The recent council and mayoral elections held across the UK on the 4th May have made one thing very clear; party politics is in a complete muddle. Most parties suffered losses at the ballot box, no one more so than Labour which lost 320 seats across the country. Indeed, Professor John Curtice concluded that the local elections demonstrated a 7% swing from Labour to the Conservatives, who were the only triumphant party of the night, gaining a crushing 558 seats across the country.
In an increasingly turbulent political climate – Trump, Brexit, and rising right-wing populism across Europe – that seems to be turning away from caring for our fellow human beings, it can be hard to know where to go next. How best should we respond to these upheavals? How do we voice our dissatisfaction when we don’t like where things are going? And what can we do to protect the most vulnerable members of our society? we sat down with Chandler and Frida, members of the green party, to talk about student activism, the future of the left, a more empathetic kind of politics.
Which demographic in society do you think is shown the least amount of empathy?
Frida – I definitely think migrants and asylum seekers, a lot of people tend to target them because it’s easy to target people who are unfamiliar to you.
The working class is a target group as well, especially with the Conservative government. It’s easy to target them as well. They cut down on benefits and taxes, and then demonise that group so it’s easier to justify those things.
Year after year records have been broken for global average temperatures: without a doubt, climate change is well underway. The scientific consensus is clear – 97% of climate scientists agree that contemporary global warming is caused by humans. If only this clarity could be said about the politics of climate change.
Déjà vu, right? Just two years after Scotland voted to remain in the UK, here we sit with the prospect of another referendum. Recently the SNP released a draft bill showing the possibility for a second referendum for Scottish Independence – because this is exactly what we need, just a little bit more madness in a country seeming to implode each day. Of course, though, this was to be expected. The SNP made their point very clear throughout the campaign for the EU referendum; that if it did go the way no one expected, Scotland would revert to its independence mayhem. Continue reading IndyRef 2: Might We Really Be Better Together?
So much for Brexit means Brexit. The high court has made its decision, and said that Parliament alone have the power to trigger Brexit. This decision came as a shock, as Theresa May had previously insisted that government would decide when to trigger the process. The defining reason given by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, was the fundamental factor of the UK constitution that the parliament is sovereign and unable to be bound. Despite this, almost immediately an uproar followed. Politicians from both side of the debate have chimed in, with Nigel Farage being one of the first to voice his dismay over the decision. Others, including the leaders for both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, have reacted more positively; both leaders cited that now was the time for negotiations to be made, and that transparency was required with all matters affecting Brexit.
The brand new polymer five-pound note has now entered circulation, claiming to be safer, cleaner and more durable than its predecessor. While its benefits have been proven to be measurably true, questions have arisen concerning the appointment of the note’s new figurehead- the face of former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. According to the Bank of England, their choice to commemorate Churchill is due in part to his role as an inspirational statesman, orator, leader, and Nobel Prize winner who led Britain to victory in the Second World War. Most of his achievements would undoubtedly cement his title as one of Britain’s greatest individuals; however, there are those who are less enamored by Churchill’s actions. Critics have insisted on laying bare his unsavoury and overlooked opinions on race, justice and imperial atrocities, imploring the nation to reevaluate the values we revere, and to take a more dispassionate view on our British heroes.
Dilyana Popova – Bulgarian Model/Actress
In Bulgaria, and other post-communist countries, depictions of sex did not exist for several decades. It was nowhere to be found – not in books, magazines, on TV, and not even in school. So where did sex disappear?
In the period 1944-1990, Bulgaria was under a socialist (or communist) regime, following the footsteps of ‘sister’ countries such as Russia and Ukraine. This is not in itself unusual, many countries throughout history have been under such regimes. Privately owned land was shared nationally, entrepreneurship was banned, blue jeans were labelled ‘devil’s attire’ and Rolling Stones became the symbol of hellish Western capitalism – a communist’s worst nightmare.
Still, things were kind of normal – I guess – and people were living their lives. But something was missing. Sex. Sex was non-existent. Sex was shameful. No one talked about it – ever. It was like babies magically grew on trees, were brought in by a massive stork or produced by the party. This suggestions seem ludicrous and yet no one asked any questions. Or did they?
I grew up in post-communist Bulgaria in the 2000s and sex was everywhere. My parents and their parents saw a different story though. Or should I say: they saw nothing of it. In my family, sex was never a taboo, and I’m glad I was brought up to be comfortable with my body and sexuality. I thought the most appropriate people to ask about the utter lack of sex in communist times were my parents. Skype-ing over a bottle of wine, they opened up to me and told me exactly how it felt to live a life without sex.
Was sex really absent from everywhere?
Both replied ‘yep’. It definitely was absent. No books, no movies, no pictures in magazines. The only time my dad saw something sexual was when his friend showed him some (very naughty) naked pictures he stole from his house. My mom said she’d never seen anything sexual until she was intimate with a boy herself – the only exception being when her best friend took a copy of The Thorn Birds so that they could read the part where Meghann and Father Ralph got it on…
Ridiculous! So how did this affect you as you were growing up? Did you seek sexual expression? Could you speak to your parents?
‘No way,’ says my Mom. ‘I have never had a sexual conversation with anyone, not even my friends. We were extremely curious but too shy to ever mention it. During the political regime, combined with the Bulgarian patriarch tradition, we were brought up to believe sex was a shameful and disgraceful act. This made me very insecure about my body and some of my girlfriends had children quite young – only because they had no idea what to do. I didn’t have a clue either. I felt my female sexuality was suppressed, or non-existent at all. I wished my mother or cousin would talk to be about sex. I’d probably be more comfortable with myself as an adult.’
Dad agrees, but adds: ‘I was quite sexual as a child and when I got into adolescence, me and my friends were always talking about sex. We mostly lied about having kissed a girl or grabbed someone’s butt. We were stupid boys! We’d always look to see a girl spreading her legs or touching her hip. And then we would feel extremely ashamed. Once I tried to talk to my mother about having a sexual dream, it was super awkward, she said “Just talk to your dad!”. It took him two days to come and talk to me and the whole talk consisted of “It’s fine, son” and a friendly slap on the neck. Sweet.’
To sum things up, sex was bad, nasty, immoral and definitely not in line with the party’s ideology.
‘We were told that touching yourself is extremely unhealthy and bad for you. The government was issuing these booklets with propaganda against masturbation, filled with “expert” advice telling you that masturbating leads to mental disorders and homosexuality. This is hard to believe now, but imagine what a 14-year-old thinks when they read this’ my Dad said. ’We were made to believe that our bodies and sexual desires are filthy and wrong. The doctors would tell us – if you have a hard on, get down and do 20 push-ups until it goes away! Good luck with that….’’
And yet, the people up the Communist party hierarchy were having lots of sex with the best women.
‘Everyone knew that the party leaders and people in the government had many mistresses’ my Mom explained. ’They weren’t even hiding it! But they insisted on telling us that having sex, even talking about sex, is bad. This was shocking, extremely disgusting and it just shows everything that communism stands for – double morale and lies, lies, lies.’
Communism put sex in a box and put it away from everyone. But it was secretly opening up this box when no one was watching. This resulted in generations of people, ashamed to be sexually satisfied, left thinking that their intimate desires and thoughts are wrong. Worst of all, they were forced to believe that suppressing your sexuality is a good thing and appreciating it will make you mentally unstable or sick. Many girls had children without wanting to; many boys became sexually aggressive; many men had to stay in loveless marriages, scared to admit their homosexuality. All of this happened while the minister was shagging his mistress in his villa on the beach.
By Yoana Velikova
The word Brexit has been circulating all over the media during the past few months and has become synonymous with uncertainty as the United Kingdom decides on its future relationship with the European Union.
Since his re-election in 2015, David Cameron’s political agenda has focused on negotiating the UK’s membership status within the EU bloc, in an effort to preserve the country’s status as a strong and powerful nation in a constantly changing global environment. His initial actions were to threaten Brussels with a Brexit Referendum but they have gradually turned into a much safer approach of negotiating and redrafting the current legislature of the European Union; his ultimate goal being to provide the UK with special membership rights without exiting the union. Regardless of the approach that Mr. Cameron decides to take, it is certain that some parties will be left unsatisfied and even resentful to Downing Street’s ambitions.
Despite the Prime Minister’s words of optimism that he is winning ground in Europe, amending current EU laws to give the UK greater freedom within Europe remains a controversial issue amongst member nations, leaving the possibility of a Brexit almost inevitable. Current opinion polls show that support for Brexit is leading by several percentage points; however this figure is increasing everyday as voters feel that Mr. Cameron’s efforts in negotiating changes remain unsatisfactory and fail to create the political and financial utopia that he had promised.
A potential Brexit will leave the UK in a very vulnerable position, one aspect of which is whether Britain will remain as one. Should the UK vote to leave the EU and Scotland decides to stay; there will be a constitutional crisis that could potentially lead to a second Scottish Independence referendum.
However what would Scotland’s future look like without the UK? Looking at global financial markets, and considering the importance that the oil industry plays for Scotland’s GDP, independence may seem like a rather gloomy perspective. The fact that oil prices remain in freefall, causing much economic turbulence as it is, remains a major concern for economic growth in the country and its job market. Major companies like BP and Petrofac have already announced hundreds of jobs losses. Figures published by the Scottish Government show that economic activity is weaker in Scotland than it is across the UK as a whole. Considering the uncertainty of the oil market and the current pound fluctuations, this trend may well continue into the near future.
Brexit also raises fundamental questions regarding Scotland’s attractiveness in the market of tertiary education provision, and for [EU] students the continuation of free tuition. The University of Glasgow for example, has reported that forty-nine percent of its undergraduate student body is comprised of students coming from outside the United Kingdom, myself included. What makes Scotland attractive for me and the many other students coming from the European Union is its free tuition fees provided by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS); however question remains whether the provision of such funding will continue if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union? A potential Brexit and subsequent Scottish independence from the UK could result in changes in such funding schemes and this may prove disastrous for the economic value that international students generate by coming to study at prestigious Scottish universities – like the University of Glasgow.
While the idea of having complete autonomy sounds enticing, the final vote rests with the people of the United Kingdom and whether they believe that the advantages of staying in the EU outweigh the disadvantages.
By Vladyslav Medvensky
I was born in Chișinău, the capital of Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. Some of my favourite childhood memories are of exploring golden sunflower fields with my little sister during the hot summers, helping grandma cook plăcintă (the local cheese and dill-filled pastry) and eating everyone’s summer-fruit harvests on the rural farms of my mother’s side of the family. I grew up in England as my father is British and I was fortunate enough to have a happy and safe childhood with both my parents there. Unfortunately this is not the case for 1 in 5 of Moldova’s children who are affected by labour migration or the 7,000 children who live in state-run institutions today. The prison-like institutions are only a short-term solution to a much larger problem relating to an out-dated social reliance on state care. I believe that it is every child’s right to have a happy and safe childhood or at least the hope of a better future. Being raised in these two contrasting cultures has provided me with a unique perspective and instilled a strong belief that these challenges can be significantly improved through interdisciplinary and international partnership. This is where The Moldova Project (TMP) comes in.
TMP works with some of the most vulnerable children and low-income families in Moldova. In a country that is inherently corrupt with an average monthly salary of 4,200 Lei (£140), access to food, childhood education and healthcare is a luxury. The fight for affordable life-saving medicine is a global issue but for the majority of rural families in Moldova it is a matter of survival. The program offers children an escape from very difficult lives and offers parents sustainable solutions including family planning and employment guidance. Sponsorship money pays for medical aid and allows parents to receive the training they require to return to work, preventing their children from joining the lost generation who are left behind as people are forced to seek work in Russia and the EU. After I read about how the program also facilitates UK-based sponsorship to Moldovan children who require but can’t afford HIV medication, my research was done. I booked my flights to Moldova.
Each day, we entertained a classroom full of children with Christmas activities, face-painting, cinema trips and Moş Crăciun (Santa Claus) who delivered Christmas presents to a total of 303 children over the course of the project. The children, who are carefully selected from rural villages, orphanages and institutions have histories ranging from alcohol and drug-related abuse to abandonment at birth due to disability. It was heart-breaking to learn how children with minor limb abnormalities are denied access to national schooling and how more severe neurological disabilities occur as a result of preventable diseases such as syphilis or anaemia – endemic to Moldova affecting 1 in 3 pregnant women.
Towards the end of the trip we visited one of Chișinău’s baby orphanages, a stop which Becca, one of the regular volunteers who had been with the charity for several years, had been looking forward to the whole week. She was best friends with one of the little girls but was accepting of the fact that she had probably been forgotten. The kids know the Christmas visits are reliable but they are only a day long and it had been a year. As we walked into the rooms lined with endless rows of cots, the little girl looked up and a smile spread across her face as she said “Becca!” in polite amazement. For children who have only a handful of happy memories, this tear-jerking moment alone illustrated the importance and long-lasting impact of our Christmas visits.
According to UNICEF-OHCHR, de-institutionalisation targets are being met, new pre-school facilities are being opened and the Law on the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities was passed in 2012. These changes in the national legal framework are some of the essential steps required to remove the stigma surrounding disability, encourage further reforms in childcare and generate positive public dialogue on the reintegration of the disabled into society. Health sector improvements, such as sexual health campaigns in rural areas, are the greater challenges required to ensure child abandonment in Moldova is confined to the pages of history.
The program left me with a greater understanding of poverty and social change in developing countries, an insight into global public health issues and life-changing memories in a beautiful country that is desperately trying to expunge its darker ties to its former-USSR heritage. I can’t thank the managers, Emma, Lucy and Victoria of The Moldova Project enough for these memories and for the opportunity to work with some of the most kind and dedicated people I’ve ever met. The program organises summer building projects, winter Christmas projects and fundraising events all year round so there is something for everyone. University of Glasgow for Essential Medicines (UGEM) is looking forward to hosting TMP at Glasgow’s refreshers fair this Friday and fundraising ideas are already forming as we look forward to what 2016 will bring. What have you got planned for this summer?
The Moldova Project will be at the Refresher’s Fair next to the UGEM stall at Qudos in the QMU from 10 – 4pm this Friday.
By Joanna Ashby
Isla Cunningham looks at Glasgow’s reaction to the current refugee crisis. She explores what the city, as well as Glasgow University, is doing to help those making the dangerous journeys for a safer life.
Europe is facing one of the biggest migrations of people towards its borders in history. 60 million individuals worldwide have recently been displaced from their homes, either by human rights violations, prosecution, terrorism or general conflict. Certain governments have tackled irregular migration by tightening border controls. Subsequently, the EU borders have become the most dangerous in the world. More than 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, and at least 2,500 have lost their lives trying.
Cameron’s announcement to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years falls embarrassingly short of the efforts of other EU countries. In one day this year, Germany accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees. Cameron’s argument is that to accept more would be to encourage migrants to make the dangerous journey to the UK. However, this ignores the thousands of illegal immigrants who have already made it to the UK – as well as those in Calais – that are forced to trespass the channel tunnel because the UK government will not issue them a visa.
Attitudes towards immigration in Scotland are more positive than the rest of the UK. 27% of Scots think immigrants can have a positive influence on society, compared to just 22% of Brits. Glasgow is a city that owes its existence to migrants, a fact which seems absorbed into our collective conscience and is evident in the response to the refugee crisis so far. 14,000 people showed their support on the “Glasgow Supports Syria” Facebook page, and many Glaswegians are doing everything they can to make sure the migrants and refugees that do reach the UK feel welcome.
Interfaith Glasgow is an organisation that promotes the integration of new migrants, refugees and Asylum seekers into Glaswegian culture. I attended an event of theirs called the weekend club in Pollokshields where new migrants and refugees were invited to take part in interactive language lessons in Glaswegian slang and share international cuisine.
Between activities people exchanged pieces of language from their mother tongues, tips about their favourite sites and places to visit in Glasgow and stories about the journeys they made to the UK. I spoke with an Ethiopian who made the journey to Italy by boat. “I will never in my life forget that journey, everyday I wake up and thank God that I made it”.
Its founder, Mohammed, explains that this is more than just a weekend club: “it’s not about victimising anyone. Glasgow has a rich history of immigration so it’s about letting new migrants know: we’re all the same, we’re all in this together, you can feel at home here.”
Volunteers at interfaith are not only drawn from a cross section of religions, but also ethnicities and generations. Mohammed recalls: “when I first started this programme three months ago I applied for volunteers and thought I would get maybe a few responses, but the results were amazing – I had people contact me from all over the country, that response really moved me and continues to encourage me now”.
Two of the volunteers are a husband and wife who used to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. They joined Interfaith Glasgow to combat extremism, which they said: “thrives off of the feeling that you are alone and unwelcome – the Weekend Club is a programme that tries to combat that”. The volunteers at Interfaith are brought together by a fascination with difference of culture and a genuine determination to break down barriers and establish connections with people.
At Glasgow University too, there has been a tangible response to the Refugee Crisis. Glasgow announced at the beginning of this academic year that it would be awarding four fee waivers, one for each of the colleges. Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “We are facing a major refugee crisis in Europe and, as it has done so many times in the past, the university community is responding in a meaningful, tangible way.”
The University has recently renewed its membership to CARA, the Council for At Risk Academics, formed in 1933 by academics and scientists. It was through CARA that refugees fleeing the Nazi regime were offered accommodation during the Second World War.
Mohammed and Joury (names have been changed) are a husband and wife who decided to leave their positions as lecturers at Damascus University when the Police asked them to report names of students who were “potential troublemakers”. Mohammed said “They said it was either you or them. The campus was turning on itself. It was brutal, merciless. Academics were targeted by the state and Isis alike.” Thanks to CARA, they are now Phd students at Glasgow. Muhammad has chosen to write his thesis on teacher development and Joury on refugee education, hoping they will be able to put their skills to good use when they return.
Professor John Briggs, Vice Principal, remarked: “I am proud that the University reached out and helped Mohammad and Joury – but I know there are many others who need our help.” Indeed, with 450,000 refugees expected to cross the Mediterranean and arrive in Europe next year, the crisis does not look like it will be over soon, and the University and Glasgow as a whole will be called on to continue offering protection.
To support CARA or any of the organisations mentioned you can visit the GRAMNet pages of the University website.
By Isla Cunningham