Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Over to you, Margaret

Dear Margaret,

I have quite the conundrum. I wonder if you could help me with it.

My Scots born best friend moved to Beijing in 2005. She had previously spent a year studying in Canada, but she came back and I could find no traces of latent Canadianism.

Over the last few years she has learned to speak Mandarin quite competently. She also works for the EU. That could be another nail in her coffin, right?

Whilst she has been in Beijing she has met and fallen in love with a Northern Irish chap. Except, he was born and spent the first five years of his life in Germany as a forces brat. He has no trace of a Germanic accent though, or Northern Irish for that matter. He sounds English.

Anyway, I digress. They have been together for a few years and announced earlier this year they were going to have a baby. He was born safely today.

I am not sure if I should be excited. I need to clarify a few points: Did both my friend and her partner move to China and become foreign, or were they already foreign from living in Canada and Germany? Is it worse or better that China is outwith the EU? I am not sure how Labour feel about the EU, you see.

Will their son be Chinese because he is born in Beijing, or is his nationality determined by his parents, and if that is the case, which nationality is the dominant? Is it his mother's Scots or Canadian or Chinese? Or his dad's Northern Irish, German or Chinese nationality.

This is quite the quandary. You have been known to express an a opinion or two about folk moving "abroad" and becoming foreigners.

Until the point I heard your cogent argument, I was tempted to treat their son as an honorary nephew on account his mother and her family feel as close to me as my own. I was naive to think the bonds that bind us, of blood and/or of love, were more important than borders.

Also, can you explain how your position reconciles this with notions of solidarity?

Can you help me?

Should I even buy them a present?



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Here's Maggie Thatcher - Politiciser of the Playground

“Here’s Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her. Squish her, squash her, squish her, squash her, here’s Maggie Thatcher” was a ditty which formed part of the soundtrack to my playground experiences of the mid-eighties. It was accompanied by some creative pen work and hand movements. The children of the eighties, the playgrounds of the eighties, were political in a way I am not sure we shall ever see again.

I met someone recently who was also a child of the eighties – in a completely different area of the country – who also knew the ditty.  It was a shared remembrance of invention, of ingenuity, but also a sad indictment of the despair in many Scottish households which imbued children with political hue and awareness which is unparalleled today. Where the ditty originated, I don’t know and I am not sure I want to.  It is a childhood memory which needs no clarification of retrospect, but it is a telling one.

The myth, the legacy, the damning toll of Thatcherism will live on. That the children of the nineties, who were born with Major, and grew up with Blair, are still shaped by their attitude to Margaret Thatcher – especially in Scotland - says much about the attitudes of their parents and their peers, but also indicates that, love her or loathe her, she created herself a legend. And those who protested against her lionised her.  They gave her a status which no other prime-minister of the twentieth century – with the exception of Churchill – could claim. Demonised by some, idolised by others.

I am a child of the eighties. I remember Thatcher.  I distinctly remember Thatcher.  Thatcher helped shape my childhood and the ideology I have as an adult. Of course, my attitude to Thatcher was a reflection of my parents’ attitudes at that point in time, but I have encountered no other considerations since to inform a change of opinion. 

My parents were political.  They became political as a reaction to societal and political events.  My mum joined the SNP in 1966 at the age of 14 with her sister Maureen who was a year older. Their father – my grandfather – was an Irish miner. They grew up in relative poverty in Fife. My grandfather, John was an Irish immigrant whose father was a Labour councillor in the south of Ireland. He was a member of the Scottish wing of the Labour Party and he campaigned for them. He once presented me with a Parker pen which had been given to him by Gordon Brown.  It was a treasured item of his. 

My mother and Maureen became aware, through their voracious appetite for knowledge and books, of the history of Scotland, of the potential of Scotland, and of the relative imbalance of being governed by a Westminster which was not Scotland focussed. It was a love affair which was to last a lifetime for my Aunty Maureen and a vision which my mother still works toward as an SNP councillor of 27 years standing. 

In the sixties, however, becoming members of the SNP was more than frowned upon.  My grandfather wouldn’t even display a poster for my mother when she stood against Gordon Brown during the eighties.  Miners’ daughters from Cowdenbeath did not join a nationalist party. They withstood that familial disapprobation and their legacy is a family of younger sisters – like my aunt Tricia Marwick - and their brother, and all their many kids and nieces and nephews, and now grandkids, who share their vision of a Scotland governed by the people of Scotland with social justice, fairness and equality at its heart.

My father was less of an emotional nationalist. He is a pragmatist. From Fairhill in Hamilton, he met and married my mother in 1974 but remained a Labour voter until 1979.  He was a devolutionist and was blindly confident that the Labour Party would deliver on a devolution settlement in the referendum in 1979.  To watch it drafted to fail and torpedoed by elected members of the party he had respected and voted for, and which his gradfather had represented as an elected member, hardened his attitude toward a different constitutional settlement.  Clearly, neither the Labour Party nor the Conservatives could be relied upon to bring democracy closer to the people of Scotland. When my father embraced independence and the SNP he did not look back, only forward to the future potential of an independent Scotland. There is no-one as passionate as a convert.

He was wrong, Labour did deliver devolution 20 years later, but in the meantime Thatcher changed the landscape of Scotland irrevocably both physically and politically and forever designating large industry and traditional employment to the scrap heap and she privatised national industries allowing public wealth to flow freely in to the hands of the few. This entire she achieved without a mandate from Scotland which confirmed the correctness of his decision to back independence and the SNP. 

Thatcher the anti-devolutionist would have little idea in 1979 that the actions which she took in office would so harden Scottish attitudes against the Conservatives so that from a high of 22 MPs when she was elected in 1979 they led to the complete eradication of all Tories in Scotland a few months after she was forced from office. She would have no idea that she set in motion the rise of the SNP. Or that less than a year and a half after her death there would be a referendum on Scottish independence. She also, probably, didn’t foresee she would be stabbed in the back by her Tory peers and humiliatingly be driven from office, but that is by-the-by. 

And who would have thought during the eighties that the SNP would be here, holding a referendum on Scotland’s political future? The eighties were not a pleasant time to be in the SNP.  Still blamed for their actions in helping to bring down the Callaghan Government and prematurely calling the general election in which Margaret Thatcher’s Tories swept to victory in the subsequent general election, they faced much derision and abuse on the doorsteps. That the SNP were on the right side of the debate in the eighties on the Poll-Tax, in support of the miners and against the desecration of traditional industry did not matter a jot, their decision in 1979 was a cross to be borne.  

It was inevitable that Callaghan’s government would fail anyway. It had failed to deliver its own policy on devolution and it was incompatible to dealing with the many problems of the seventies – the three day working week and the knock-on effects of that, and strikes which left the streets filed with rubbish had already hardened middle-England voters against the Labour Party. They would vote Tory in swathes at the next election, but in supporting the vote of no confidence which brought down the government the SNP sealed their own fate; losing 9 of their MPs at the general election and consigning the party to an electoral funk which would last well over a decade.

I remember during the 1989 Euro elections Kenny McAskill stood as an SNP candidate. He set off to campaign in Leven with my mum and Charlie and Craig Reid of the Proclaimers on the “Snappy bus” -which was a van with no sides and a loud hailer. They returned hours later caked from head to toe in egg. Leven, it seems, had not forgiven the SNP even then.

Another chant which formed the soundtrack of my childhood was “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, out, out” as my brother, sister and I accompanied our parents from Bannockburn marches to anti-Poll Tax rallies. There was no disputing the passion and sentiment of the people who were involved and marched.  Ordinary people marching in defiance of a discriminatory and unfair system of taxation, imposed on Scotland a year earlier than the rest of the UK. The despair of people on those marches was palpable. These were not only marches against the Poll Tax, but about the annihilation of industry and mining which underpinned the very fabric of Scottish urban and rural society and way of life. They were marches against forced unemployment, against visceral attacks on Scottish society.

Margaret Thatcher traduced the working classes; the blue collar workers who were the engine power house of Scottish traditional heavy industry. She maligned the workers, privatised their industries and went to war on the unions to sate an ego which insisted she was correct and brooked no argument from those who dissented. She was the ultimate political narcissist in action.

Margaret Thatcher metaphorically took a sledge hammer to mining communities, to close knit communities of proud working men and their families. She criminalised miners and forced food from their families’ tables to impose her arrogant scorched earth political will and policies. That Arthur Scargill did a disservice to miners does not exculpate Margaret Thatcher, it just highlights that they were both driven by ego to the exclusion sense and compassion.

Her premiership is categorised by infringements and attacks and erosion of civil liberties. She employed draconian and subversive methods of undermining political opposition.  She politicised the police and she used covert operatives to spy on protesters. That my parent’s phone was tapped during the miners’ strike is merely an indication of this, not the sum total. Their particular brand subversive actions? They were feeding the miners who were on strike.

That Thatcher came to power in a very difficult period cannot be disputed. Something did need to be done.  That something was definitely not to act with reckless abandonment and callousness creating social divisions and ramping up class barriers. The rich got richer, and the workers lost their jobs.
Margaret Thatcher’s governance is categorised by her kowtowing to the City of London. She was much trumpeted for creating the opportunity for social mobility, but this was built upon the shaky foundations of credit, and the whole house of cards – banking deregulation, reckless spending and spiralling borrowing – culminated in the crash of 2008.  The crash of 2008 was inevitable, built as it was on credit. It was one lasting legacy of Thatcher, like finding someone has dropped a fish behind your chest of drawers and left it to rot.

She is credited by her admirers for giving working people the “Right to Buy” social housing which allowed people to get on the property ladder.  And loathe Thatcher as they came to do, many people in Scotland did take the opportunity to do just that.  However, this was another of Thatcher’s ticking time bombs. So many houses were sold off without much attempt to replace them that queues for adequate social housing are huge and people are forced in to private rented accommodation which is more expensive and benefits neither the welfare system nor the householder.  The only one benefitting in that situation is the landlord. Some of whom bought their properties from the state at knock down prices in the first place. Margaret Thatcher probably thinks that is a good thing though.  Capitalism, eh? 

And so now, when her successor in Cameron applies his unfair and disgusting bedroom tax, there are hugely insufficient numbers of size appropriate social housing for those affected to move to, even if they wanted to.

Privatising public industry, annihilating heavy industries like shipbuilding and steel-working, and attacking the public sector does not come without its cost. Four million people in the UK were unemployed, many of whom did not have the skill sets or education to smoothly transition from one industry to another. Many of whom in despair as their whole communities were blighted by worklessness and their pride stripped away as they were forced on to the scrapheap.  Thatcher robbed these people of their self-worth, forcing them on to benefits and parking them there, creating new categories of benefits where people were abandoned, forgotten, but which allowed Thatcher to massage the unemployment figures to her advantage. What cost to these people as the eighties carried on regardless of their plight with its shoulder pads, cigars, champagne and ostentatious behaviours and superficial wealth? They were collateral damage to Thatcher’s autocratic pursuit of self-interest.

Scotland hasn’t forgiven the Conservatives – or indeed Thatcher – because Scotland has not recovered from the Conservatives or Thatcher. The Tories are so synonymous with Thatcher that their vote is in perpetual decline. Margaret Thatcher has cast them adrift and only some seismic shift can change their electoral fortunes.

When Thatcher came to power in 1979, Scotland did lag significantly behind the rest of the UK in terms of unemployment and other figures, and this is no longer the case. Proponents of Thatcher point to her economic policies as being responsible for this. Thre may be elements of truth in that, but that is based only on a superficial examination of the employment which people are consigned to., It isn’t as simple as job creation. 

The jobs which were lost during the Thatcher era were jobs for life; skilled jobs, trade jobs. Replacing these with transient service industries and call centres might make for good reading of unemployment figures, but they certainly don’t tell the story about life quality and opportunity. Thatcher’s policies ripped the heart out of communities, and you cannot patch that rent with part-time jobs in the service industry.

Worse than destroying industries she destroyed communities, aspirations and people and that is not a legacy to be proud of.

So, when Thatcher died yesterday, I confess – to my shame – that there was a brief moment of satisfaction that we could now move on to dissecting the legacy of Thatcher; of Blairism and Cameronism. Both are pale imitations, but shaped by her vision nonetheless. In the case of Cameron, her legacy of pandering to the wealthy to the exclusion of the most vulnerable is interpreted, possibly, even more perniciously than she enacted when in power. 

Thatcher created the conditions which eradicated heavy industry and mining in Scotland. You can’t destroy an industry twice when it is already obliterated, but Cameron is trying his best to continue Thatcher’s legacy by destroying the only industries left to him; the English NHS and the public sector.

I wasn’t dancing the “Day that Thatcher Died”, even if that song by Hefner has a very catchy tune. She was a wife, a mother, and a grandmother and divisive she may have been; arrogant and callous she undoubtedly was, she was a person and our humanity should dictate we don’t dance on her grave. 

However, I will not stand idly by and watch her eulogised out of culpability for the many crimes committed against the social fabric of Scotland.
Margaret Thatcher politicised the playgrounds. That should serve as due indication of the strength of feeling of people in Scotland have about her actions in office.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Public Speaking and the Fear That Lurks Inside

The first time I remember feeling real terror as a child I was alone in my room with a burst balloon trying to suck the rubber until it popped like Clingfilm. Rubber, however, isn’t as easily popped as Clingfilm and it resisted my herculean efforts to make it.  Instead the balloon shot to the back of my throat and lodged there, blocking my airway. I was terrified.  I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t shout for help.  I choked, I coughed, I turned red and I panicked. I am here now, so it all turned out fine in the end, but for those few seconds I was truly frightened and clawing at my throat in abject terror as I couldn’t get any air in to my lungs, marvelling all the while at the tenuous hold we have on our own mortality.

This was the first time I remember experiencing the sensation of being unable to breathe. It certainly wasn’t the last.

Meet me and you will quickly realise that there are some things I do well, or more accurately, often and incessantly. Talking is one such thing.  I could talk until the cows come home; talk the rear (and front legs) off a donkey and any other ridiculous simile you’d care to toss my way. Give me a topic and - I might not know anything about it - but I’ll unadvisedly have a clumsy bash at conversing on it. Your main problem is stopping me full flow. I remember a school report from a high school geography class which rather wittily sniped, “work sometimes interferes with her chatting”. Meet me and you’d probably make the mistake of thinking that I always enjoy an audience.

The second time I felt the same discomfort and terror I was in high school. I had prepared a solo talk. It was pretty funny, or at least I thought so.  My chosen topic was an irreverent report about the motivations behind Jarvis Cocker interrupting the pomposity of Michael Jackson’s Brits performance of Earth Song. I felt confident I could make the audience laugh. My friends had laughed when we practised our talks in the lunch break before.

The first 30 seconds were fine – if somewhat quick. Then I looked up. I looked up and realised where I was. I was standing in front of a group of my peers, their attention was on me, and I panicked. I stopped breathing.  I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. I stuttered.  I tried again, nothing.  I fled that room in tears.

A few years later, again in high school, I was in sixth year and Head Girl. A concert was given to honour the retirement of my primary school head teacher and I was asked to write a tribute.  Given her many attributes, it wasn’t a difficult task to pay homage to a dedicated and supportive teacher such as Mrs Gilfillan. It is a shame that my considered written words, when I attempted to read them from stage, failed to do her justice.  Mid-way through my voice just stopped.  Again I fled in tears. I think some people thought I was overcome with emotion at paying tribute to Mrs Gilfillan, but I wasn’t; I was in tears because I couldn’t articulate myself, breathe or find the courage to read what I had so painstakingly written.

Mark Twain said that there are only two types of public speakers in the world; the nervous, and the liars. I don’t necessarily agree, but I take his point.

Hyperventilation is a construct of the mind.  It isn’t any less real for being so. It feels real and it provokes a real physical response as the brain tells the body that it can’t breathe. For people who suffer from panic attacks it can be terribly debilitating. I am lucky that my panic attacks were limited to public speaking. Some people have their lives severely restricted by other situation-based experiences even more frequent; like crowded spaces, small spaces or even empty rooms. I feel a kinship with anyone who has experienced panic attacks. It isn’t rational, but it is very real to the person experiencing that sensation. It certainly isn’t as simple as mind over matter; not when it is the mind that is the matter.

When I went to the University of Aberdeen to study law, I decided to take part in mooting.  Perhaps in the swanky new law library there still resides a dusty trophy bearing the names of the winners of the 2001 mooting competition; myself and the lovely Miss Joanne Powrie.

Poor Joanne, unfortunately for her, was probably the person most familiar with the limitations of my public speaking.  She chose ill for a partner as I had to be cajoled along at every stage.  Oh the jokes about paper bags we made and laughed at. It was funny, to an extent, but I am aware that I used humour as a defence mechanism to cover up my discomfort. That we won is tribute to Joanne’s wonderful legal reasoning rather than any conquering of my incapacitating fear of speaking in public.

Undeterred, I decided a less formal form of public speaking might conquer my affliction and off to Cyprus I toddled in 2003 to work as a holiday rep. What I took away from Cyprus is affection for the country, an intellectual curiosity about the political situation, a love for karaoke and some wonderful memories. I didn’t conquer my fear of public speaking even if I was happily disinterested enough to wax lyrical confidently to a group of holiday makers about the virtues of Cyprus.

It did, however, teach me a lesson: that where I am imparting knowledge to people eager to hear it - such as holiday makers, or in a training environment - I am confident to speak in front of people. I had already learned as a sixth year at high school, when I crashed higher drama at the school across the road, that I was confident when I was performing someone else’s words. I just lacked the confidence to articulate my own.

I have been a trainer, I have presented information to groups over the years since university, and even then still got a small flutter of panic as I step in front of a group, but it was manageable, a managed discomfort.

This year I made a decision. I decided that it lacks integrity to snipe on the sidelines about people who have the ability to deliver their own words to an audience whilst lacking the courage to get up and articulate my own alternative. I have opinions and if I have any conviction in them, I should be able to stand in front of a group of people and substantiate them. Else how can I critique with any credibility others who put themselves out to public scrutiny?

And so I have embarked on a journey which is perhaps the most difficult thing I have undertaken in my life.  I consider the fear I have past felt every time I stand in front of an audience.  My mouth goes dry and I feel the back of my throat begin to close. Then I remember that I am there to speak because I believe in the topic I am addressing, and that is a powerful motivator.

How proud was I, and privileged, to be one of those to speak in the NATO debate at SNP conference in 2012? I waited in the huge audience half terrified, half desirous of hearing my name being read out to speak on a matter of fundamental importance that I am absolutely passionate about.

My name was read out and I wandered up there in a dwam, conscious of the thousands of faces riveted on the stage. Nonetheless, I got up there and I spoke. It might not have been the performance that I’d like to have given, but that I was there at all was remarkable to me.

Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Make Friends and Influence People wrote, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually give: the one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wished you’d given.”

Afterward, as I took my seat I was shaking so much I spilled my bottled water down me, but that was a lesson to me.  That was progress, and it gets easier every time I undertake to speak in public.
Since then, I’ve been fortunate and flattered to be asked to speak at various events in support of independence.  I’ve addressed an audience at Glasgow University, talking about gender and the referendum; kicked off proceedings in front of 600+ at the launch of Yes Glasgow; and began my campaign to be selected as an MEP candidate for 2014 by being involved in hustings meetings, making my case directly to meetings of party members and activists across the country.

Every time I make my way to the final full stop of my speech I feel a small personal victory. Perhaps practice won’t entirely conquer the fear, but passion is a powerful motivator and I am passionate about the direction which Scotland moves in. And if I sometimes feel the flutter of fear, so what?

**Since I wrote this, I today failed to be selected as one of the SNP's candidates for Europe. I don't see this as a failure though.  I got up in front of a big audience to try to sell myself - which is a whole other shade of fear. I evidently didn't do the best job in the world, but just being up there on that stage is a personal victory for me, so I am a winner too!

And thanks to everyone who supported and voted for me. I owe you all a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

George Square - A Cautionary Tale of Ego and One Party Dominance in Local Government

Being a resident of Glasgow, it is inevitable that some degree of self-interest demands that I express dismay about the plans for George Square which were unveiled to the public this week.  Of course I am dismayed at what amounts, in my opinion, to nothing more or less than an act of urban vandalism; and the hijack of land gifted for common good to serve the interests of commercialism and to satiate the ego and coffers of Glasgow City Council.

What is less clear is why the rest of Scotland should be interested in what amounts to a little "local difficulty" in Glasgow.

I could point to Glasgow’s proud history as the second city of the empire or its current status as Scotland’s largest city; a centre of the Scottish population and industry, such as it is after consecutive Conservative and Labour governments wielded their axes.  

None of those pertinent facts, however, is as important as the real reason. The rest of Scotland should take cognisance of a cautionary tale; that of giving one party decades of unparalleled dominance in local Government and how the promises of consultation and open democracy grandly pronounced during an election period become worthless when said dominance is restated.

George Square has changed in appearance greatly over the period since it was donated to common good. Its current incarnation is beyond comparison the ugliest of all of the faces it has worn. The late 1990s and the McAveety era of Labour local government pushed through a car park of red tarmac reminiscent of the blaze football pitches which GCC are at pains to get rid of. This was done without consultation, and with bullish self-interest. 

In justification of that debacle, Frank McAveety said in 1998 in The Daily Record,

"The work will leave the square as green as ever. The work can only enhance what is a most important public space. We have apologised. We can't deny that the public were not told about the work. We regret the inconvenience the work has caused but the surface of the square needed upgrading."

That the space is neither aesthetically pleasing or functionally correct, I doubt anyone would disagree. Even Labour GCC leader Matheson admits that it, “...isn’t coherent... is tired...no  one likes the red tarmac”.

After 14 years of being a carbuncle and municipal embarrassment, most Glaswegians would agree that George Square is in dire need of a revamp.

Unfortunately, the Matheson Administration in its rush to spend £15m from the resources it claims are straitened, appears to have learned nothing from the McAveety Administration's debacle.

Gordon Matheson's claim that,

"I want to give the people of Glasgow the square they deserve so I am beginning a public consultation on a generational revamp of George Square.

"For this to succeed, the people of Glasgow need to feel they have been involved in the process and I would not dream of embarking on it without their involvement."

has been shown to be patently false.

Compare and contrast Matheson's claims with GCCs actual consultation of only 42 persons. A lesson had been learned, that lesson was to project the appearance of consultation and hope that the process wouldn’t be exposed for the lip service which it actually is.

Perhaps the use of Ipsos MORI to conduct the consultation was meant to appease all but the most robust critics, but this has proven not to be the case. There is widespread condemnation of messaging and the methodology. If anyone thinks that what has been enacted in relation to public consultation bears any relation to what Matheson said in June 2012, I would be absolutely flabbergasted.

The grounds for objection to the process can be categorised on the following grounds:
  •  That GCC consulted only 42 constituents out of over half a million residents within the Glasgow City Council area.
  • That the same consultation consulted with 7 stakeholders despite the grounds being Common Good
  • That the specification which resulted from the consultation is unduly weighted toward business, and does not reflect the views of most Glaswegians when informally approached for opinions.
  • That it is unclear who whittled down the over 30 designs to 6, or who appointed them.
  • That the “consultation period” with the public, whilst the 6 entries are on display in The Lighthouse, is to last only 9 days and any opinions expressed by the public are merely informative, but not binding on the panel.
  • That the panel has been appointed in an opaque manner and is not reflective of the city demography. This is very obvious in the heavy weighting of business. One such example is Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts who should be excluded on the basis his company runs ‘Glasgow Loves Christmas’ and has a financial stake in the outcome. The panel also includes no women, or any representative of the wider public.
  • That none of the designs are reflective of the wishes of most Glaswegians.

What is also extraordinary is that there are no local councillors on the panel, or, from what I can see, or have heard from local councillors, absolutely no opportunity for them to input to the process; either in the constitution of the panel of judges, the specification to the design teams, in making suggestions, or in representing the views of their constituents.  That is, of course, except for Gordon Matheson, who in his position as Council Leader heads up Glasgow City Marketing Bureau which has a seat on the judging panel.  Any interpretations you make from this information are purely your own.  I make no assertion as to who is driving this project or what they want to achieve. I think the facts and lack of consultation per se notum.

Openness and transparency were key, if hastily added, tenets of the Glasgow Labour Party manifesto for the council election in 2012. Amongst those promises were petitions committees etc. It is a shame that at the first hurdle, less than a year after such lofty claims were made, GCC fails in one of the first exercises to dispel accusations of lip service it made when it felt under the cosh. In fact, there is currently a petition for a seventh option for George Square which has over 1000 signatures and rising. It will be interesting to see how GCC receives this expression of public sentiment.

Of course, the scale of the Labour Council election victory took them, and everyone else, by surprise. And perhaps it is bitterness which speaks here, but all those lofty promises of 2012 need not be implemented when there is the ballast of an overall majority as a cushion; consultation, cooperation and transparency be damned. And who can blame them for their confidence. It seems to me that, in local government at least, the Labour Party in Glasgow can do no wrong.  The rumours of disgraced former Labour Leader Stephen Purcell’s drug taking, the creation of outside bodies to give themselves huge pay supplements or their failure to act in the best interest of their constituents hasn’t prevented the people of Glasgow from voting them back in time and again. Opposition councillors are all united in their condemnation of the method in which the "consultation" has been carried out, and of the designs proposed, but only the people of Glasgow can truly hold the Labour Party to account.

If this is not to be another example of the Council riding roughshod over the needs and wants of ordinary Glaswegians, then now is the time to act. Write to your local councillor, write to the papers and attend the demonstration in George Squareon February the second.  Let us not sit back in 2014 and bemoan the lack of seating in George Square and the restricted access to our common good land whilst private enterprise uses our space and makes a huge profit.

George Square needs to change, but that change need not be “progress” for progress sake. Surely the only evidence required of progress is a progressive city which takes cognisance of the people who reside there, and as far as I can see, none of the six designs mooted does that. 

The campaign for restoration, not renovation, has only just started and I wouldn’t necessarily bet against these motivated and enthusiastic organisations.  Watch out GCC, Restore George Square, Great Little Place in Glasgow and the people of Glasgow are out to stop you, overall majority be damned.  And if you want a cogent lesson, look to the Union Terrace Gardens debacle and how that turned out.

And if anyone cares for my opinion, here is my two minute rough sketch of what I would like to see in George square.  Less squint and more equidistant of course.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Very Personal Welcome to the Scottish Government 'Don't Give Fire a Home' Initiative

I doubt many people will wake up early on Hallowe’en Sunday morning at the age of 23 to go in to McDonald’s to open the store for 6am.  I doubt even more so that you will be visited by your aunt at around 9:15am, who looks like her chin is still stained with fake vampire blood, whilst wondering why she is there as her closest McDonald’s is on the other side of the river Forth. Nor will you demand she tells you what is wrong, because you suspect something is, and then run through a list of your immediate family members loudly, and in front of horrified staff and a full queue of customers, getting increasingly frantic.  Nor when you mention your brother’s name will she look stricken as you demand she tells you what is wrong.  I hope you never have to hear the words, especially in front of an audience, that he died in a house fire, pulled out not breathing at 7am that morning.  I hope you never have to hear those words.

I did.

Loss is something everyone faces in their lifetime; it is an inevitable part of living, although that doesn’t make it any easier. Happiness is a quiet death at an old age surrounded by family, sadness is a long illness which eventually wins, sadness is also a short illness, unexpected. Tragedy is an accident where circumstance steals away a loved one. Waste is something entirely different.  Waste is carelessness. Carelessness is what killed my brother. He died in a house fire; a house fire of his own making. He went in after a party and decided to fry some chips; fell asleep and never woke up. That is waste.

How many times do we read of house fires, fatal and non-fatal, but dangerous nonetheless, of carelessness, of chip pans, or pans left on or dropped cigarettes?  How many times do we hear that these houses had no fire alarms to wake up the inhabitants of the house or their neighbours? How often is alcohol a factor?

My brother had a fire alarm, it did go off and someone attempted to help him.  Unfortunately they were too late to resuscitate him, but at least there is a chance if you have a smoke alarm.  And isn’t it morally reprehensible to put your neighbours lives in danger too by not having a fire alarm to possibly alert them and their families of a fire? Sometimes forward planning and a little bit of sense can prevent your family having to pick up the pieces of your waste and carelessness.

I’ve never written about my brother dying, why would I? It is personal to me and my family, but yesterday I saw the Scottish Government launch its “Don’t Give Fire a Home” initiative and wanted to stick my oar in, and praise any efforts to raise awareness that fire can happen to anyone, tragedy can affect any family.  It did then, in 2004, and it did again last year.

My aunt, who was my godmother, died in a house fire last year.  They say lightning doesn’t strike twice; well it did in our family.

If this serves as a little reminder every time your oversensitive fire alarm goes off when you burn some toast and you are tempted to remove the battery, then it is worth me talking about.  If it stops you getting in after an evening and out and switching on a cooker, then it is worth sharing a personal story.

Just remember: Fire Kills, Carelessness Kills.  It happened to our family twice, it can happen to anyone.  Be careful and take precautions.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hallowe'en: what does it mean to you?

Does it conjure up memories of cuts inflicted by vigorous attempts to carve the largest neep you could find in a, get this, local green grocers; the smell of burning neep lasting all the way to Burns night? Or have you succumbed to the allure of the easier to cut, larger and more aesthetically pleasing pumpkin; riding roughshod over generations of tradition; throwing away the opportunity for kids  to learn life skills of patience and endeavour in the face of a quick fix and no Dettol?

Does it remind you of actually learning songs or poems to go guising round the doors? Or have you forgone this to kowtow to American conventions to bring up your children with "trick or treating" and pumpkins; where children turn up at doors without a "talent" to speak of, but with their hands outstretched to receive cash instead of the monkey nuts and sweets of your childhood. 

Do you remember when Hallowe'en was about dressing up scarily and not sexily, or as a cartoon or film character; when witches costumes were invariably the construct of a black bin bag and where invention trumped purchasing power? Now the big supermarkets squeeze small suppliers like Tam Shepherd’s in Glasgow with their gaudy, but cheap, wares which they have advertised row by row from the end of the summer. Where is the imagination? Where are the disasters from failures of sellotape or not enough glue, or the needle pricked fingers?

What about party games? Do people still dook for apples or dangle treacle scones? Do we maintain the games of tradition which endanger the hours spent on our facial make-up but keep just a little innocence alive; proving that fun and laughter trump presentation and perfection;  a lesson to our children that it is ok to get dirty, to make a mess and to be the butt of a big dollop of treacle scone. 

The traditions of the past have carried us through generations; the lanterns to ward off evil spirits on old Hallows Eve, where children dressed up to disguise themselves as evil spirits so they could roam free and be rewarded with small gifts at doors by fearful neighbours who wished to ward away these evil spirits.

It is so easy to bow to commercialism and just forget the tales of the past, but how sad if our children never learn the reason that Hallowe'en is a festival, and rather just celebrate with a misplaced ideology of rampant consumerism, still a little fun, but a whole lot of expectation.

Like @LoveandGarbage and the Burd say, if anyone turns up at my house without a talent tonight or talking about ‘trick or treating’, they'll be getting nowt. 

Oh, and by the way, it is Hallowe'en, not Halloween. Lazy sichts.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

From London with Love: Lessons for Glasgow

At the weekend the London Olympics will drew to a close and that begins to concentrate the mind on what legacy will be left for London. There are many types of legacy; sporting, social and reputation amongst others. I think it is fair to say that it isn’t the country which is synonymous with the Olympics, it is the city. And that is the work of branding, and is a real opportunity to – if done well – showcase the host city to a huge worldwide audience and bolster its reputational legacy.

The London Olympic Games have been a success.  I think we can all agree that they have run smoothly, that the athletes have been the main attraction, and that London has been showcased to the world in all its sprawling cosmopolitan splendour. Yes there have been stumbling blocks along the way, and issues have arisen prior to and during the games that have challenged the organisers, and yet, from the moment the opening ceremony started, the games have captivated, and held spellbound, an enthralled audience.

There are lessons to learn from London, both the positive and the negative; things to ensure are done and pitfalls to avoid.  London is the best asset that we in Glasgow have in terms of access to free advice. London is doing what we in Glasgow hope to do in the Commonwealth Games in 2014.  We want to showcase our talent; in athletics and sports, but also in our open hospitality and our ability to organise and present the best games possible. But more than that, we want to make the games work for us in Glasgow, to embrace the opportunity of the investment in sports facilities and in the regeneration of huge swathes of the East end of the city. The Glasgow games need to work for the people of Glasgow too.

One thing the London Olympics have done well is to ensure a continuity of purpose and identity; best exemplified by the leadership of Sebastian Coe. In this aspect Glasgow has already hit a few stumbling blocks as key personnel have stood down and the team changed multiple times. Let us hope the current incarnation is its last and they unite around an ambitious project to display Glasgow as the modern, vibrant and diverse city we know it can be.

“Transformative” is a word which is bandied about to describe the impact the Olympic Games have had on the London landscape, and Glasgow should aspire to receive similar accolades. The Commonwealth Games has given Glasgow unparalleled access to capital investment from the Scottish Government to invest in infrastructure in the shape of the East End Regeneration route and in the construction of the velodrome, the indoor arena, and the athletes village.

The East End of Glasgow has the disgraceful boast of being one of the most deprived areas in the whole of Europe; the sick man of Glasgow and it wears this boast like a crown of thorns. The Commonwealth Games shed a much needed spotlight on the levels of deprivation and neglect in some of the communities in the East End and on the unmanaged decline in conditions and health. This isn’t always welcomed by local communities anxious to shrug off this unhelpful caricature and they point to progress. However, statistics speak for themselves.  In the Calton ward – where the majority of the Games events will take place – 20.5% of people are on ESA/IB. In addition to this the male life expectancy in the Glasgow East constituency is 68, 32% of adults smoke, and sporting participation is significantly lower than the national average.  These seemingly random facts don’t exist exclusive of each other; they are indicators of deprivation.

Evidently we cannot burden the Commonwealth Games with the responsibility of changing mindsets, or with achieving what politicians have failed to do for generations; that is the work of time, education and investment, but they do have an important role to play. Just as the London Games have been inspirational, we too need to harness this enthusiasm and use it to encourage participation in sports and in access to sporting facilities. Communities right across Glasgow will enjoy and embrace the new facilities both before, and long after the Games have departed. The organisers of the games should make sure that in the next 2 years they look not just on the sporting legacy too though, but also on the social legacy of improved health and in the benefits of community participation.

Glasgow has an opportunity to shine. True, the Commonwealth games do not have the glamour and the investment and the sponsorship or worldwide audience, but perhaps that has its own merit and we can be more flexible and creative. With Independence potentially around the corner, this is an opportunity for Scotland display herself on the world stage, to showcase our diversity and talent, and to throw off the shackles of perception about Scotland. This is our moment to let the world know that this is Scotland, this is Glasgow, that we can compete on the highest of platforms and we are eager and willing to share our achievements with the world.

Shine a spotlight on Glasgow, we’ll be ready.