Thursday 30 April 2020

Save our Planet to save Lives

In recent centuries humans have been disturbing the world’s natural habitats and wildlife – destroying forests, depleting fish stocks, burning fossil fuels, polluting our air. There are much fewer butterflies or insects and under many tress there is a dead undergrowth. Now we’ve disturbed the habitat of bats, which has led to several recent world pandemics – SARS, Mers, Ebola, Swine flu and now Covid-19. And this will continue, unless we all change our attitudes to selfishness and growth. 

The world has trillions (yes not billion, trillion!) wealth in secret offshore accounts – what purpose is this money achieving? Meanwhile we have children starving. Things are totally out of balance. There were signs of reform after the war, but since the 80s inequalities have soared to unprecedented levels. 

We need more answers from the UK government. Is Boris Johnson and his Brexiteer, inexperienced team, putting their ideologies before saving lives? If so, is this not criminal? Its been reported they ignored an EU scheme to bulk buy ventilators and now also several opportunities to bulk buy PPE through the EU. Two of my children work in the health service and I worry for their safety in these perilous times. We would not send troops into battle without the proper protections or equipment (or would we?).

Most of our carers are women – nurses, doctors, mothers, care homes, childcare, cleaners – I hope this isn’t part of the reason they are paid less then other jobs? Even our doctors UK are paid a lot less than doctors in other countries. Its time we valued their dedicated work by paying them better and not just by hand clapping.

Germany’s president Frank Walter Steinmeir, urged solidarity both domestically and internationally. He said Germany will only be strong and healthy after this crisis if its neighbours also emerge well. “This crisis is not a war but rather a test of our humanity.” By contrast the UK government uses war like language of a ‘Dunkirik spirit’ or ‘fighting enemies’. England appears to believe as an island through the war we are somehow uniquely special and protected and many here appear to be in shock. We only won the war through co-operating with other nations and without American equipment we would have been defeated. Trump may provide a highly unwelcome narrative, but in the States, its at the local level people make most decisions. The federal government only decides on federal roads, foreign policy. Each state has separate laws, taxes Etc. 

I read Mark Franklands open letter to Nicola Sturgeon on his blog suggesting that world leaders consider a 90% tax on this €30 trillion hidden money, to help pay for the economic cost of  this coronavirus. He suggests it should not be the poor that have to pick up the tab for the cost of this virus with taxes and cuts to services. London is the world’s capital of corruption, illegal money. Also UK government does nothing to protect indigenous business, as other countries do. 

There are many debates on capitalism vs socialism – both are out-of-date with todays realities. We need both - as Sweden, Germany and other countries show. There is good and bad capitalism – it is good to base an economy on small businesses that manufacture or offer valuable services, that give an economy a solid base. What is not good, is to base an economy on the false roulette of financial markets and people sitting on London properties. I don’t want any kind of socialism either, with its central and often incompetent control of an economy. But I would like to see well-being policies of decent childcare, health service, education and infrastructure to support a diverse and innovative business sector. 

Just last year young people took to the streets to begin the fight to save our planet, led by Greta Thunberg. It’s too late for empty words. I believe the only way forward is by small indy nations fighting back against the global elites!  That’s why Scottish Independence matters so much. Its not about some notion of Scottishness, it s about how we are best governed and how our voices can be heard. Reformers have been fighting for this since Burns wrote, a Mans a Man for A That, against those who sell their souls for a pot of gold. In their fights against greed and selfishness. He also wrote – Parcel of Rogues and Tree of Liberty. 

There are signs of hope – more people are cycling, more are reducing meat intake, more work at home, more people want to buy local. Its great to see families cycling on our quiet roads – is this the way forward? Any drugs or vaccines are only short term fixes, we must cure the source of these serious threats. More people die from air pollution, asthma and allergies than ever before.  If this virus has taught us anything, its that we depend on each other. We must urgently save our planet to save our own lives. I look at my grandchildren’s young faces and I hope there will be signs of hope for their lives..

The nature of nationalism and internationalism: Tribalism is not Nationalism

When the European nations expanded and travelled by ship to the Americas, Indies and the far east, they settled, plundered and developed empires: often violently suppressing the indigenous peoples and taking over their lands. In Europe 200 years ago in 1800, there were four imperial powers - Holy Roman, the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman. Europe had far fewer nations then - a look at the map of Europe is striking; now instead there are 25 independent national states. There were national campaigns against efforts by imperial powers to suppress indigenous languages, when the heroes didn’t lead armies but wrote dictionaries. For the Czechs, Slovaks, Croats and Serbs they believed that if their language disappeared, so would their identity.

Imperialist domination led to great strife, violence, wars, cruelty, starvation and exploitation. In the 20th century the movement has been away from empires and towards smaller, independent nations. History tells us that when one people dominated in this ‘’survival of the fittest culture (beginning with the Roman Empire) they eventually collapsed due to corruption and greed. Improved interconnectivity and communications should mean we don’t need central hubs anymore. 

The fear of national oblivion and the need for survival, is clearly deeply rooted. In 1848 revolutions and national movements began campaigns for independence. However high prices have often been suffered for the creation of nation states and the post war idea of self determination: for instance the collapse of the Hapsburg empire was a catastrophe for European Jews and there was genocide wars between Bosnian Serbs and the extremist Croats. Perhaps the words extreme and domination are crucial here, which I would describe as “tribalism’ rather than nationalism. After all immigrants and different cultures can happily co-exist safely side by side. Tribalism (along with misguided socialism) often led to top/down, centralized and controlling dictatorships. 

Early last century tribalism took over under these racist dictators, with an extremist, inward-looking and narrow view of what being a nation state means. Tribalism makes me think of sectarian divides and matters a lot for some people. This is the nasty, narrow, ignorant and meaningless side of any nationalism: as seen in the dreadful wars of the Baltic states or the Northern Ireland troubles. Scotland’s Rangers fans mostly support the union, this is about past religious affiliations and class. Why do they continue? Sadly our sectarian divides still seem to matter greatly, and when religion matters less we really should all try to move on.

Germany has developed a federal system of government with autonomous states. In America also each state runs its own affairs (tax, vat, immigration). Also in America, a land of recent immigrants, there are celebrations and acceptance of different cultures side by side – China town, St Patrick’s day parades, German beer festivals, Robert Burns suppers, Hanukkah and more. Also, crucially, while these different identities and cultures are studied in schools, no one religion dominates: that is no one religion is a part of school curriculums or in politics. Yes there are far right or far left extremists, but these views are hopefully on the margins. While many rural areas have been seriously left behind. 

And what of our different identities, languages and cultures in these British isles. In Ireland many fight to keep the Irish language. In Scotland, the Gaelic language and song survived on the Western islands,. After the 1707 union, many Scots writers worked to keep the Scots songs and poems alive. After the 45 however, there was violent suppression of highland culture by the British state. In Scotland we have the National art gallery, the National Scottish orchestra, the National stadium – that’s okay. We can be both proud of our nation and international too

Most would agree that a union with a much bigger state is in fact a take over and not a union in any sense – think China / Tibet, Russia / Lithuania. After the Indy Ref 2014, Scotland must have looked foolish to the outside world. I’m not a particular fan of David Cameron, but at least he was a team player and had some regard for democracy. There are now forces aboard and at home who have no idea what democracy actually means. Boris Johnson and his team appear to want to dismantle any remnants of democracy left in the UK: they are false opportunists, who want to limit both the courts and the press. They look to the likes of Trump, who also claims he’s restoring democracy and the voice of the people!. That’s the model of rule (or supposed freedom) that dictators such as Hitler and Stalin used. (Farage is a mate of Trumps after all). 

Nationalism is not about whose tribe is dominant or best. It can be about shared histories, stories and songs, sense of place, our values. Religion, which in the past created great divides, must be a personal choice and not part of education or politics. Most countries are melting pots of many diverse people, and our very differences can make us stronger if we value them. People have always moved, or had to move, from enforced migration, from climate catastrophe or wars. Studies show that tribalism, or being part of a tribe, is a powerful motivator. But it can also be blind and ignorant. Scottish nationalism however is not narrow and welcomes all who live here.

Are people voting against the rapid advance of A1, tech businesses, globalization, and the rich getting richer - do they believe some strong man can stop this? I hope and believe there is another way through finding our own voices.

The late, acclaimed journalist Ian Bell, wrote in his Herald article, Scotland and the Easter Rising, that James Connelly seemed to assert that, “Internationalism without an acknowledgement of national identity is a forlorn, empty gesture…The willed amnesia inflicted where he is concerned is part of a wider forgetting. "When we had our vote a misrepresented nationalism colluded with a Labour party defending (so it said) an international ideal. In September 2014, Scotland was the poorer for forgetting.”

In Scotland, our great poet Hugh McDermid wrote: ‘To be international we must first be national.’  The Scottish independence and national movement was not born out of violence but out of the arts. We must now urgently vote to save our right for democratic voices.  


Protect Our Press!

“Democracy dies in Darkness” – Washington Post

Does the press matter? – its essential for democracy to have a free press. (and I hate the way President Trump makes fun of and puts down journalists. Its a great way to deflect from his own failings and mistakes). 

The print press informs how our Broadcasters select their main news items. We need journalists who are independent, and able and willing to question the actions of those in power. We must also protect balance in the press, as they do in other countries. 

European commission president, Ursula von der Lagen, “Now it is more important that ever that journalists are able to do their job freely and precisely to ensure that our citizens have access to crucial information so as to counter misinformation.” 

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Keep up the good work and know you are valued. Especially in these challenging and crisis times. (And we used to think Brexit was a disaster!) I hope this crisis brings people together and helps them to realise what is of true value in our lives.

Friday 17 April 2020

Events for 700 Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath

The  Declaration is the first statement in history to define the democratic rights of people and nations. A great moral declaration: that the people are sovereign. A political document. It was written by a number of aristocrats, lairds and senior clerics who pleaded for protection from English aggression. The declaration was a letter to the Pope to recognise Scotland and Robert the Bruce. It states that sovereignty lies with the Scottish people, and that they should elect their sovereign – that the freedom of the kingdom is more important than the person. 

- Wee Ginger dug on the Declaration of Arbroath anniversary, National newspaper -

- GRIT orchestra The Declaration compositions, led by Greg Lawson

- RADIO SCOTLAND – Billy Kay -

**Arbroath FILM with Leslie Riddoch
New film “Declaration; the letter of liberty”, 
It’s the product of an amazing Covid-imposed online collaboration between filmmaker @cherlieboy, composer Patrick Doyle and myself. Our aim is to make sure the 700th anniversary of Scotland’s most famous historic document is not forgotten. -

Thursday 9 April 2020

The Legacy of the Declaration of Arbroath

The Legacy of the Declaration of Arbroath 
Not for honour, but for freedom alone’

The red sandstone ruins of Arbroath abbey, Arbroath Scotland, where the Declaration of Arbroath asserting the rights of the people to elect their ruler and for liberty. It was written to the Pope on April 6, 1320, exactly 700 years ago. The Declaration is the first statement in history to define the democratic rights of people and nations.
 “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

In central park New York there is a statue of the Scottish writers Robert Burns facing another of Walter Scott.  In 1998, a new parade was started in New York called Tartan Week – which includes many pipe bands and has been led by the actors Sean Connery and Brian Cox. The Scots diaspora, goes back to the early days of American independence and to the importance of the Scots Americans contributions to America and their Founding Fathers. Thee are more statues to Burns in America than to any other writer.
Robert Burns Statue central park
Tartan Week New York

*There is a straight line from the Declaration to the American Declaration of Independence. (1775 – 1783) After the invention of the printing press, there were books recording the declaration and by the great Scottish enlightenment writers. The scholar George Buchanan wrote in his book of precedency that kings were accountable to the people. In the 18th many in the American colonies read of the declaration and of the ideas of democracy and the sovereignty of the people. 

The declaration is a fabulous, layer, poetic document - full of pride, heart and spirit that stands the test of time. An incredible mix.”   Composer Patrick Doyle
“It is the most eloquent case for national self-determination and freedom form external oppression ever written in medieval Europe.” Tom Devine. The Declaration is the first statement in history to define the democratic rights of people and nations. A great moral declaration: that the people are sovereign. A political document. It was written by a number of aristocrats, lairds and senior clerics who pleaded for protection from English aggression. The declaration was a letter to the Pope to recognise Scotland and Robert the Bruce. It states that sovereignty lies with the Scottish people, and that they should elect their sovereign – that the freedom of the kingdom is more important than the person. 

-The power of the written word-
I visited the impressive, haunting red, sandstone ruins of Arbroath abbey a few years back. By pure chance on our drive up to Dundee I picked up a small book on our Scottish hero William Wallace. I had been reading of Wallace in a Robert Burn's biography. Burns was inspired by reading of Wallace and he visited the forests in Ayrshire where Wallace had hidden: he wished to write a song worthy of Wallace and so ne later wrote his famous song 'Scots Wa Hae wi Wallace bled, to the tune Hey Tutti Tatti or known as Robert Bruce’s march at the Battles of Bannockburn.
It can be a strange thing how one journey steps us on to another. There I was on the road to Arbroath abbey, which we found to be a imposing, red, sandstone building steeped in Scottish history and built by William I of Scotland in 1178. Here men spoke of their cherished freedom back in 1320:  and here Glasgow students in 1950 returned the Stone of Destinyon which Scottish kings had been crowned for 450 years at Scone Abbey near Perth.  This was the place that the Arbroath Declaration of Independence was signed by lords, commons and the clergy of Scotland in 1320
 In it they had affirmed our right to be free to live our own lives in our own way.  There is a clip of Ian Hamilton who led the students who returned the Stone of Destiny to Arbroath Abbey, after stealing its return from Westminster in 1951 - speaking of his quest to awaken Scotland from its long slumber, his voice chokes as he speaks..

“.....for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
In the ‘British’ media there has been NO mention of this hugely significant anniversary. The reason is simply down south in England they don’t really care.  Yet across the world they do care hugely! From the likes of Georgia, which also fought for it nationhood, to America and their wars of independence.
I feel a great sense of anger too that I was never taught any of this great Scottish history at school in Edinburgh – even while I studied higher history! The Union of the Parliaments – was a Trading Treaty – but four years later by 1801 England began colonising Scotland
***A Short history
During Alexander II's reign things were stable in Scotland. He was married to the daughter of the English king and his daughter married the King of Norway. Sadly his two sons died and his daughter died too giving birth to a daughter (who later died). Storm clouds were brewing and Alexander had no heir. Disaster was predicted and when he suddenly died and the Scottish Wars of Independence began. When Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots, paraded north, he stole the Stone of Destiny from Perth and put it under a new Coronation throne in Westminster. Scottish kings had been crowned on the stone for 450 years.  After Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn, Edward II agreed to return the stone to Scotland in 1328.  
The Scottish Parliament used to be mobile, but later sat at St Giles in Edinburgh: it sat for 400 years from 1230 to 1707.  After nearly 300 years, the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, to Robert Burns song A Mans a Man for a That. Can we live up to these expectations and hopes?

The Scottish Parliament 
The Scottish Parliament, sat for 400 years (1230 - 1707) influenced by the Reformation, Enlightenment and great scholars. It set many precedents that were eventually incorporated into the British parliament. It worked to reduce the power of the monarchy. The great scholar George Buchanan, wrote that all political power resides in the people, and it must reside in the people: and that it is lawful and necessary to resist kings. 
The Scottish Parliament was begun in 1235 under Alexander II and had a political and judicial role. It sat for 400 years and incorporated The Three Estates – clergy, nobility, Burghs – who all sat together in a single chamber. Which contrasts to the divisions in the English parliament with its House of Commons and House of Lords. And the parliament travelled across the country. Later it sat in St Giles 1563 – 1639, and the nearby Parliament Hall 1639 – 1707.

The great scholar George Buchanan, (1506-1582)

based his writings on the Scottish clan system, the Declaration and the father of democracy. He wrote that all political power resides in the people, and it must reside in the people: and that it is lawful and necessary to resist kings if they become tyrants. 

This was drawn from the Declaration. There were many attempts to suppress his work and he foresaw where stupid Stewart vanity would lead.  James VI and I of England, (1603 Union of the Crowns) was tutored by the highly respected scholar. Buchanan was one of the most significant literary and political figures of the 16th century: poet, playwright, historian, humanist scholar, teacher to Mary Queen of Scots, and later to her son James Stewart VI of Scotland and I of England. He wrote one of the most important books in literature –

 A Dialogue on the Law of Kingship among the Scots, a critical edition and translation of George Buchanan's 'De Iure Regni apud Scotos Dialogus  

Wednesday 1 April 2020

All Edinburgh Festivals 2020 Cancelled due to virus

All of Edinburgh Festivals 2020 are cancelled: and will not take place for the first time in 70 years. 

The Edinburgh FRINGE, ARTS, INTERNATIONAL, BOOK & FILM (plus the Tattoo) festivals are cancelled due to the coronavirus. Devastating if not unexpected news. I attend every year, what will I do August?
Edinburgh’s five August festivals, welcome audiences of more than 4.4 million people and 25,000 artists.
Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Fringe Society, said the decision had not been taken lightly. She also held out hope that they would find ways of “uniting people” under a fringe umbrella .What will happen to funding, performers, shows and tickets? Lets hope the festivals of 2021 will come back even more renewed.