, Trump, sits on the seat of power in the American Whitehouse. This misuse of power towards women, with women as second class citizens defined the year. 
The major serious issue is that women are the main care givers of the old and of children, and nothing in our world is more important than the care of children.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! and that wiser heads may rule in 2018!

Historian Tom Devine

“Scots suffer from “virtual universal historical illiteracy’ , says Tom Devine, “ perhaps that’s why they’ve struggled to engage with Referendum campaign.

Historian Tom Devine, Scotland's foremost academic and intellectual, once favoured a "devo-max" but he changed his mind for Scottish independence.
He believes that the purpose of the union on both sides have now crumbled. Scotland is now uniquely placed with top resources, top research and a more diverse economy.

He believes Scotland is competent and strong in a business and cultural sense with a more diverse business model.  Importantly Scotland has reserves of power. Scotland has four universities in the world’s top 200. In the 50s we were second rate but since then Scotland’s R & D has flourished.

Devine spoke of the ‘victimhood’ of Scots put forward in the best selling novels by Canadian John Prebble in the 1950s. Devine calls them works of 'faction’, making Scots feel downtrodden victims.

Do we have a shared myth and history with England?
There has been a gradual disintegration of confidence of Scotland in union. He believes the union once served a purpose, but has been in decline for many years now. That it is only through that a harmonious relationship between Scotland and England can be achieved.
"When you put all of these together, there's very little left in the union except sentiment, history and family."

**BOOKs by Tom Devine - Scottish Trilogy – a comprehensive study of Scottish modern history, which we didn’t have before 1780.  Also The Scottish Nation 1700 to 200. As well as some 36 other books.

The Value of the Arts

Those who enrich our lives with the newfound art they forged.’

In his book Why Dylan Matters, Professor Richard F Thomas, writes of the poignant moment when Bob Dylan looked at his Nobel prize medal for literature. He was there April 1st 2017, for two performances at Stockholm’s Waterfront at the start of a 28 concert tour. 

The medal has the words by the poet Virgil inscribed round it - 
“And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.”


‘Music and poetry that would prove to be enduring, memorable and meaningful to ages beyond their own. Dylan and the ancients explore the essential question of what it means to be human.’

You hurt the ones that I love best
And cover up the truth with lies.
One day you’ll be in the ditch,
Flies buzzin around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.’

Idiot Wind, Bob Dylan
“When the arts are neglected and obscured, people suffer from dullness of ignorance.” Alan Raich
In their book The Arts and the Nation, Alan Raich, Alexander Moffat and John Purser examine the importance of all the arts to the health of our national life.  Many see the rise of imperial nationalism, of say Nazi Germany, as a imposition of unwanted values and a narrow prejudice. The antidote to unitary, conformist, bigoted nationalism is “state regionalism”  which is there in the arts of the Celts.  

“Which is why Scotland’s independence should explicitly and vigorously favour the constituent identities of the island archipelagos all the points of the compass, the diversities of language and culture, overlaps and contrast, all the territories of the nation.” Only possible through the arts. It is words, poetry, art and music that is left long after all the fluff and nonsense disappears....

MUSIC, Ignorance and Faith 2017

Adam Holmes performed at Celtic Connections with Rura
The Arts lift us out of the ordinary, offer us permanence, shift time, give us beauty, hope and dreams..“When the arts are neglected and obscured, people suffer from dullness or ignorance.” Alan Raich

I now have my old record collection on display – and there appears a shift back to the quality of the physical purchase. In our world of fast moving shifting sands people are now searching out some classic permanence. 
Significantly my son said, ‘I want to own my music.’

At Milngavie folk club I enjoyed quality performances from Dougie Maclean, Cara Dillon , Blue Rose Code. Thanks Jason for running such a top folk club!
I enjoyed a great concert with the legend Celtic soul man Van Morrison.
At Celtic 2017 – I exhibited some of my Celtic photos of my ten years covering this major event, at the Old Fruitmarket venue and I thought of the many fun gigs I’ve enjoyed there. This year Rab Noakes played a quality concert with a mostly female band. Also concerts by many top Women musicians. Men continue to dominate music, but there are some highly talented and wonderful women musicians – both young and old – to be discovered. Julie Fowlis, Siobhan Wilson, Eddi Reader, Joni Mitchell, Cara Dillon, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alice Marra, Laura Marling and many many more... 

The Scottish pipes were altered a while back, so that they can now be played along side an orchestra or band and this has made a big difference to ceilidh music.

Laura Marling backed by the RSNO
Beautiful Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis
the indomitable Eddi Reader
Iona Fyfe
Other artists I rate highly – Lorde, Father John Misty, Christine and the Queens, Radiohead,

Mary Chapin Carpenter and friends

**CUTs to the ARTS – Both Brexit and the deregulations by the UK government of Lottery Funds threaten the future success of the Arts.
The arts are of vital importance for our well being, how we view the world and ourselves and place in the world. The Arts give shape and understanding.
Van Morrison
It’s important we preserve our significant heritage and in so doing ensure a flourishing, creative and rich artistic future. I’ve been reading of Burn’s travels over Caledonia – from the highlands to the Borders, when he kept his finely tuned ear alert for some of the world’s most memorable oral ballads, and to preserve them for all time. He added verses and altered tunes. What a legacy!

SCOTTISH WRITERS – Apart from Burns, I have been reading of the many other great Scottish writers – William Dunbar, Edwin Morgan, Iain Crichton Smith, Edwina Muir, James Hogg, Elizabeth Melville, Hugh MacDiarmid, 
As we entered into the Looking glass of Neverland in 2017…

I am sad for the lost forgetting, the hollow dreams, the ignorant minds…
Are we at crossroads, certainly not new beginnings. We are in a downward spiral, without balance and must now hope for options on the next turn. This is not about standing on the shoulders of the greats – its about being lost in some dark tunnels.
Blue Rose Code
For 2018 I hope we may find new balances, real informed debate in physical spaces, free press and build bridges across old, entrenched divides. 
Then I found a piece I’d written on inspiring people.
And I have to wonder - why can’t different cultures co-exits In harmony, side by side – are we not stronger for our very diversities?

There were many terrorist attacks UK – we need to build bridges and reach out. ….and we in Scotia long for self-determination

‘One World’
All the arts depend on collaborating – the more diverse and broader the better. Bono of U2 wrote his ‘One World’ when the Berlin wall came down. Sadly today walls are going back up…..
Rab Noakes and his band

Friday 15 December 2017

SAVE SCOTLAND BRAND: Does Identity Politics matter?

Do identity politics matter, of course they do! These Brexiteers are so into their “British” or English identity; the French are into their identity; the Japanese are into their identity – so what’s the problem?  The problem is that the separate nations of the UK are a threat to the ever more centralizing Westminster.  Scottish identity or Irish identity are viewed as threats. Some say Identity politics is bad compared to class divides. I believe the opposite: identity matters greatly for Israelis, Jews and Palestinians.  I’m also internationalist too – I enjoy Italian art, Dylan songs - we must be both truly authentic and also outward looking.

Do flags matter?
The British /English Union Jack is not my flag and for me it is a symbol of repression of culture and of repression of the whistles and drums in Ireland. For me Union Jacks are signs of great division and oppression in Northern Ireland. I am ashamed to tick British as my identity and it is not my identity. It’s a bad state of affairs: I have no pride in being British and I don’t consider myself British. The “Brexit” yes/no vote meant a ton of Union Jack waving – well mainly in England. I view ‘Brutishness’ much as a Norwegian may view ‘Scandinavian’, except that Europeans do not deprive me of my Irish or Scottish roots. Union Jacks represent English imperialism,

**“SAVE Scotland brand”
Why is Marks and Spencer’s selling shortbread, a Scottish product, in a tin with scenes of London on it in Scotland? The National newspaper are running a campaign, Save our Scotland Brand,
to try to stop the imposition of a “BRITAIN’ brand on SCOTTISH products, which has become worse since Brexit and promotions of ‘Britishness’
Marks and Spencer’s are one of the worst culprits. There has been many cases of false labelling – “British Haggis”, “British Whisky”, “British Shortbread”, “British beef” stuck on Union Jack labels on Scottish produce. People have found in Scottish stores that there is Welsh, Cornish, Yorkshire, English cheese but no Scottish cheese. In M& S they label “as from the county of Scotland!’ when Scotland is one of the oldest country’s in the world! 

Is Scotland to become like Cornwall or Yorkshire, a mere county? Meanwhile Sainsbury say they use the Union Jack label because people identify it as English! Scotland has set higher standards than England for its food produce by banning GM crops and other pollutants. How can Scotland market its exports if they become part of a ”Britain” brand?

This dogs Brexit is about imposing a ‘British brand’ on Scotland. Scottish Food and drink is a major business and has increased by 34% since 2007. Scotland has a ‘Tartan Week’ over in New York to market Scottish products:  including arts, music, fashion, film, food products. 

There is a strange conflict going on presently it seems between globalization and the media elites and the nation states and of peoples’ local democratic will' to decide for themselves how best to run their own affairs. America has a strong influence over Britai its 51st State. There is also a good side to globalization – better communications, trade, peace, and more. There are also negatives – who wants to visit Paris to find it’s the same as New York? And who really wants a homogeneous world?

I’ve voted SNP for forty years now so no new belief, because de-centralising from Westminster can only be a good thing, and giving the Scottish people back the confidence in themselves that they have lost and “taking back our control” to local level from the south east property elites. The Greek economist and author Yanis Varoufakis stated, “The UK is the most imbalanced geographically lop-sided country of any major county in the world and it harms the economy. Chronic underperformance of the UK business model."  

Why do we have to sacrifice Peace and Prosperity to satisfy right wing Tory nutters? To be honest all this shows that those in England simply don’t care about Scotland and we are merely an ‘after thought’ despite all the Love bombs to us during the independence vote of 2014.
**Here is a letter Burns wrote of his wish to write about Scotland -
 ‘The appellation of a Scottish bard is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it  my most exalted ambition; Scottish scenes and Scottish stories are the theme I could wish to sing; I have no dearer aim than to have it in my power, unplagued with the routine of business , for which heaven knows I am unfit enough for; to make leisurely pilgrimage through Caledonia; to sit in the fields of her battles; to wander on the romantic banks of her rivers; or to muse by the stately towers or venerable ruins, once the honoured abodes of her heroes. ‘   R.B.  Letter March 1787 to Ms Dunlop

Michael Portillo on This Week, ‘UK politicians don’t posture – European do posture! We are completely different!’  Who’s not into identity politics then? 

Borders and Maps

Old Map of Europe with far fewer countries

The UN states – ‘peoples have the right to self-determination. There is no reason for a majority in a country to subjugate an unwilling minority. ‘The UN had 51 seats in 1945 and in 2017 now has 193. Change has been towards the smaller nation states.

The Kurds were divided up by Britain and France – as spoils of the Ottoman empire and the Provinces after WW1. This year both the Kurds and Catalonians were recently voting for their independence. Shockingly the Spanish government used brute force to try to prevent the Catalan vote. The BBC was not reporting on this either. The difference between a "made-up country" and an "authentic nation state" is that the real nation is like a centuries old tree with deep roots and many branches.  

A century ago a map of Europe in 1914 before WW1, there were far fewer countries in Europe – when three huge empires were shrunk in size - Germany, Austria-Hungary and RussiaGermany had then included parts of Poland, France, Denmark, Belgium and Lithuania. 

Dutch tycoon Freddy Heineken in 1990 wrote of a ‘Eurotopia’ of small countries of between 10m and 5m.
In todays Internet world of fast media and connections and improved communications (radio, tv) and fast travel – and we don’t need centralized control anymore.

Do we need empires anymore? The direction of travel today is towards the smaller nation states in a bigger trading block and away from `empire building. 
Europe today with far more nation states
Excellent letter in the National - saying the difference in Catalonia is that they have control of their media, a truly devolved region unlike Scotland. Compared to the problem here in the '2014 Scottish Referendum' - when Westminster controlled all the media, all th print  press here and all the unionist parties too. What hope had we? I remember my son saying, how could we have self determination without any media? I met a Norwegian film maker in Edinburgh, and I was explaining to him that Scotland, unlike Norway, has no oil fund. He asked where did the money go - he may well ask!? I told him Shetland has an oil fund though...
Is 'take back control' really about - take back control to Westminster from the devolved governments

Blue Rose Code Milngavie folk club

It was a thrill to hear this exciting Scottish talent
Ross charmed and beguiled us with his soul-filled voice and songs from his 2017 album, Water of Leith along with some of his best loved songs as fans filled the intimate MFC setting

He performed along with his quality band that included Andy Lucas on keys who also played the opening support, and is a strong singer songwriter in his own right, and with accomplished guitarist Wild Lyle Watt. Its encouraging to see such outstanding younger talent when so many on the folk circuit are not so young anymore and are well into their sixties.

His set ranged from blues ballads Nashville Blues to the upbeat rhythms of One Day at a Time, and Ebb and Flow. He sang his older favourites – Rebecca O, One Day at a Time, In the morning, My Heart The Sun, Where the Westlin Winds do Carry Me, Silent Drums,

I was particularly impressed with his new songs, such as Passing Places, Sandaig, 

He sang his very moving interpretation of Davie Stewart’s Scotland Yet.
We were treated to top vocals on Edina, followed by an impassioned Child and a jazzy I am Grateful. And for his encore he sang a welcome version of John Martyn’s, ‘I don’t know about Evil I only want to know about love’. (Martyn’s renowned double bass player Danny Thompson played on BRC’s album the Ballads of Peckham Rye.)

He sang of the cries of freedom all along the west coast.

His sound mixes Celtic soul with smooth rhythms – clearly informed by the blues of Van Morrison and other guitar legends such as Paul Simon or John Martyn – and as he says left alone with some Motown records! No wonder I’m a fan then! (While I might also choose to hear a little of bob Dylan in there too.)

I first heard Ross on his previous sold out visit to the club last December and was heartily impressed with both his strong performance and music and also with the enthusiasm of the fans.  

I met him before the gig when we spoke of the legend Dick Gaughan, who has been unwell.
I thought of his chat between songs. He told stories of the songs he sung – of the injustices he wanted to shine lights on.  His "What You Do With What You'e Got, The Yew Tree and of course his Westlin Winds. 
Celtic Connections 2018 are holding a concert for Dick Gaughan.

On his new album Water of Leith BRC is joined by Julie Fowli and Kathleen McInnes.
Ross’s voice enriched our souls and I’m grateful too for his gift of music! Ross sings of how to love, the soul of Scotia, how to reach new horizons.