H. L. Mencken’s Fight for the ‘Great Truth’

By Gustav Jönsson

Henry Louis Mencken once wrote, “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

How right he was. It is hard to find a pithier summation of the difficulty defending free speech. How easy it would be to stand up for freedom if it only meant supporting people of Salman Rushdie’s ilk. Often, you will find yourself supporting unlikable scoundrels, but you must, nevertheless, fight against the abridgement of their civil liberties. For Mencken, this led him to defend Henry Ford’s right to print antisemitic nonsense.

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Dear Aung San Suu Kyi

Written By: Margot Hutton

 

Dear Aung San Suu Kyi,

I always have admired you for your engagement in the effort to bring peace and democracy to your country. I believe this fight needed your bravery, patience, and devotion to make Myanmar a better place for everyone living there.

Those decades of fight, of sacrifice, of house arrest, as you dared to promote a better world and speak out against a dictatorship, were not for nothing. It was a victory when you took office as foreign minister and state counsellor last year.

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What has happened to UK Party Politics?  

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.

Continue reading “What has happened to UK Party Politics?  “

An Interview With GU Green Party

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.

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Why is Climate change such a politicised issue in the US?

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.

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IndyRef 2: Might We Really Be Better Together?

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?”

High Court throws spanner in the works of May’s ‘Hard Brexit’

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.

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The Dark Side of Churchill: On imperialism and the new fiver

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.

Continue reading “The Dark Side of Churchill: On imperialism and the new fiver”

Where Did Sex Disappear? A look Inside Pandora’s Box in Communist Bulgaria

 

Dilyana-Popova-Top-Hot-Pictures-1

 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 Refugee Crisis: Glasgow’s Response

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.

 

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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

 

Bad Boning

Lauren Jack 2Art by Annie @hashtag_grunge through The Artidote

 

I would like to preface this essay with an offering of #notallmens to ward off the twin menaces which haunt articles such as these: the demon of wilful misunderstandings and the phantom of hurt feelings. Let me say now: I am of course not talking about all men, because most of you are genuinely wonderful sparkly little beacons of light who deserve nothing but warmth, affection and very good sex for the rest of your sparkly little lives. However, some aren’t; so please excuse me.

 

#notallmen #notallmen #notallmen #notallmen #notallmen #notallmen #notallmen #notallmen

 

Thank you. Now we can begin.

 

As we all know, there are men in the world who will drag a girl down a dark alley and rape her. There are men who will lock a girl in a bedroom at a party and rape her. There are men who will purposely drug a girl or get her blackout drunk so they can rape her. This is terrible and horrible and I feel all sorts of hideous ways about it, but it’s not what I’m going to talk about here, for the following reason.

 

You and I know these men are bad men. I have no doubt that the majority of these men know they are bad men. Unless you’re a bona fide psychopath, you don’t commit these horrible acts without knowing that you’re doing a Bad Thing.

 

However, there is another class of men who also do Bad Things but who genuinely believe that they have done nothing wrong. These men have the potential to cause just as much harm as our straight-up Baddies, and these men worry me more because I know them. I’ve met them. I have, on occasion, been friends with them. And so have you.

 

These are the men for whom the Yes means Yes laws were instated. These are the men who take a woman’s silence as agreement, for whom reluctance is a form of flirtation, for whom a quiet ‘no’ is a token resistance, for whom quite a few ‘no’s are just a barrier to be pushed through. These are men that assume that because a woman is kissing them, she’s consenting to everything else. They aren’t violently holding down their partner and their partner isn’t screaming and crying but it is still wrong.

 

When I was seventeen and drunk and making out with a guy, and he continued doing what he was doing even after I said ‘no’ a bunch of times and tried to push his hands away, I didn’t think I’m being sexually assaulted. I thought, oh, I guess we’re doing this now, and even though I don’t want him to be doing this I also don’t want to cause a scene so I suppose I’ll just let him.

 

The next day there was no doubt in my mind that he hadn’t done anything wrong. If I’d really not wanted him to do it, I’d have screamed, right? I’d have pushed him off the bed or smacked him in the jaw. And I’d kept kissing him while saying no to his hands in my pants, because I’d still wanted to kiss him, so I guess he just thought I was fine with it. And anyway, I didn’t feel particularly upset, so what’s the big deal?

 

I didn’t think about this again until a couple of years later, when a friend was telling me that a similar thing happened to her. The difference was, she did feel upset about it, tremendously and rightfully so: she had said no and he had ignored her. We agreed that this person was a bad person who had done a bad thing.

 

And then I thought about that night when I was seventeen, and thought Oh.

 

Why hadn’t I felt at the time like the guy who had stuck his hands in my pants even after I said no was a bad person? Why hadn’t I felt like he’d done anything wrong? Looking at the facts, I knew he shouldn’t have done it, but I had a hard time attaching the label rape or sexual assault to something that made me feel less like I’d been violated and more like I’d been forced to go to a party that I didn’t really want to go to but ended up having an OK time.

 

Lauren 1Art by Terri Lee

 

In the end, it doesn’t matter that I hadn’t felt violated; plenty of women would have, and quite rightfully so. But this demonstrates why there are otherwise normal, caring, good guys out there studiously ignoring a lack of consent without realising they’re doing anything wrong, because it happened to me and at seventeen I didn’t even realise it was wrong. I just figured that’s how things go.

 

Where did we both get the idea that that’s ‘how it goes’? Why on earth did I feel like it was OK for my protests to be ignored, and why did an otherwise good guy feel OK ignoring them? The problem lies in what straight men and women are taught – explicitly, by countless dating guides and the pick-up artist movement, and implicitly by our media and culture – about how men and women (should) behave regarding sex. This is why I’m phrasing this piece in terms of men and women; of course rapists aren’t all men and victims aren’t all women, nor all sexual encounters heterosexual, but a big part of what leads to the situations I’ve described is the way straight men are socialised in our society.

 

How many films glorify men who keep pursuing a girl after she’s expressed her disinterest? How many tell men that they can indeed get the girl if they just keep trying? Many of them focus on ‘getting’ the girl in terms of a romantic relationship as well as a sexual one, but serve to create and reinforce the idea of the man as the pursuer and the woman as the pursued – which is just a softer, cuddlier, Hollywood-endorsed version of men as the predator and women as the prey.

 

We have all been taught by the media, by our culture, that the man should be the aggressor, that he should ‘escalate’ the situation. Men have been taught that women might seem reluctant or put up a ‘token resistance’ but that they shouldn’t be disheartened, it’s just how girls are! So innocent! So coy! Just push a little more! Don’t give up!

 

Please. Give up. If a woman says no, listen to her. If a woman seems reluctant or uncomfortable, ask her about it, or slow down, or pull back; give her the space to express her desire and don’t keep pushing for something you aren’t absolutely certain that she wants.

 

Women, express your desire! If you want to have sex with someone, tell them. Show them. Ask them. This largely isn’t our problem to solve but playing hard to get when you genuinely desire someone fuels the idea that consenting women have to be hunted, pursued, and pushed in order for a guy to get what he wants.

 

As I said, I don’t think most of the men doing these things are bad men by any means. They are good men who need to be taught better. This was a difficult essay to write because it’s a difficult situation: I’m aware that the modern dating game is largely predicated on these harmful gender roles and it can be difficult to escape from them. We’ve all been born into this patriarchal culture. No one alive now is the source of the problem, but we can stop perpetuating it by no longer buying into antiquated notions of how men and women are supposed to interact.

 

As long as our men are taught that they are the ones who must push things forward, that women will seem reluctant in order to fulfil the cultural requirement for girls to be innocent and good; as long as women do sometimes put up a token resistance in order to get what they want without being judged; as long as the discourse around one night stands and promiscuous sex remains buried in the assumption that men are the hunters and women are the prey; as long as we maintain that ‘boys will be boys’ and fail to hold them accountable for their actions; as long as we demean men by insisting that when it comes to attractive women, they just can’t control themselves; as long as we demean women by failing to see them as sexual actors, aggressors, women who know what they want… This will keep happening. And no matter how I felt that one night when I was seventeen, it’s not OK. I know better now.

 

Hopefully, soon, we all will.

 

By Lauren Jack

 

If you have any thoughts or experiences surrounding this complex issue of sexual consent please head over to The Grey Area our anonymous forum and help us raise awareness of this difficult problem and affect change within it.

Unravelling the World Behind the Facade

 

I am now studying Urban Geography, which involves the analysis of the interplay between human behaviour and the (built) environment, and therefore I have a special interest in architecture. The first year of my studies I found out that I was not only interested in the facades of buildings, but also what hides behind the front door. While I was exploring Glasgow, I inevitably entered the Kelvingrove Museum where I walked past the painting ‘Windows in the West’, which perfectly shows my sentiments towards the flats in the city: we all live together apart, and try to make the best of it.

 

As with almost every city, Scottish architecture differs from the Dutch. Whereas in the Netherlands, buildings are usually built with small bricks, here, in the West End for example, the Victorian houses consist of large chunks of stone. But I found one of the most interesting features of Scottish building practices when I started doing fieldwork for my thesis. This involved posting leaflets in mailboxes to announce my presence in a neighbourhood. I was startled when I found out there are no mailboxes on the outside of closes. Of course, later I discovered that you actually have to enter the close to post anything. This raised some questions, since one entrance to a close had a sign saying not to let in any strangers. The placing of mailboxes outside might decrease the risk of unwanted guests entering.

 

Apart from the appearance of the buildings, the housing policies and housing stock of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands differ significantly. Whereas in the Netherlands, the social housing stock comprises the majority of the housing market, the contrary is the case in the United Kingdom. The Netherlands is actively trying to decrease the share of social housing. Bearing this in mind, it struck me that the Guardian devoted on the 23rd of September a 15 page long special in their paper to the promotion of social housing. It is strange that both the promotion and decrease of social housing seem to have the same outcome or at least imply that that is their purpose: improved social cohesion.

 

How can the decrease or increase of social housing improve social cohesion? The idea is that more mixed communities in social, economic, cultural and ethnic terms is fruitful ground for more tolerance from every angle. In short, homogenous neighbourhoods are something that should be avoided. Apart from the fact that mixing could create tolerance, some people argue that different social groups can learn from each other and make bridging social bonds which can help people to advance further in life.

 

The question is of course if this is actually the case. There is evidence that mixing creates more tolerance and may result in some mirrored behaviour, but other research points out that it tears up local communities when, in the Netherlands for example, social housing is replaced by private rental or owner-occupied housing. The flipside is that deprived areas know a lot of problems, and that interventions have to be made somehow. Whether social mixing is the one and only solution has to be discussed. One of my respondents in the Netherlands said: ‘What if you had done nothing?’. Indeed, a lot of times in these restructured or regenerated neighbourhoods the situation is improved in quantified terms. But often this also means that the ‘problem’ has moved to other or more peripheral areas.

 

ROSA

 

Avril Paton – Windows in the West
Currently in Kelvingrove Museum

 

By Rosa de Jong

Catalonia’s Independence – A Debatable Issue

 

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Catalonia is situated on the northeastern side of Spain with Barcelona as its capital, with a population of approximately 7.5 million. Spain has been highly fortunate to ensure national unity throughout its history despite of linguistic and ethnic diversification. Catalonia’s independence can therefore prove to be highly destructive for the national unity of Spain and for the interests of U.S.A, Europe and even Catalonia itself, according to some critics.

 

A Catalonian Kingdom has never existed; rather Catalonia has always remained a part of a bigger kingdom called ‘The Kingdom of Aragon’. However, the Catalonian language and identity has existed throughout Spanish history. For hundreds of years the idea of Catalonia’s independence has been on the cards, but Catalonian leaders have always deemed it proper to establish and maintain sound relationships with the governments at the national level. Mr. Arthur Mas, President of Catalonia and leader of one of the nationalist parties of Catalonia’s regional parliament, was an adherent to the national government a few years back, but after the public’s demand for independence he has become a campaigner for the ‘yes’-movement.

 

The residents of Catalonia have an uneasy relationship with Spain. Without any doubt, the modern state of identification with Catalan culture and language is a response to Franco’s repressive rule over Catalonians decades ago. Current Catalonian politicians and two previous generations have grown up in this repressed Catalan environment, which has affected their way of thinking about independence. Furthermore, school curriculums have unveiled the horrifying history of Catalonia that consists of how Franco suppressed the Catalonians during the civil war. Moreover, political and economic turmoil in Spain has paved way for enthusiasts, like Mr. Artur Mas, who are ready to burn the midnight oil to secure Catalonia’s independence despite setbacks.

 

Catalonia’s independence is not an easy process as there are several blockades in its way. One of the major reasons is corruption. The mentor of Artur Mas, Pujol, was involved in a corruption scandal. As a result, the promise to the general public of clean and fair politicians is under threat. Additionally, a huge proportion of the Catalan population prefer Spanish as their mother tongue, in contrast to a minority, who still speak Catalan. If Catalonia secures independence, the Spanish speakers might not appreciate the change and consider migration to Spain. Another setback for the ‘yes’-movement is that the political parties of Spain have not advocated Catalonian independence. There has been no Spanish Prime Minister, in decades, who has raised a voice for independence. The central government supports Spanish national unity.

 

Recent polls have revealed a widening gap between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ voters. Polls stated before the referendum that 50% of the population would vote ‘no’ whereas 43% would vote a ‘yes’. This reminds us of the Scottish referendum in 2014, in which 55% Scots voted ‘no’ and 45% voted ‘yes’. A few weeks before the Scottish referendum, it was believed that the ‘yes’ vote would win, but the results turned to ‘no’. Therefore, independence movements are not easy.

 

As the most indebted region of Spain, Catalonia has already acquired several bailouts from the national government even though this region has a 20% GNP share in Spain’s national account and injects more taxes into Spanish economy in contrast to the revenue it shares. Even if Catalonia secures its independence from Spain, it would have to face a major part of Spanish debt, which it would need to pay in the future. Furthermore, the hunt for a new currency would not be easy, as Spain has the authority to veto Catalonia’s membership in the European Monetary Union. Deprivation from NATO’s membership might prove to be another nail in the coffin if luck does not favour Catalonia.

 

To achieve Catalonia’s independence, Arthur Mas and his team have to prove how the ‘yes’-movement can bring prosperity in people’s lives and how all the hazardous consequences can be dealt with. Patriotic assertions alone cannot convince the majority of the people to support this movement.

 

By Ali Zain Bhatti

 

Student influence in politics from a historical and global perspective

Josh Stevens

 

They that when we’re younger we’re more left-wing, radical and have a greater desire for change but as time goes on, that desire fades and we’re left wanting to spend our time doing crosswords while watching Countdown and eating After Eights.

 

 

This trend was highlighted following the 2010 general election, when throughout their entire campaign the Liberal Democrats insisted they would not raise tuition fees only to do so when elected as the parasitic member of our current coalition government. This resulted in a protest of 50,000 students in London’s Trafalgar Square in November 2010 and another when the bill was passed a month later. These protests echoed across the country in places like Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham, creating the largest student movement in Britain in our lifetime. Although the movement was undermined by episodes of violence, it nonetheless proved that students have a voice and will mobilise. Even though tuition fees were raised anyway, the movement had such an impact in Westminster that Nick Clegg released an apology video…though admittedly the only good thing to come from this was the auto-tune remix on YouTube.

 

 

A place we can see student protests having a real impact is in Hong Kong. In 1997 Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred to the People’s Republic of China where the government promised they would retain the territory’s capitalism and partial democracy. However since then China has resisted granting Hong Kongers full democratic rights. Despite the lip service of strong global outcry, as always, there has been a vacuum of response. This was highlighted in August last year when China said people could only vote in the 2017 leader election for candidates put forward by the government. This is playing the democracy game, but by China’s rules, and it consequently sparked a series of protests last autumn. Main roads were blocked off and government buildings occupied. The majority of protests were organised, run and carried out by Hong Kong’s students. Authorities were under the spotlight for their appeal to repressive tactics and were even criticised by the Chinese government after excessive violence and use of tear gas. Although Hong Kong’s experience was not on the same scale as the pro-democracy protests of Tiananmen Square 16 years ago, these students are having a profound impact not only on their government but also on their constitution. Although we do not face the same struggles here in the UK, I would like to believe that if ever we did, we could demonstrate a similar level of resilience, unity and nerve as those on the frontline in Hong Kong.

 

 

It’s not only in recent years that students have made a significant impact in politics. The civil rights movement in America was helped greatly by the efforts of young black students in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. Tired of being oppressed by white people and the law, four African American freshers at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University staged a sit-in at the ‘whites-only’ section of a Woolworth’s café, deterring business for the company and forcing desegregation. These sit-ins quickly gathered momentum and were emulated across the United States, with similar civil disobedience taking place in Virginia and Tennessee. Protesters were heckled and even dragged out and beaten on the streets by policemen. With the unrest captured by the broadcast media, the news quickly spread around the world during a tense period in the Cold War. This allowed Lyndon Johnson to get Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and end the lawful discrimination of African Americans, arguably the greatest achievement in American twentieth century politics. Leaders of the Civil Rights groups at the time were trying to gain equality through court cases and a lengthy legislative process, but it was the students who pursued immediate results and ignited the spark that revolutionised the attitudes of the nation.

 

 

These historical and contemporary issues allow us to recognise that as students, we have the potential to play a vital role in politics all over the world. When united and committed, we can achieve extraordinary things. In an era of widespread apathy and political disillusionment, I hope that everyone at some point during their university experience gets involved in some kind of political activity, even if it’s just voting in the general election in May. It is all too easy to forget the crucial difference that our participation can make.

 

Travelling Communities

Candace Gladys-Thomas

 

 

Will there ever be a time in which travelling communities are not members of a misrepresented minority, excluded from the rest of society? This was the question many travelling showmen during the Clyde Gateway regeneration project that was completed in Dalmarnock as part of Glasgow 2014. One of the three themes of the Commonwealth Games’ legacy was ‘inclusion’. That so many showmen (a travelling fairground community) felt that they were excluded because of their ethnicity is troubling in a modern democratic society.

 

 

Clyde Gateway is an ‘urban regeneration company’ that was created to revitalise parts of Glasgow for last year’s Commonwealth Games. There were undoubtedly improvements made in the Dalmarnock area. However many people questioned the fairness of Clyde Gateway driving local people from their homes. This sparked a huge debate across the United Kingdom and heavy media coverage surrounding the tenants. However, travelling showman communities in the area did not receive the same media coverage. Their sacrifices went unknown and they were left voiceless victims of discrimination.

 

 

In a world in which so many claim that political correctness has gone mad, it’s hard to believe that travelling communities would experience discrimination. After I discussed the issue with members of the local travelling community, it became clear that it was not necessarily being asked to co-operate with Clyde Gateway that they objected to, but the way in which they were treated throughout the moving process. Many were moved from the sites they occupied, starting over a period of ten years prior to the 2014 Games and continuing to this day. The only site licenses they could acquire meant they had to live in industrial estates. At first they were told very little about their future circumstances, despite the majority of them owning the land they were being moved from. They had unreasonable conditions set on the new land they occupied and were excluded from regeneration maps. They also felt that the way they were spoken to on many occasions was disrespectful.

 

 

These attitudes toward the travelling community are reflected throughout society. Travellers were protested against when they tried to move into a different area, received late payments after their re-location and told by their local MP that they were not his concern. Linda Johnson, who is the co-owner of a showman’s site just outside the Dalmarnock area, claims that this process has encouraged a negative view of showmen. She feels that this has created major setbacks in their assimilation into the wider community: ‘Clyde Gateway has knocked my people back twenty-five years!’

 

 

Roy Thomson, a local showman, demands action against this type of behaviour: ‘Westminster and Holyrood need to take more notice of organisations such as Clyde Gateway, their racist and discriminatory, almost stone-age approach is…worrying’. That anyone could be made to feel excluded and discriminated against in the twenty-first century is morally repugnant.

At the UNAE Peace Conference

 

Rebecca Corbett

 

On the train to Edinburgh one Sunday morning last October I was reminded of the scene in ‘Miss Congeniality’ when in response to the question: ‘What is the one most important thing our society needs?’ girls, playing ‘Miss America’ contestants, all answer ‘world peace’.

 

 

Yet there I was going to a UN conference on peace; a concept that even a chick-flick had satirised as too farfetched. Men, women, intellectuals, students, charity workers and members of the media were coming together to discuss peace and there was no gold embossed sash in sight. Instead, there was a genuine feeling that peace may actually be possible. The tone of the event did not suggest the pursuit of some farfetched utopia, but a realism that recognised the enormity of the task ahead. As Rukiyah Khatun from the Tutu Foundation said, ‘you need a sense of humour and patience, because without that you’re not going to get anywhere’.

 

 

Telling someone you’re talking about peace is a bit like saying you’ve been contemplating the meaning of life. The reaction will usually be similar – a look of confusion followed by a statement along the lines of ‘well, everyone knows world peace is impossible.’ However individuals such as Rukiyah Khatun, Michael Doherty (Director of Peace and Reconciliation Group of Northern Ireland) and Richard Barnes (from the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition) together put forward a powerful case for why it is a crucial conversation for us to have.

 

 

Khatun reminded us, ‘we tend to think that peace is the normal situation, but as we look around; fighting is the norm.’ In looking at conflict in places such as Palestine, South Africa and Northern Ireland, a conference like this makes you realise that unrest is not always in distant lands. Michael Doherty’s comments about finding an undetonated bomb a week ago in his hometown of Derry brought this home to us. On sectarian unrest in Northern Ireland, he said, ‘It’s not over, it’s far from over.’ Doherty began to fight for peace after his car was blown up by the IRA: a powerful example of how personal experience can motivate action. In response to a question on how someone can get involved in peace-making, Khatun said, ‘find the thing you’re angry about and just stick with it… if you are that angry you will find a way.’

 

 

Listening to Rukiyah, Michael and Richard Barnes speaking about South Africa, Northern Ireland and Palestine, they made it very clear that being passionate is essential. As Khatun said, ‘we are the soldiers for peace here… it is a thankless task’ and in order to do it you have to find your passion.

 

 

Peace-keepers seem to be the elusive optimists in a conflict who, in the case of Richard Barnes, tirelessly continue to rebuild houses the fifth time, and then will return, without hesitation, to build them for the sixth after the bulldozers return. Barnes, when speaking about the Palestine-Israel issue mentioned a phrase used widely in Israel: ‘mowing the lawn’. It refers to a tactic used by the Israeli military to control Palestinian confidence when they seem to get a bit too big for their boots. As Barnes attempted to explain, having your house repeatedly bulldozed is a situation almost impossible to comprehend.

 

 

Yet, there we were, peacefully in Edinburgh, attempting to understand what a ‘peace-maker’ does, and coming to terms with the complex and sometimes tragic state of the world without being depressed. Sometimes it is a case of admitting defeat, but most of the time it seems to be to smile, pick up another a brick and start building again.

 

 

 

 

Photographing conflict: UN Edinburgh Association Peace Conference

Rebecca Corbett

 

‘The first casualty when war comes – is truth.’

 

 

Sebastian Meyer repeated these well-known words during his speech at the UNAE conference in Edinburgh. Though first spoken nearly a century ago by US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson, amid the settling dust of WWI, these words hold true today.

 

 

The media are first in the firing line when accusations of misrepresentations of situations are thrown around. They are accused of covering up the truth, denying it, or refusing to publish it. The photos we assume are largely accurate, how can you fake a photo? – Unless it is a disastrous editorial mistake that prints a Sheikh’s picture rather than an accused terrorist. (I am sure you are aware of the situation I am talking about).

 

 

 

It is true that you cannot fake a photo. However, you can orchestrate and coordinate a photo. This, Sebastian Meyer explained, is what ISIS has been doing. They have ‘orchestrated massacres for the media’, taking photographs of them, selling these to western photo associations who then sell them onto the newspapers that you see on your walk to work or read over a morning coffee.

 

 

 

The image accompanying your coffee is propaganda. It is there to induce fear and encourage citizens to demand that their government does something. Meyer asked the audience a difficult question to fathom: Are these news agencies acting as ‘unwilling foot soldiers of ISIS helping to share propaganda?’

 

 

 

It also leads us to consider the role of media bias. Meyer explains that it ‘is very important for me in conflict not to pick sides’ and warns us that western media outlets have. ‘We’ve picked sides and that’s a dangerous thing to do’.

 

 

 

The role of the media in contemporary conflict is to show war in all its horrors. Meyer explained this succinctly by saying ‘if my photos do not show war to be scary then I’m not doing my job properly.’ While the 2D image is ‘silent, still and not temporal… war is 3D, it is coming at you from all sides.’ War, Meyer, explained is also unbelievably loud. It’s louder than you can ever imagine. When looking at a photograph of conflict depicted in a paper with a gentle burble of the radio in the background, the overwhelming sound is almost impossible to imagine. Meyer made sure we understood that ‘war is nothing like beautifully framed photographs.’ Keeping images accurate is something Meyer explains he really struggled with, telling us that that his photos of Afghanistan sucked. He said, ‘the reason my pictures suck is because there is no sense of fear.’

 

 

 

What I understood Sebastian Meyer to be articulating was that while we cannot understand the horrors of it, his job is to try and make us begin to comprehend. The role of the media is to explain what is going on outside of our comfortable bubbles and to help us understand the real purpose of photography. The point instead is reminding us that the picture – while it shows us a 2D snapshot, a hundredth of a second of war – cannot even begin to convey the full meaning of a situation. Meyer explained that when artillery fire is replaced by lounge jazz in Starbucks, sometimes a photo is not enough. After the disappointment of his photographs from Afghanistan, he opted to take a sound recorder and film camera when he travelled to Libya. In order to try and explain the importance of sound, Meyer showed us a video of an explosion in Libya and later played the audio clip.

 

 

 

I speak for myself when I say that it gave me goosebumps, the sound was overwhelming and thunderous initially. This moment of fear, different to the fear experienced by those experiencing the situation first-hand, is a disconnected feeling. Instead it is close to the fear felt when you are scared in the cinema or waking up after a bad dream. You are frightened, alarmed and uncomfortable but ultimately you know that you are safe.

 

 

 

Meyer shows that despite technological advances that can document and broadcast live, the fear that one feels in a war zone is impossible to properly communicate to western audiences. Only when we are there in the middle of it will we be able to truly understand. Until then we need to thank the photojournalists and news agencies that continue to give us a glimpse of what is going on.

 

Uprising: What is it good for?

 

Laura Devlin

 

‘An act of resistance or rebellion; a revolt’.

 

 

Events in Hong Kong have once again thrust this idea into the international consciousness and the world has looked on as thousands have joined the protests against China. Looking back at previous movements however, the success of such efforts can be questioned. Is change ever truly possible to achieve or are these countries forever chained to the injustice that has plagued their history?

 

 

 

The past decade has witnessed the escalation of political upheavals across the globe, with varying degrees of success. Born out of determination to propel their nation in the direction of fairness, mass gatherings have sprung up, with thousands of individuals pushing for change.

 

 

 

Looking to Europe, Ukraine has often been at the forefront of such movements, with the ‘Orange Revolution’ being one of the most significant. Following the Presidential election in November 2004, thousands took to the streets to protest against Viktor Yanukovych’s victory, claiming electoral fraud and demanding a re-vote. The subsequent election was deemed to be ‘fair and free’. Ukrainians had got the result they wanted. In theory this result was meant to be Ukraine’s turning point: an opportunity to move towards becoming a democratic state. Yet in the years following, change seemed slow moving and those who were involved in the revolution became increasingly disillusioned. Confidence in the newly elected President waned and not long after taking up office he was forced to sack his Prime Minister over allegations of corruption. Relations with Russia also became increasingly strained and the economy was hit hard during the recession that rocked Europe in the late noughties. The Ukraine that existed post ‘Orange Revolution’ was a far cry from the one envisioned by the thousands who demanded change. The lack of profound change was laid bare by the result of the 2010 presidential election when Viktor Yanukovych claimed victory, six years after he was denied victory in the previous election. The legacy of the ‘Orange Revolution’ calls into question the chances of genuine success following an uprising.

 

 

 

Ukraine is far from being the only country to experience an uprising in recent years. The Arab Spring movement shook the Middle East for almost two years and saw many leaders ousted from power. Perhaps the most significant of these revolts was in Egypt, where thirty million people took to the streets. The end result saw President Mubarak resign, bringing an end to his near thirty-year rule of the country. Similarly to Ukraine, this outcome led many to hope for profound change. But three years on from the uprising Egypt has struggled to make the transition to democracy. The country’s first civilian president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed from power after only a year and many fear that Egypt’s current President will oversee a return to the authoritarian approach that prevailed under Mubarak. Long gone is the optimism that intoxicated those who took to the streets and with two elections in three years, political stability in Egypt appears a long way off and democracy even further.

 

 

 

The legacy of past uprisings leads us to question such movements. Temporary change may be achieved but long lasting political stability and democracy is an elusive goal. The equality that so many desire is often lost in political battles and it’s the people who suffer in the process. Uprisings are an important movement and peoples’ voices are heard however it’s often the aftermath that speaks the loudest.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Jacob Nicol

 

 

The result is in. An independent Scotland is a no go. Plans for Scotland to lift off from the rest of the UK have been terminated, at least for the short term. Some Scots are relieved with the result, some are frustrated and some just don’t know what to think. So what now? Well, that question really depends on the Scottish population. The politicians have made their pleas and promises but realistically no major change is coming to Scotland unless public pressure reaches breaking point. It’s up to us to decide whether we want everything to keep chugging along as usual or instead look back at the referendum for some inspiration on how to proceed.

 

 

If only one key message could be taken from the entire referendum process, it should be that more people will be active in the democratic process if they feel their voice matters. The referendum was different in that people felt they had a say in their future for once and as a result, there was energised debate and a soaring turnout. Usually in Scottish Parliament, European, general and council elections, your representative’s face changes, but little else does. When the issue is political alienation and not political apathy, we should start looking at possible alternatives available, which were hinted at during the campaign.

 

 

The Yes campaign mobilised a significant grassroots movement and produced organisations such as the Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, Labour for Independence and Generation Yes. While all this wasn’t enough to win over the majority of voters, it set a good precedent in how to reach people who feel disengaged and alienated. This is especially true in Glasgow, where turnout is typically low for elections but rose to 75% for the referendum. Therefore I am suggesting, that if more community organisations are set up in these disenfranchised areas and local issues start to be addressed, we might witness the rise of an increasingly engaged electorate that is ready to participate nationally.

 

 

Also important to note was the residual reaction to the referendum result. SNP, Green and Scottish Socialist Party membership increased dramatically and a ‘We are the 45%’ online movement was created in the first few weeks after the referendum. These developments are significant but need further developing if they are to have an impact on the political scene. Popular mass movements don’t spring up from nowhere, which is why there are a growing amount of committed and organised activist groups working in solidarity with one another, trying to form a solid foundation of activism to build upon.

 

 

It is practically a truism now that the majority of the population are fed up with the current political system, irrespective of allegiances either to Scotland or the UK as a whole. However, the challenge is getting people (like myself) motivated to give up their time and effort to change these institutions they have become so estranged from. Participation in and out of Parliament, reformist and direct action, can all be effective if there is enough willpower behind it. So the question we really should be asking ourselves is, how committed are we to our own democratic ideals?

 

 

How the idleness of the government of China led to economic boom

 

Pavel Kaloferov
The Chinese economy is the fastest growing and the largest in the world. The reasons for this outcome, however, often remain misunderstood by the majority of observers. A common misconception is that Chinese government intervention in the markets has facilitated the steady growth the Chinese economy has experienced in the past few decades. In reality, it all started at the Labour Conference in 1978. Deng Xiaoping delivered a speech presenting his idea of socialist economy with Chinese characteristics with a ten-year action plan. In particular, the rules created by Mr Xiaoping’s government broke from the approval of Chinese control authorities.

 

 

The decisive turning point in shaping the Chinese economy was at the beginning of the leadership of Deng. After his speech, his policies failed. Chinese citizens stopped complying and started resisting the personal and legal norms set by the regime. This was crucial for China to become an economic miracle. Disobedience began in the villages where production communes disbanded and were transferred to independent family entities, which were farming the land. However, this does not happen with the consent of the government. On the contrary, the collapse of collective farms was strictly prohibited. The authorities in charge of compliance with the law and order in the State realized the emerging potential for development. Hence, they deliberately ignored the policies of the headquarters in Beijing. The government’s instructions were disobeyed by local authorities that instead took steps more in keeping with a liberalized market system. The rule breaking of the countryside gradually spread to private industries in the cities. Many organizations continued to act on behalf of the government but their management was taken over by private companies. This change began in the agricultural sector and was anything but accidental.

 

 

Deng Xiaoping has always stressed the leading role of the Communist Party. Although China’s the relaxation of China’s economy has often been attributed to the CCP’s reforms, the real reason for the deployment of the free economy is largely coincidence. Since 1978, when the unexpected market liberalization began, China has been enjoying economic prosperity. The country succeeded only because people did not obey Deng’s policies.

 

 

Today, the Chinese government aims to revitalize the state’s role and increase market intervention. In other words, it is taking an approach contrary to that which has been delivering prosperity for decades. Forbidding private enterprises access to credit as well as placing restrictions and prohibitions on international companies is the main obstacle to foreign investors and local entrepreneurs trying to enter into the modern Chinese market.

 

 

Only time will tell whether the political leaders of Beijing are going to continue on the current path or realize their mistake and continue the Chinese economic miracle.

 

Holocaust Remembrance Day: 70 Years after the Liberation of Auschwitz

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Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and death camp in southern Poland where an estimated 1.1m people died during the Second World War. Of those killed, the majority were Jews while the remainder included Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and prisoners of conscience.

 

 

Last autumn I visited the camp as a guest of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET). Launched in 1988, the HET is a charity that aims to ensure that generations of young people today do not forget the atrocities that occurred at the camp and others like it across central Europe. The HET’s Lessons from Auschwitz project aims to increase awareness and understanding of the Holocaust and remind people what can happen when racism and prejudice become acceptable. The Trust is partnered with secondary schools and colleges around the UK and strives to enable as many pupils as possible to travel to Auschwitz. The day I went I joined almost 200 sixth-form students from the west of Scotland. Students subsequently build on their experiences by sharing them within their communities.

 

 

Our day began with a stop in Osweicim, the small town where the several camps that comprise Auschwitz-Birkenau are located and where a local Jewish community had lived prior to the war. We visited a cemetery where the gravestones had been hastily repositioned once the war ended – we learnt that upon annexing Poland in 1939, the Nazis had dug up Jewish stones and used them to pave roads. We then entered Auschwitz I, the former Polish barracks repurposed as a concentration camp in 1940. Beyond the chilling ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (‘Work makes you free’) entrance, we found piles of hair, glasses and clothes, as well as a gas chamber that we entered.

 

 

In the afternoon we travelled the short distance to Birkenau, the purpose-built camp that lies behind the infamous railway track and archway. It’s here that the vast majority of victims died. At Birkenau our guide explained how prisoners from all parts of Nazi-occupied Europe would arrive by train, believing they were in transit to a new life in ‘the east’. Many did not survive the journey due to the inhumane conditions on board. We saw the four brick facilities where prisoners were gassed with the lethal Zyklon-B pesticide on an industrial scale.

 

 

I was struck by the systematic nature of the camp and the tragic events that took place there. The site was operated so methodically to achieve maximum efficiency in answering ‘the Jewish question’. Visitors learn how Nazi officers carefully planned how best to expand the camp and increase the capacity of the gas chambers. By the spring of 1944, as many as 6,000 prisoners were being killed each day at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In order to prevent other inmates from hearing the screams inside the chambers, officers would park trucks outside and rev the engines.

 

 

Our day at Auschwitz ended with a memorable ceremony held next to the destroyed Crematoria II. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue London and included readings and a moment of reflection before we placed memorial candles at the end of the railway track. The pupils participating in the Lessons from Auschwitz project were visibly moved and left with some valuable memories to share with classmates back home in Scotland. The camp is as relevant today as it was when it was liberated seventy years ago. Only last month Prime Minister David Cameron visited and today some of the camp’s few survivors will return to reflect on their experiences.

 

 

Today Auschwitz serves as a crucial reminder of the evil humans are capable of inflicting on each other. It shows us the horrors that are possible when prejudices are left unchecked and extremist political groups are able to capture the hearts and minds of populations in difficult times.

 

 

Daniel Patterson

British Media and the Structures of Power

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Greg Philo is the professor of Communications and Social Change and the research director of the Glasgow Media Group here at Glasgow University. His research has examined how issues such as the Israel and Palestine conflict, the Falklands war, industrial news, and mental illness are portrayed in the media and understood by the public. The media group’s most recent publication, Bad News For Refugees, explores how migrants have been stigmatised in political rhetoric and media coverage. In 2010, Philo outlined his proposal for a one-off tax on the richest 10% of the UK population, in an article for the Guardian, which can be read here.

 

Recently, the papers have been plastered with the News of the World phone hacking trial and talk of press regulation. We’ve seen the public accuse the BBC of bias for not reporting austerity demonstrations in London, for ‘promoting’ UKIP, while some have raised concern about how the Independence debate is being handled. Israel and Palestine are also once again in the media, and its coverage too has prompted protest. With all of this going on, I thought Greg Philo might be the person to speak to. I visited his office to ask him a few questions about these recent events.

 

To what extent was the lack of media coverage of the London austerity demonstrations the result of bias on the part of the press and the BBC?

 

I think bias is much too crude a way to look at it. You have a political structure in which the BBC are located, and they define their own democratic role within that structure, and what they mean by democracy is what essentially happens in parliament. If you have a situation in which the conservatives, liberal democrats and labour are all one way or another committed to neo-liberal politics, in BBC terms, it squeezes out any other debate. This then leaves the population, who don’t want many policies and don’t agree with much of what is being said and done, actually out of the equation. So the BBC needs to rethink what it is to be the people’s broadcaster.

 

The labour party for instance is connected directly to neoliberal politics and is very closely associated with the city of London, this goes back to the transformation of the Labour party to being a much more right wing organisation, which began under Kinnock. Before that there had been the big argument between Benn and Healey over the direction Labour should take.

 

I have a poster here in my office that says ‘STUC says stop the cuts’. That poster dates from 1977, two years before Thatcher came into power. The cuts that were being introduced then were by the Labour party under Healey.
So this issue of public spending and the refusal to tax the rich to reduce inequality, goes back a long way.

 

Then as the whole political structure moves to the right, the population becomes increasingly fed up because they are losing public services and are furious about things like privatisation. You have big support for nationalisation of railways and energy companies because they don’t want resources which they see as belonging to the people and the nation being traded on international markets. So you get a tremendous popular dissent in opinion polls, but a political structure that is not going to do anything about it, and the result is that large numbers of people don’t vote, leaving the BBC trapped in this version of democracy.

 

There were over 1,000 complaints made to the BBC, claiming there had been a bias, or an impartiality favouring UKIP in their coverage, how fair do you think that criticism is?

 

I don’t think bias does justice to it. The problem is that the BBC sees it all in terms of electorate politics. If UKIP does better, and solidifies a particular kind of right wing vote in the country, they see that as an electoral earthquake, but they’re missing out the fact that so many people are not taking part anymore because they feel disenfranchised and that to me seems to be the key issue. The actual number of people who voted for UKIP was 8% of the electorate.

 

It’s a misunderstanding of the political process, and where the population is in terms of democracy. The BBC needs to redefine their own role and include a range of opinion, and you can see that happening in some BBC programmes.

 

If you look at Question Time, that sometimes actually has a wider range of debate. The Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 is another example. Vine actually had me on his show to talk about the wealth tax, but it’s not just me, he has an enormous audience, pulling in masses of commentary that often has nothing to do with what politicians are talking about.

 

Are there any concrete practical measures people can take?

 

Absolutely, write to the BBC, write to Jeremy Vine, organise! I remember speaking to maybe a thousand people at the Great Mosque; I was on a platform with George Galloway. I asked the audience, how many of them were not happy with the coverage of Israel and Palestine, but none of them had ever complained about it. So you have literally millions of people in this country that think the coverage is so awful and distorted that they stop watching the BBC. But the BBC is a public body, it’s funded essentially by taxation, so it must be criticised and changed.

 

When there is criticism against the BBC, it sometimes changes. When we brought out our book, Bad News for Israel, the BBC commissioned the Thomas Report, and it actually concurred with much of what we had said in the book, but nothing was then done which changed the actual coverage. The coverage actually got worse over time. If you look at the coverage at the moment, I think it’s simply mirrors everything we said in our books, in terms of what’s wrong with it.

 

You mention Israel/Palestine, do you identify any differences in the nature or the causes of the way the conflict is reported in comparison to why domestic issues such as austerity are reported in the way they are?

 

Much of what we talk about comes down to money and power; it can go different ways at different times. When the west was worried about oil and the Middle East, in many ways there was a softening of the approach to the Arab or Islamic countries. Saudi Arabia for example had a very easy time in terms of politics and public affairs and I think that probably at one point made it a bit easier for the Palestinians.

 

After the 1972 war there was a tremendous amount of public relations and political activity from Israel, Finkelstein writes about this in The Holocaust Industry. There was a real sense that Israel had to win the public relations battle in the world, and they spent millions, and organised a significant amount of political lobbying in America that coincided with the growth of right wing politics in this country. By the time Tony Blair came into power he was almost a direct conduit from American and British support for Israel. If you look at the political structures in this country, you can see how both Conservative and Labour party MPs have strong links there, but you’re talking overall about commercial links, political links, and the structures of power that operate in the world as a whole.

 

In a sense there are links between that and neo-liberal politics but not automatic direct ones because neo-liberal politics is about making money and concentrating wealth, and that can embrace links with for example Saudi Arabia that’s also financing very fundamentalist versions of Islam which the big powers also don’t like, so there are many apparent contradictions.

 

If you look at somewhere like Syria it just exposes all those contradictions. One month they are talking about attacking the Syrian regime because of the issues about chemical weapons and then someone points out that that would actually put them on the same side as al-Qaeda, who are also fighting the Syrian government.

 

The only consistent feature in all of these wars is that they keep happening and that the arms industry, the contractors, the giant investors and producers of arms and the supply companies keep making trillions of dollars. I don’t think there is a morality behind it at all really except the consistent attempt to keep the whole machine going.

 

The Glasgow Media Group’s most recent publication, Bad News for Refugees, looks at how migrants are represented in the media. Going back to UKIP and in relation to their stance on immigration, what did you find about the reality of immigration and the immigration we might see on television or in newspapers?

 

The UKIP argument on migration is sometimes superficially quite left wing, that it is not enough to go for economic growth by bringing in skilled labour from other poorer countries, and actually if you look at UKIP, they can be remarkably sophisticated, certainly Farage is in the way he frames his arguments. For instance, he will attack a giant pizza company in London for exploiting workers from Eastern Europe for giving them poor wages and poor living conditions, and say this suits the big companies. But you can see that he is actually stealing the clothes of the socialists – he wouldn’t put it into Marxist terms, but actually a lot of what he is saying is what Marxists in the 70’s would have called the ‘reserve army of labour’.

 

It’s an argument you have to be very careful and thoughtful about. It’s very muddled up because as soon as anyone mentions limits of migration, everyone says its racist, and of course it is for some people. A lot of people when they say we have to stop the migrants, mean people with a different colour of skin that they don’t like, and such prejudice has to be opposed. But you have also to question the free movement of labour across borders following the free movement of capital and consider that it might both impoverish the countries the labour has come from and also necessarily displaces some labour in your own country, because you can have skilled workers taking unskilled worker’s positions. When Nelson Mandela came to Glasgow, one thing he said was ‘stop stealing our doctors’. But from the point of view of an employer,if you have motivated, highly skilled workers picking your strawberries it’s better than having people who aren’t.

 

The not-so-well-thought-out left argument has been jumping into what I think is actually a neo-liberal position, saying: bringing in migrants means you have lots of skilled workers, and this is good because the economy expands and then there’s jobs for everybody. But that isn’t necessarily true if you think about it. If the economy expands you might therefore need more labour, therefore you bring in more skilled labour from poorer countries .It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to create more jobs for your own difficult to place people.

 

Unemployment is officially two and a half million but really it’s something like five or six million in terms of people working reduced hours but classified as employed, or somehow off the books. So there is a massive number of people looking for jobs, and there needs to be a process to say: ok we need skilled workers and we certainly aren’t going to be racist in any way about limiting people moving around but at the same time you absolutely have to invest in the people who happen to be here, they could be from all over the place, but you have to invest in people who are already here, especially if they are unskilled, and it’s very expensive to do that. You need wealth taxes, and to reduce inequality; you have to intervene to work out what you’re going to do with this population that the neo-liberal market doesn’t require.

 

If you’re going to have a more progressive society you need to organise it in some way, and the nerve UKIP have touched is exactly that, they’re popular partly because of the racism, and that’s certainly the case, but it is also saying that capitalism has to be responsible for everyone in the workforce, Farage wouldn’t put it in those terms but that’s the nerve he’s touching.

 

There have been some who have accused the BBC of impartiality over its coverage of the Scottish Independence debate. What are your thoughts on the media coverage of Scottish Independence and the debate at large?

 

I haven’t studied it, you’d need to look at all the local news, and I hate the idea of looking at a couple of programmes and saying whether it’s been fair or not. What I will say is that it seems to me a little simple minded to say the BBC is anti-independence on the grounds that it’s taking orders from Westminster, because actually the BBC could also be under pressure from the Scottish Government, which is clearly a major force in Scotland. I don’t really want to intervene and argue about the content, because I haven’t looked at it.

 

What I will say is that the interesting thing in the debate is that everybody has a vested interest in not saying certain things. Because the media mostly relate to politicians and key voices they avoid all sorts of issues. Both the No and Yes side never touch on some crucial issues, because it’s in a sense too embarrassing and they both feel the need to come across as patriotic. For example, there was a survey done with international students, which found that about half of them wouldn’t study here if Scotland it became independent. They said it would become like Ireland, and in effect, fall off the map of the’top brands’ of higher education. In China for instance, many students are simply ticking a box for a UK or a US education. Ireland has half the universities Scotland has, and about 2,700 Chinese students, in Glasgow alone there are 2000. It would be an enormous hit on universities here, and if you include the loss of direct grant research funding , it would be an even bigger hit. It’s a difficult thing to say because in a way it’s seen as unpatriotic. The government will reply that Scotland is the country of Adam Smith and the steam engine, which is all-true, but as Brazil found out in the world cup you don’t get anything for what you did yesterday.

 

I think the No campaign feel also feel obliged to hold back in terms of discussing negative consequences. It looks so dangerous. The oil is now 0.4 of 1% of the UK GDP, and the pension costs are estimated to be 3 times the value of the oil. I have found people are quite surprised when they hear this.

 

Another issue no one wants to talk about is conflicts in Scottish society, such as Protestant-Catholic divisions. Twice now, different focus group organisers have talked about this saying how serious it is. But who’s investigating that? Who’s really investigating what it would do to Scottish society? People don’t want to talk about it; it’s not an image of Scotland that any of its leaders want to display.

 

Questions by Liam Doherty

Fear , Loathing and Penny Whistles; How the Independence Referendum and Commonwealth Games could end Glasgow’s Orange Walks.


The Orange Walks and the Independence Referendum

There are only three certainties in Scotland this year; Death, taxes and the omnipresence of the Independence Referendum. Campaigners from both sides of the vote have tirelessly canvassed, debated, trolled, protested, donated and recruited in what is arguably the largest and most exciting event in recent Scottish history. Unfortunately, the debate on Scotland’s future could become a political bed-sheet waved right at an angry orange bull.
The rub lies in existing issues. For although the Orange Order may seem little more than silly hats, penny whistles and a slightly longer journey to work, religious differences have given it a violent side leading to frequent clashes with the police. As much as the majority of arrests – for drinking in public and antisocial behaviour- can be filed as the inevitable by-product of a large gathering of people on a sunny day in Glasgow, it remains impossible to disguise the link between Orange Order disorder and Sectarianism. ‘ScGlasgow’s East End in summer can be stunning, but it’s no place to nurse a hangover. Each weekend the early afternoon is filled with the whistles, drums and Sunday best suits of the Orange Order. Divisive, fiercely Protestant and strongly unionist, the Order is most active during the ‘marching season’, a series of walks primarily in Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland culminating on the 12th of July, the anniversary of William of Orange’s victory over James II way back when.
This year, the marches in Glasgow are juxtaposed against two major socio-political events – the Independence Referendum and the Commonwealth Games, each with the potential to exacerbate longstanding issues surrounding the parade. And as calls to close down the parades continue, could 2014 be the Order’s last tango on Clydeside?
otland’s Shame’ is a longstanding issue in its largest city, stemming from historic discrimination against Catholic immigrants. Today it is reflected in trouble between fans of the Old Firm clubs -the traditionally Protestant Rangers and Catholic Celtic – and their political allegiances; Celtic fans anti-fascist and pro-Palestine in the current Israel conflict, Rangers the opposite. With Celtic’s stadium and supporters pubs situated in the East End, the walks are tense affairs at best; at worst, this tension quickly gets nasty.
But how does this tie in with independence? Well, essentially, an already politically charged radical organisation (to put it lightly) involving itself with a huge, impassioned movement spells nothing but trouble. The warning signs are present. As expected, The Order has registered as an official supporter of the No Campaign, actively displaying this in brazen WordArt during marches. Their involvement, it seems, couldn’t be further from ‘compassion, peace and stability’: The official Better Together campaign has already publicly distanced itself from the Orangemen; Sam McCrory, widely suspected of plotting to murder senior IRA members, has voiced fears that the Order could disrupt the No campaign by alienating Catholics and centre-left Scots. When a star of Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men tells you to calm down, it’s obvious there’s a problem.
There’s more than the No Campaign’s reputation at risk. With their reputation for disruptive sectarianism ,the Order already face strong opposition within Glasgow – with a petition calling for their ban as ‘discriminatory supremacist Orange hate marches’ gathering over 4,500 signatures – and the IndyRef could trigger genuine conflict. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to speculate that fears of reactionary violence played a large part in Better Together’s choice to ostracise the Order.
It has been argued that the order are actually playing the classic antihero in the independence tragic-comedy, enfranchising ‘tens of thousands in housing schemes across the country’ who would previously never bothered to vote. Surely there is a better way of doing this than through an organisation built on religious discrimination? It seems more likely that the Order’s involvement in the independence campaign will cause greater unrest at the marches.

The Orange Walks and the Commonwealth Games
As the locals debate and speculate ahead of September the 18th, Glasgow City Council has been gearing up for the Commonwealth Games. Fronted by the ‘People Make Glasgow’ campaign in a bid to present a progressive and united city, government funded graffiti, Salmond Cycles and repainted shop-fronts have all emerged as part of an increasingly dubious regeneration programme. With less than a month to go ‘til the competitions start, the council will be understandably keen to avoid any negative publicity; the marches will be a major cause for concern, and it is likely there will be a heavier police presence in an attempt to deter troublemakers.
This creates problems in itself. Over-policing at the Orange Walk could leave the city appearing divided, its elected officials paranoid. Under policing could give the red tops a field day. It’s some conundrum, and GCC and Police Scotland will have to be spot on with their crowd control when the 12th of July comes around -even more so than previous years. And if the marchers fail to live up to the grand words on their anti-independence flyers, decisive action may have to be taken against them.

Since their conception, the Orange Parades have been a permanent bone of contention in Glasgow. Sympathisers see them as a way of expressing freedom, religious and political pride; others see a volatile and incendiary danger. This year as violence at parades continue, political tensions exacerbated by the IndyRef grow – and with the walks carrying strong potential to disrupt the squeaky-clean Commonwealth image – the bell could finally toll.

James McAleer

A Birthday Reminder

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A little over a week ago a film titled, Children of War, was released in India. The film is based on the 1971 attack on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by the Pakistani army. The Indian press described the film as a ‘reminder of the brutality of the Pakistani Army’, who, in an attempt to supress Bengali self-determination, committed some of the most appalling atrocities since the Second World War.
 
The conflict broke after the Pakistani military allowed for the country’s first open election in ten years, and after a large majority win for Bengal’s Awami League. The military terminated the first meeting of the National Assembly prompting mass peaceful protest, which in turn was met by the brutality highlighted by ‘Children of War’.
 
‘GENOCIDE’ appropriately titled the landmark article in The Sunday Times by Pakistani reporter, Anthony Mascarenhas. Indeed Mascarenhas shone a light on the Pakistani army who were reported as having deployed rape, dismemberment and the deliberate murdering of children as tactics of suppression. These reports are supported by comments made by the then U.S. Consul General, Archer Blood, who was stationed in Dacca and in a famous act of insubordination, sent a telegram denouncing his own government’s failure to ‘denounce the suppression of democracy…. to denounce atrocities.’ What became known as, the Blood Telegram, goes on to read, ‘Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its [Bengali] citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pak government and to lessen likely and deservedly negative international public relations impact against them’.
 
Henry Kissinger demanded that Blood be thrown out of Washington. And at the height of the atrocity-ridden suppression of the Bengali, Kissinger thanked the architect of the genocide, General Yahya Khan, for his ‘delicacy and tact’. This, as Christopher Hitchens meticulously details in his excellent, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, was one of several ploys to either enhance relations with China, send a warning to India, or simply to see the self destruction of an emerging state that may have somehow gotten in the way – in short, it was mere business.
 
It is unclear how many were killed; Bangladesh authorities maintain it was around 3 million while other more conservative estimates put the death toll at 300,000 to 500,000. Whatever figure one wished to use, genocide remains the case. If anything, the numbers do little to reflect the nuances of horror Khan engineered; the strategic systematic raping and murdering of Bengali endures regardless – as does Kissinger’s support.
 
Just as Children of War gives opportunity to remember 1971, Henry Kissinger’s recent celebration of his 91st birthday provides ample opportunity to remind ourselves of the evildoings of this American diplomat throughout his career as U.S Secretary of State and National Security Council Advisor. Indeed the birthday boy is name to an eerily impressive list of atrocities and crimes against humanity; the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia, supporting and approving the East Timor genocide, backing the coup of the democratically elected Chilean government, the planned kidnapping and murder of a Washington journalist, supporting the massacre in Tiananmen Square, lying about Vietnam and prolonging the war by four years, backing the Cyprus coup in 1974, advising Saddam Husain to massacre Kurds and promising reward on his doing so. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it paints a deserving portrait of the man who will no doubt be celebrated today.
 
Detailing all these atrocities lies outside the scope of this article, for all intents and purposes a focus on Chile may give as good a sample as any of Kissinger’s criminal thuggery. Indeed, Seymore Hersh, author of, The Price of Power, sees Chile as Kissinger’s worst act, as it had absolutely nothing to do with national security (that’s not to say the rest were – East Timor is good example of the genocide of a harmless and defenceless people).
 
The ‘Chilean situation’ as it is described in declassified CIA documents, begins when Salvador Allende emerged as a popular presidential candidate in the 1970 Chilean elections. American corporations operating in Chile became anxious over Allende’s promises to nationalise various industries. IT & T, the American corporation that owned the Chilean copper industry, was one such corporation whose president, Harold Geneen, voiced ‘grave concern’ over the prospect of Allende nationalising Chilean copper. Geneen wasn’t the only deep-wallet to call on Nixon and Kissinger to do something. An old chum of Nixon and President of Pepsi Cola, Donald Kendall, expressed similar concern, as did David Rockerfeller of Chase Manhattan. For Nixon to solve the Chilean situation would secure him vast financial corporate support for a subsequent election. All of a sudden Chile and Allende became a U.S concern.
 
Kissinger concurred with Nixon on June 27th 1970, stating, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people”. Here once again, Kissinger’s contempt for democracy speaks for itself. Allende however, won a plurality with 36.2 percent of the vote. For Nixon, the results of the election were ‘not acceptable to the United States’.
 
It was decided a military coup would be best. The CIA began recruiting members of the Chilean army. An obstacle presented itself however. General Rene Schneider, chief of the Chilean General Staff, got wind of plans of a coup, and announced his loyalty to the constitution. Hitchens, again in The Trial of Henry Kissinger, notes that in a meeting on the 18th September 1970, Kissinger decided Schneider had to go.
 
Kissinger concocted and operated a two-track policy, on one hand there would be the diplomacy, and simultaneously on the other, secret plans involving kidnap and murder. Despite Helms and others’ warnings that finding Chilean officers willing to kidnap and assassinate Schneider would be too difficult, Kissinger was adamant they press on – and it paid. General Viaux, an extremist right-wing officer, accepted the job. The exchange between Kissinger and these hit men is detailed by Hitchens in his book. Kissinger supplied payment, machine guns, tear gas grenades, orders and pressure to succeed. After two failed attempts, Schneider’s car was ambushed; he drew his gun but was shot several times at point blank range.
 
This was a planned kidnapping of an official of a democratic nation with which the U.S was by no means at war with. The kidnappers were armed with American weaponry and paid large sums of money. This was organised by Kissinger, an unelected U.S official who supressed this entire fiasco from the eyes of Congress. The analogising of Kissinger and Nixon as Mafiosi stands vindicated with this whack, and is in fact complimented by declassified tapes were Kissinger and Nixon are heard discussing the post-Schneider overthrow of Allende.
 
The end of the story is better known. In September 11th 1973, what South Americans term the ‘first 9/11’, Kissinger and Nixon succeeded in overthrowing Allende. Their almost hand-selected brute of choice, Pinochet, led the military coup, bombing the Capital’s, Le Moneda, resulting in Allende’s death. Pinochet was installed with a secret thank you from Kissinger, followed by a murderous and torturous seventeen year dictatorship on part of Augusto. A special team of economists, The Chicago Boys, were also drafted in who broke the back of the Chilean economy. Mission accomplished.
 
Two months later Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for prolonging the war in Vietnam at the expense of innumerable lives and breaking U.S and international law by secretly bombing Cambodia and Laos. The satirist and mathematician, Tom Lehrer, remarked that this was when ‘satire died’.
 
If only satire was the sole casualty of Kissinger’s personal success.
 
Words by Liam Doherty

‘Dear America’

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An Abridged ‘Open Letter to America’ written in 1999 by an anonymous Zambian Journalist: Cited in Global Shadows, Africa in the Neoliberal World Order.

 

Dear America,

 

I know you’ve heard it many times by now: your policy in dealing with international crises is very selective. Europe is more important than Africa, Bosnia is more important that Rwanda, Kosovo than Sierra Leone. Why you have not been told yet is what we, the Africans living in Africa, think about not only your actions, but your motives and the underlying principles of your heart.

 

Your selectivity reveals four realities about the Western world to us: global racism exists and it determines international policy, capitalism is above compassion, the African debt is a deliberate strategy, and finally, democracy is not practiced by its preachers.

 

Racism, the greatest killer of the human race since time immemorable, is still the strongest force…

 

The irony of the Kosovo crisis is that it was caused by racism (at the ethnic level) and it was saved by racism (At the international level). NATO has shown that it has a colour, it is not as colourless as it presents itself to the world. It has a face and its face is pigmented: it is white. It has shown that the fact that whites rule America and other NATO countries is a significant fact and it does determine what happens to non-white “nations” in times of crisis…

 

America and her partners practice a racism/tribalism that is worse that that of Serbians against ethnic Albanians, or Tutsis against Hutus. She does not use guns and machetes, she uses the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever invented: the international credit (Debt) system. She wields this weapon against all the people that it hates. And the ones at the top of the list, apparently, are Africans.

 

America, World Bank, NATO, or whatever name you choose to disguise yourself in, it is clear that you do not care about Africa. If you admit this it will be easier for us. At least Milosevic has admitted his hatred for “the lower class” and Hitler never pretended about his anti-Semitic feelings. These evil men will at least be respected for their honesty. It is better to be killed by a man who calls himself your enemy than by one who pretends to be your friend…

 

The graves caused by the gruesome effects of the debt held against Africa are all around us: people die every day of easily curable diseases simply because there is no money in African nations. It has to go to servicing the debt we owe our masters…

 

Debt reduction is not enough for Africa. Neither is debt cancellation enough. We must fight for compensation. They are the ones who owe us money…

 

The amount of money they owe us has to be calculated… They owe us for taking some of the strongest men among us to go and work in their plantations. How much has that affected our productive output up to this day?

 

They owe us for the unfair dealings they did with our unsuspecting chiefs (a gun for miles of land). They owe us for taking the rich minerals out of our land with no permission and with no tariffs. They owe us for brainwashing us to their religions that taught us that poverty was a way of pleasing God and that there is another world after death where things would be better for us, thus taking from us our will to fight for the things they were stealing from us…

 

So, should they reduce our debt? Should the cancel our debt? No. There is nothing to reduce or cancel here. We owe them nothing; they owe us big time. They are the ones who should be begging for debt reduction from us. They owe each African nation hundreds of billions of dollars… I propose to African professors that they should sit down and calculate the exact figure…

 

Finally, the present crisis has revealed that there is no democracy in the developed world, or it means something other than what they tell us. Democracy is when the people rule. When the voices of the majority rule. Well, the earth consists of more people in Third World countries than in developed ones, and they have unanimously decided that the debt against them should be cancelled…. Is democracy just an American idea, to be practiced only within the confines of their borders? And even then, their own people believe that they should cancel our debt and that they should intervene fairly in global issues everywhere. They don’t listen to them either. Is that democracy?

 

But let me not allow these closing sentiments to cloud the real call of my article: we want our money back. We need compensation for what has been stolen from us. If we do not fight for it we will be betraying the people that have died because of it. We will be betraying the African slaves, the freedom fighters, the men women, and children that have died from disease and the millions who will die today. It’s a debt we cannot forgive.

 

Written in 1999, during the Kosovo intervention, on which NATO became championed for its impressive and effective swift response to genocide, this letter was especially poignant. It illustrates the failings of the International institutions to respond in Rwanda, during the ethnic genocide and civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis. It is important to contextualize the letter in order to consider the angered and powerful sentiments of the discourse. One could be cynical, and argue that in 2014, the rise of grassroots NGOs and an increasingly localised approach to tackling ‘global’ issues undermine the relevancy of the letter. That in this readjusting global order, and the decline of US unipolar dominance, the validity of the finger pointing can be pointed towards ‘equally exploitative’ neo-imperialist states such as China and Canada, tarred with the same brush, in its current ‘scramble’ for African minerals. One could definitely argue that the former ‘West’ is beginning to see the error of its ways and that the smell of international change is in the air, most notably due to the ever-apparent consequences of climate change and global warming.

 

Nonetheless, I think the direct message of this letter is resolute and critically important for a number of reasons. I think it stands to illustrate the perpetuation and continuing existence of hegemony and static binaries by which we perceive global order, and our insufficiency to see beyond this stagnant, unsustainable conception. This letter highlights how both the West and in the ‘victim’ states themselves perpetuate such neo-liberal sentiments of a divided world.

 

Firstly, one must note how the letter is self-consciously addressed to “the West.” It therefore insists on the symbiotic relationship and continuing connection between the “ Global North” and the “ Global South”. What I find perhaps slightly disheartening is the way by which it seeks to fall short of priding Africa for its difference and individuality from the West, satirising the notion of the ‘White hero’ misconception. Instead, the letter defines and portrays Africa as parasitic and dependent on the ‘West’ rather than seeking to challenge the very heart of the insidious nature of neoliberal ideology. The author evidently uses the rhetoric and symbolism of the ‘West’ to define Africa. It is as if it is inconceivable that it can take its own initiative to manipulate its relative disadvantage to unstable and question the bedrock ideology of neo-liberalism, which firmly entrenches the current existing international power relations.

 

What is important however, is the way by which the letter draws attention to the responsibility the West has to recognise its crippling impact its hegemonic international dominance has had on the South. Forcing us to acknowledge this relationship rather than abandoning it. The letter stands symbolically to suggest that with the rise of communication and increasing global discourse, silenced voices can be heard. The fact that you now are probably reading this in the rooks and crannies of some lovely Glaswegian café illustrates the importance that in this world of growing and accessible communication, such impressive, silenced opinions are now being heard. When I read this letter for the first time, I was struck by its honesty, and felt the necessity to increase its readership, as if it was the least I could do. Take it or leave it. Regardless of whether you are cynical of the content of this letter, it certainly forces to take a long hard look at ourselves, to re-evaluate the sincerity of our pledges of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberation’ we so fiercely pride ourselves on.

 

Words by Sophia Gore

 

Photo: The Telegraph

Lost in facts or interpretations?

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It has been some time since the rehearsal of the opening ceremony to the Olympic Games was shown to the Russian audience by Rossiya 1, as a last-minute attempt to whitewash any shortcomings of the real event. More recently, one of the western neighbouring countries of Ukraine was presented to be Czechoslovakia by the American MSNBC. Apart from evoking feelings of nostalgia, or more likely confusion, in those few Czechs and Slovaks that follow American Media, these two supposedly unrelated cases suggest how the truth is portrayed in the media. However, in case of the current situation in Ukraine, the bets are much higher. This “game of facts and interpretations” is especially dominant in two contrasting Media movements; the pro-Russian and pro-Western. The Russia Today, state-owned Russian English-language news channel, represents the former while the representative of the pro-American can be the CNN. These two media outlets seem not to be able to find a common ground on neither the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government, nor the authenticity of the Crimean referendum, while the Western European bastions of journalism such as the BBC, at least attempt to maintain the middle ground in the coverage of this international crisis.
 
Firstly, CNN and Russia Today have not been able to agree on finding the right adjective to describe the transitional Ukrainian government. CNN has mostly stuck to the term “new government”, which largely avoids any large questions concerning its legitimacy. In contrast however, Russia Today has creatively adapted the description of a “coup-imposed government”, which clearly underlines the unconstitutional overthrow of Yanukovych’s regime in Kiev. CNN and Russia Today have also expressed contrasting views on the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum. While the latter argues in its article, “Putin: Crimeans expressed their will in full accordance with international law”, exactly what the title suggests, the CNN´s article, “Crimea´s vote: Was it legal?”, counter by saying that it was against the constitution of Ukraine. However, neither of them completely ignores the opposite argument. Instead, they show favour of one extreme viewpoint so that the unaware reader would “swallow the bait” of prescriptive statements. The audience in the both cases could enter the debate with a feeling of objectivity but is indirectly encouraged towards one perspective. In the pro-Western article, this is mostly manifested with a suggestion of the manipulation in the referendum voting. Naturally, this scenario was rejected by Russia Today. However, this cannot be seen as a complete surprise since the latter openly claims to be bringing “the Russian view on global news”.
 
On the other hand, a more favourable attempt of finding a middle ground can be seen in BBC. In particular, two of their articles, “Analysis: Why Russia´s Crimea move fails legal test” and “Ukraine Crisis: Does Russia have a case?” follow the right direction. The former is an analysis of the Russian intervention from the perspective of the international law by Marc Weller, Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, while the latter is trying to look at the Crimea crisis from the perspective of Kremlin. Furthermore, the article, “Is Crimea´s referendum legal?”, discusses the legitimacy of the referendum in the same spirit. Even though neither of them is a pro-Russian article, which no one can expect them to be, they seem to be at least solid attempts for objectivity.
 
The moral we should take from the following variations on truth is that neither the current crisis in Ukraine nor the perspective of the Media that write about can be considered de facto one-sided. Both CNN and Russia Today are guilty of trying to present a subjective version of events regarding Ukraine and Crimea, instead of trying to find establish an objective medium. However, it is important to emphasise that none of them was necessarily lying. No one expects them to be purely factual on the expense of the readability and domestic constraints, although that by itself is not an excuse to remain highly interpretive at the expense of the journalistic content. The balance was generally achieved in the pieces by BBC mentioned above. Consequently, what is presented in the media lies mostly somewhere between the lie and the truth, therefore when trying to make a picture not just about the current situation in Ukraine, it is always essential to consult a variety of sources, while at the same time remaining vigilant and critical.
 
words by Jakub Csabay

Life in Okhtyrka, Ukraine

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With tensions mounting in Ukraine, I spoke to Virginia Cartwright, a US Peace Corps volunteer who had been living in Okhtyrka, a small city in eastern Ukraine, where she was teaching English in a local school. The Peace Corps is a US government initiative, which aims to promote peace through helping to meet the needs of countries around the world for trained men and women to share their skills and to promote mutual cultural understanding between the USA and those countries. Volunteers work in a variety of sectors including education, health and the environment. Ukraine was the country with the largest number of Peace Corps Volunteers, until the decision was made to evacuate all volunteers back to the USA. I spoke with Virginia shortly after she arrived home in North Carolina, to ask her about readjusting to life in America, her experiences with Ukrainian culture and about the current political turmoil.
 
How did you find out that you were being evacuated and what was the process of evacuation like?
 
They have three different stages of alert. At first back in November they just told us to be aware of what was going on around us, not to be an obnoxious American and to try to keep a low profile. When the protests started getting larger they put us on the next stage which is called ‘Stand Fast’ this meant we were told to stay in our cities and we weren’t allowed to travel to the capital. Then there was that terrible Wednesday when 90-something people were killed. Not long after that we went to ‘Consolidation’. That meant all the Peace Corps Volunteers in one oblast (an equivalent of a county), had to go to one central location so that if we did have to evacuate we would all be together. We found out we were going to be evacuated by email. We were all crowded around the laptop and everyone was crying because we knew we weren’t going to get the chance to say goodbye to our Ukrainian friends and colleagues in person, but we also weren’t allowed to tell anyone we were leaving, because of security issues. After we arrived in DC we were allowed to call people so I have talked to a few people and its sad and they’ve been crying. They understand why we had to leave but it was just really sudden. Technically, I finished my service back in September but I decided to extend it to finish the project I had been working on, so I had been in Ukraine for two and a half years.
 
That sounds quite traumatic to be torn away from your life there so abruptly. What has it been like coming back to the States? When was the last time you were there?
 
The last time was when I left, back in September 2011. So its been really overwhelming. Especially the amount of choice. Its amazing all the options that are available to me. I went to the grocery store yesterday and nearly had a panic attack in the cereal aisle because there are 900 different types of cereal, its a little excessive to be totally honest. In our kitchen we have three refrigerators full of food; I’m used to this tiny Soviet refrigerator with maybe three eggs and some carrots and my family here have a two year supply of food at our fingertips. My family are having to teach me how to do things again, because I don’t know how to use the TV, I don’t remember how to drive a car, crazy stuff! I was supposed to come home in June, so this has pushed everything forward and I’ve just been thrown back into America. Mentally I feel like I wasn’t quite prepared for it but I’m getting there.
 
What was it like when you first arrived in Ukraine? As an American how were you received there?
 
When I first got to Ukraine I had a three month training period, where I had Ukrainian language lessons for 5 or 6 hours a day and cross cultural sessions about Ukrainian traditions and how to behave, and technical sessions about teaching English to Ukrainians. When I first arrived at my school all the teachers were gathered in the teacher’s room. Ukrainians have a tradition of giving a beautiful braided loaf of bread with a bowl of salt for guests. You’re supposed to rip off a piece of the bread and dip it in the salt and thats the first step of being integrated into the community. In general most people were just curious why this crazy American girl was in their school. The most frequently asked question was ‘Why would you leave America to come here?’ Because for most of them their dream is to leave Ukraine, even for a bordering country that would be life changing for them. For me to leave America, this dream land for them, to come live in Ukraine they just can’t fathom why anyone would want do that.
 
You were saying you had to learn about the culture and the traditions, what were the hardest things to adjust to?
 
The hardest thing for me to adjust to, culturally, was the emotion in Ukraine. They are very much ‘brick-faced’; you do not smile at strangers and if you do they look at you like you’re crazy. That was hard for me because I’m an outgoing, smiley person. Ukrainians have this proverb that to become friends with someone you have to eat 16 kilos of salt together, so it alludes to how long you have to spend with someone before they consider you part of their inner circle. It takes years for that to happen. For me, I was now just being integrated in this inner circle with my Ukrainian friends, whereas in America or in the UK, you could meet someone, the next day you could have lunch together and pretty soon you would consider yourselves friends. In Ukraine its very different.
 
Another thing is as much alcohol as Ukrainians do drink, they are never really drunk. So its a little bit different from both America and Scotland! I met a lot of Ukrainians who did not drink at all which shocked me. I think most people when they think of Russia and Ukraine they think vodka! Its true there is a lot of vodka and it is often cheaper than water, but women do not drink vodka. Its usually only men. Women drink wine or cognac. A lot of young people don’t drink because they think of themselves as athletes. So that was interesting to cross off one of the stereotypes.
 
What will you miss most about living in Ukraine?
 
There are a lot of things because I was there for two and a half years it became my home. So I will miss my daily routine, like I woke up at the same time everyday, I would get up and boil water for my shower and my coffee. It was hard but you get used to it and by the end it was completely normal. Now being home I can just turn on the faucet and hot water comes out, and I can drink water that comes out the tap and I don’t have to boil it first and wait for it to cool down, its crazy! I will miss the food, Ukrainian food is very good. My first winter there I gained a lot of weight because I didn’t want to go out in -30 temperatures and I just ate all this delicious food. I will miss my students and colleagues, they were the people I interacted with on a daily basis, who taught me about the culture and invited me into their homes. Also I really miss hearing the language. I realise now being back in America how much I really liked using my Ukrainian everyday and I have this fear now that I will forget it.
 
So how is your Ukrainian now? Because you didn’t speak any when you arrived, is that right?
 
Yeah, that’s right. Its pretty good, I can explain anything I need to, but it was a little bit difficult because I learned the Ukrainian language, which is usually spoken in the western regions and Russian is spoken in the east. But where I lived, which is the north east, they speak a mix of Russian and Ukrainian so I would only understand half of conversations. I had to be very specific with people and say ‘I speak Ukrainian, can you use as many Ukrainian words as possible and leave out the Russian?’ People who knew me were very good about it. Some people in the East don’t speak Ukrainian at all and I would try to speak to them and they would have no idea what I was saying. Honestly Russian probably would be more useful on a global scale but Ukrainian is beautiful.
 
Turning to the political situation, do you know anyone in Kiev? What can you tell me about what has been happening there?
 
Some of my students from the last two years have left school and gone to university in Kiev. They’ve been sending me photos and updates on whats going on, which has been amazing to hear about what is happening from the inside but I also worry about them because its dangerous. Of course, this all started back in November with Yanukovych’s decision not to strengthen ties with the EU. I think that’s when Ukrainians realised ‘we can do something about this, there are enough of us that feel strongly about this decision that maybe we can make a change.’ They had the Orange Revolution back in 2004 but this is the first time they have really fought for independence, their freedom. So they are out there protesting and building this small city within Kiev. They have stations set up to cook borscht, they have hospitals and post offices, they built walls with tyres and ice. The creativity of these people astounds me. Young people my age, 25 or 26, they’ve been saying ‘I’m not doing this for me, I might die because of these protests, but I’m doing this for the future of my country.’
 
At first the international press was focused only on the protests in Kiev; now attention is turning to the protests in Crimea, and the potential Russian invasion. What is the situation like in the Sumy region?
 
In Okhtyrka, my town, there weren’t any protests but it was a very hot topic and everyday that I would come into school in the teacher’s lounge everyone would hotly debating it. The largest town in our oblast was Sumy and there were some protests there, pro-Maidan and other groups, but it never got violent so we were lucky. There was nothing like on the scale of Kiev.
 
You said that people in the Sumy region speak a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian, how does that impact on their sense of national identity and their politics? Are people there pro-EU or do they want to keep close ties with Russia like the majority of the Crimean people seem to want?
 
In my region, even though Russian was often spoken, many of the people wanted to be integrated with the EU, they did not want to be a part of Russia. Its a generational gap, the older people who had grown up under the Soviet Union saw that as a time of stability and so they would not mind so much being a part of Russia; not that they want that but if it happened they wouldn’t be out in the streets protesting. In general everyone was extremely upset about Yanukovych’s decision not to strengthen ties with the EU. People were very emotional about it, they were crying because they realise that if Ukraine doesn’t get its act together and it becomes a part of Russia again, they might not have another chance for democracy.
 
With the developments in the Crimea and Putin getting approval to send troops into the region, President Obama has said that there will be ‘consequences’ for any invasion. How do you feel about potential US involvement in the crisis?
 
That’s a really hard question. It does affect me directly because everyone I know there knows that I’m American and, of course, they are all glued to the news and I wouldn’t want there to be anti-American sentiment. It worries me a little bit but I also know that Ukraine does need help so if America was doing something positive that would be wonderful but I don’t really think it would be a good idea to send in troops.
 
What are your personal hopes for the future of Ukraine?
 
I hope that once the elections are held and maybe the government becomes a bit more stable then hopefully this east-west split can be mended. Right now, the government doesn’t even know if what its doing is constitutional, its a huge constitutional crisis. All these different groups are splitting off, so of course there’s going to be this tension between the east and the west because historically the people that western Ukraine admire are the people eastern Ukraine hate. There needs to be a solid leader who can unite both parts of the country. They need to find something to bring them together and hopefully that would eliminate any possibility of a civil war. I would like to see Ukraine remain one country. Its hard for me not to sit in front of my computer all day refreshing the news. But I have to remember that I’m not in Ukraine any more and I need to start adjusting back to life here.
 
Interview by Iona Peddie

Fossil Free Campaign

GUM fossil free real

 

Recently we told you about People & Planet’s plans for Go Green Week, and touched on the idea of fossil fuel divestment, which had been called for by students at the University of Edinburgh. And now Glasgow’s students are getting involved too, with the Glasgow University Climate Action (GUCA) Society  working on a campaign to ask the University of Glasgow to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

 

Currently, the University has around £19 million invested in fossil fuel companies, which are contributing to climate change by unearthing more fossil fuels than we can afford to burn. Those companies include Shell and BP, which not only have a long record of environmental and human rights abuses, but are also involved in dangerous Arctic drilling and expanding the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

 

The members of GUCA think the University should be focused on building a better future for its students, but an investment in carbon is an investment in climate change. For this reason, they are calling on the University to recognise the seriousness of climate change by selling its holdings in these companies.

 

If you agree with GUCA, and want to show your support, sign their petition here

 

There will also be a panel discussion on the 24th of February at 6pm in the Boyd Orr LT 2 for anyone who is interested in gaining more information on the issue. More information on the event’s Facebook.

Referendum Resources – Alex Salmond on C4 News

 

 

 

Has Alex Salmond lost weight? He’s looking pretty alluring in this video, especially his sparkly little eyes at about 3:10-3:20, and those tiny eyebrows I’ve never really noticed before. In the view of Channel 4’s Matt Frei, it’s probably because he’s gearing up to become megalomaniacal prime minister of an independent Scotland.

 

Joking aside, this interview could easily have been a disaster, Salmond holds his own well against a pretty terrible interviewer. Some interesting points are raised however. We are urged to compare the fiscal union of Scotland and the rest of the UK to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands’ Benelux union rather than the vastly larger and less stable Eurozone. The Yes Campaign’s ideas about British identity are also well represented by Salmond, whilst the interviewer displays the assumptions and prejudices of the more ill informed of those in the No camp rather luridly.

 

Of course what everyone genuinely interested in Scotland’s future wants is more serious debate on topics like financial and social union, certainly not what we’re getting here. Cameron’s refusal to engage is looking increasingly rude and priggish, especially in light of his slightly odd request that everyone south of the border call someone Scottish and tell them to vote no. Why doesn’t he come up here and tell them himself?

 

Video – Channel 4 News

Words – Lotte Mitchell Reford

The Flying Scotsman

 
Among all of this year’s nominees for rector, Graeme Obree is probably the most unlikely. An athlete with a tumultuous past and little formal education, some might question his qualifications for the role. During our conversation, Obree profusely explained that while he might not be the traditional choice, his life experiences offer a different type of qualification. His unique history is behind the nomination by GUSA and GLGBTQ+, who value his contribution to sport, both as an innovator and as an openly gay athlete. Nicknamed The Flying Scotsman, Obree broke the world hour record twice and was the world champion for individual pursuit in the early 1990s.
 
When asked what students should know about him, Obree named his reputation as an innovator in sport, his world records in cycling, and his struggle with depression. “[I’m] someone who has had massive life problems. I ended up in mental institutions until about five or six years ago, and I’ve overcome personal issues.”
 
Indeed, both physically and emotionally, Obree has faced many uphill battles. While the fight may not be over yet, the father of two says he has learned a lot from his experiences. “I’m very aware of my vulnerabilities, so that’s part of my lifestyle. I’m like a plane that’s got altitude, and I’ve got to maintain that altitude, otherwise I’ll hit the treetops.” If there’s one thing he can offer, it’s advice to students who are struggling with mental health issues. Speaking of his attempted suicide, Obree said, “I was dead, last rites and everything. And I was brought back. … So I’m qualified through this journey for people to feel that I get where they’re coming from. And also I can give advice to people out there who don’t know what to do about it.”
 
Far from being intimidated by the other rector nominees, Obree has a very casual attitude towards the upcoming elections. “What I’m doing is putting forward my life experience as what I have to offer, along with other people doing the same thing. And the students decide which. It’s not a case of acceptance or rejection, it’s a case of deciding what’s most suitable,” he explained.
 
Little seems to intimidate the cheerful athlete, who now speaks at schools and has written an autobiography titled The Flying Scotsman. If there’s one thing that worries him about the rectorship, it’s his lack of academic background. “What I bring to the job is not academic at all,” he said. “What I have is this life experience, and that’s actually all I have. I can give them the benefit of my experience and the situations that I’ve lived through, the journey that I’ve been on. People can take from that. That’s all I have to offer.”
 
Obree also offered his perspective on the upcoming referendum, stating, “I can see both arguments. … But I feel Scottish enough as I am right now. And most Scottish people feel Scottish enough in their identity. So if it’s not an identity issue, it’s an economic one. If it’s an economic issue, that doesn’t interest me. So I wouldn’t say yes or no either way.”
 

While open and at ease in a one-on-one discussion with me in the lounge of the Stevenson Building, Obree was in his element at a Q&A session attended by several dozen students. During the discussion, he voiced his support for the expansion of the university’s counselling services. “If there’s an underdeveloped counselling service then we need to consider that this is an important thing. If a student falls to the wayside, then that’s such a waste. It would be my job to convince the powers that be that this is a worthwhile investment.” He also encouraged GUSA’s efforts to keep Wednesday afternoons free of classes to allow for the scheduling of matches. “I have spoken about this on Radio Scotland, of the woeful neglect of sport in people’s life. I can’t imagine a life without exercise! This is about a healthy lifestyle, so yes, I’m for that.”
 
Obree also delved into his short stint at Glasgow: “I was at this university in 1989. I studied product design engineering along with the school of art, which is twenty-eight lectures a week. It was a life shock for me to come here.” While life as a student didn’t suit him, Obree showed a real interest in interacting with students. “If I can contribute in some positive way to young people, then yes, I’ll volunteer my time for that. … I want to be there for the most vulnerable people, and for all the students.”
 
Should the election results not end in his favour, Obree will not be idle, planning a bike trip with son, writing a survivor’s guide to depression, and continuing his public speaking events. At the close of the Q&A session, Obree joked, “Sooner or later people will know that I’m winging it.” Winging it or not, this candidate approached his nomination with a very pragmatic and humble attitude. “There might actually be a better candidate than me. If that’s the case, then there’d be no hard feelings at all. You’re choosing someone who’s life experiences and what they have to contribute suits better your needs.”
 
Should he be elected rector however, Obree is very positive about the effect he can have on student life at Glasgow. “I certainly hope to have a sense of real involvement… From my point of view, it would be nice to part of something like this.”
 
Interview/Words by Emma Meldrum

Referendum Resources

 Indy Pic GUM

Useful Links

 

On 18th September 2014, all British and EU citizens resident in Scotland aged 16 or over will have a chance to vote on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country. Most of Glasgow’s students will be eligible for a vote, so whether you’re already staunchly Yes, convinced that we’re Better Together, or totally clueless about the whole thing, we’ve collected links to some useful resources to help you research the arguments for and against an independent Scotland.

 

Basic Information

 

UK National Statistics – Scotland

The White Paper on Independence

Scottish Government Site for Independence

 

The Yes Campaign

 

Yes Scotland

Wings Over Scotland – Pro indy blog

National Collective – Organisation of artists and creatives for Scottish independence

Bella Caledonia – Perhaps more zine than blog, interesting articles on Scotland and Indy

Wealthy Nation – Pro indy from the right

 

Better Together

 

Better Together

Open Unionism – Unionist blog with several regular contributors

Ian S Smart –Blog of lawyer, Labour Party member, and controversial unionist Ian S Smart

Notes From North Britain – A pro-union blog written by Adam Tomkins, prof of Public Law at Glasgow

 

Interesting Articles and Interviews

 

Alex Salmond interviewed on social and fiscal union on Channel 4 News

 

The need for a positive case for no, from Henry McLeish

 

The Question of Currency

 

Alex Salmond speaking on currency union and independence, from STV

 

Informative and reasonably balanced article in Notes From Northern Britain on the currency question

 

A view on Labour’s stance, and the potential of ‘bullying and bluffing’: Ian Bell in the Herald

 

The Guardian: Alex Salmond under pressure to produce alternative currency plans

 

 

We hope to add to this list regularly. If there’s anything else you would like to see here, including links to interesting articles or videos, please get in touch by leaving a comment, or by emailing [email protected]

 

Interview with Alan Bissett

 

Alan Bissett is a playwright, author and performer hailing from Hallglen in Falkirk. He has written novels such as ‘Boyracers’ (2001) and ‘The Incredible Adam Spark’ (2005), as well as the documentary ‘Shutdown’ (2009), which explores Bissett’s personal experiences with Scotland’s industrial past. The Scottish artist is a strong advocator of socialist politics and his country’s right to self-determination, while both of these convictions resonate through his work. His latest show, ‘Ban This Filth!’, will be presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014. A couple of weeks ago, I met him at the CCA for a coffee and a long chat about his bid for rector, Glasgow’s legacy of virtuous, leftist politics, as well as more broadly about his views on the Scottish independence.
 
What has motivated you pursue a bid for the rector at the University of Glasgow?
 
I was invited by Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association. One reason is obviously to give a platform to the ‘Yes’ campaign, but more importantly I think I miss the university experience; the air of learning and being around intelligent people, talking about ideas all the time, because writing is a very solitary activity. In that sense, it’s a selfish thing; I get to be back on campus and enjoy that atmosphere. But also when I really stop to consider it, I think I could be an effective negotiator for students’ interests. I obviously have political differences with someone like Charles Kennedy, but from what I gather, he was a pretty good rector and represented the student interests and I look forward to doing that. I’d like to find what students think need changed about Glasgow University and do something about it. So maybe three reasons, one for me, one for the ‘Yes’ campaign and one for the students.
 
Do you feel that your strong convictions on Scottish Independence could inhibit you from remaining an objective representative in certain scenarios?
 
As for my political convictions vis-à-vis independence go, no. If I’m voted in, I’m going to represent all students, whether they intend to vote for independence or not. It makes no difference to me what students’ personal politics are, if they’re coming in saying ‘look there’s a problem on campus with this’ or ‘I think this course is failing’, I’m there to represent that. So in that sense, my personal politics are irrelevant, but also my politics aren’t just about independence. I would be active in pursuing what you could call a left wing programme, the status of immigrants and foreign students on campus, making them feel welcome and included, making sure that asylum seekers have got access to university resources, making a noise about gender equality, obviously Glasgow University has a particular history of the latter. There will also be the issue of management pay, the sort of pay the university chancellors are giving themselves is going through the roof at a time when we’re told that there is no money and staff are experiencing pay freezes, pay cuts. I think in the best sense my politics mean that I’ll be proactive about making changes, but it won’t affect my approach to individual students and their concerns.
 
Some students are thinking of voting for a rector who most likely won’t be able to be present as a tangible representative of the student body. However, Glasgow already has had non-working personalities in that position before. What are your thoughts on this issue?
 
It was the same when I was at university at Stirling, I started university in 1993 and we elected as rector Alex Patterson, from a band called The Orb, who were big at the time. Great band, but he was elected because he was a celebrity and because The Orb were cool at the time, so he was never there. That was the thing about the nineties; it was the age of apathy and irony. I would plead with students to not go for the ironic vote. To give credit to the other candidates, they all seem to have substance, I have no idea of what personal politics of Obree are, but he’s got a very inspirational story, he’s had mental health issues in the past and he’s overcome them and I think for students that is inspiring. I would like to see what his politics are before I judge him as a candidate. Obviously no disrespect to Edward Snowden, he’s a great guy, I can absolutely understand why students would vote for somebody like him, but, you know, he’s not here.
 
Voices of religious students at Glasgow University often seem to go unnoticed at campus; do you feel you would be able to properly represent them?
 
I myself am an atheist, I don’t believe God exists, but still, people have the right to express their faith. I think therein comes a problem when people’s right to express their faith interferes with others’ individual rights to say things, be gay or have an abortion, I can’t support that. There are obviously Christian, Muslim and Jewish societies on campus and they have a right to be heard. I would support that, but I would draw the line at what I would perceive as bigotry. I’m sure Holdsworth has personal integrity and from what I gather he is a supporter of LGBT rights and if that’s the case, I take my hat off to him. I really don’t think there are any bad selections here.
 
You’ve been very outspoken on social media about your attempt at postponing election bid deadlines in order to ensure the presence of female contestants. Could you elaborate on your position in this area?
 
The current selection is all males, I understood their reasons for not extending the deadline, but I think there is a larger picture that they’re missing. Glasgow University is an institution that has become famous for sexism, if they were to bend these rules the gain would be larger than the loss. When I was asked to run we didn’t know who the other candidates would be, so some of the remaining candidates could have been females. Given that all the candidates are male however, I was appealing to the university to bend the rules, or change them to actually ensure equality between the genders. Sixty percent of the university’s population is females and they won’t have anybody representing their gender as part of the selection process. There’s only ever been one [female rector] in Glasgow’s entire history and Glasgow is one of the oldest universities in Britain. We also have an all male selection panel. I think once I get in there, I can actually start tackling these things. For example, when I’m rector one of the first things I’ll try and do is to change the way rectors are nominated to try and ensure there’s always a gender balance, especially in somewhere like the GUU which has had recent problems with institutionalized sexism. I think we would have to see a stronger stance on sexism on higher levels in a situation like that. Obviously sexism is a social problem, it is not simply confined to Glasgow University, or to the GUU, but the latter is the most visible problem, and what happened during that debate was extremely embarrassing. There needs to be a positive change in a right direction.
 
Do you feel that the leftist politics you mentioned before will be in tune with Glasgow University?
 
One of the great speeches in Scottish political history was Jimmy Reid’s opening address to the students after he was made rector in the 1970s. He famously said ‘capitalism is a rat race, but we are not rats, we’re human beings’ and I would hope to have a similar impact. I do feel that Glasgow as a city has a history of radical politics. Conversely, Glasgow also has shameful history; the Tobacco lords created enormous amounts of wealth off the back of slavery during the period of the British Empire. That’s how Glasgow expanded in some ways that it did, but at the same time there is a very strong working class consciousness, because of the things like the shipyards, Red Clydeside and Labour, back in the days when it used to be Labour. It has always been very strong in Glasgow and I think it would be great if the students were to elect a rector who tied in with that kind of consciousness and kept Glasgow University radical.
 
If you do get elected as rector, your term might see Glasgow University enter a fully independent Scotland. How do you feel about that?
 
If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ in September and there are some relevant transitional issues; for example whether Glasgow becomes a solely Scottish university or a British institution, I’m not entirely sure what those would be yet, but I would work to try to make that transition smooth and make sure that students don’t feel that their education is being disrupted in any way. I don’t think it will be, but if students do feel that way, then I would have to deal with that, listen what their complaints are and measure their substance. I would love to be the rector of Glasgow University as Scotland becomes independent. I’m not doing it for posterity however; I believe I would be a very effective campaigner for student rights.
 
Why do you think so many artists and academics are joining the independence movement? Nationalism of any form usually falls short of full-blown support from creative people.
 
I’d argue first of all that the ‘No’ campaign is also a nationalist campaign, because its purpose is to protect what they see as ‘the Nation’, but the difference is that our nationalism is bound up with the struggle for self-determination, whereas British nationalism is bound up with imperial aggression. A lot of artists and a lot of creative people have got behind ‘Yes’, because they see it as a much more positive, inclusive and progressive movement than the campaign to keep the status quo. Because the status quo, as far as I’m concerned, is hideous; we have one of the most class-ridden societies in the world, the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the UK is the fourth most unequal in the developed world. We’ve had right wing government after right wing government, terrible consequences of British imperialism abroad, especially in the Middle East, and now we have sustained attack on the most vulnerable members of our society. I really think we’re entering a stage where the right wing and capitalism is becoming quite frightening. The UK government is now ordering water cannons; the first time water cannons will ever be used on the British streets because they fear there are going to be riots because of the new austerity measures that they’re taking. Now, if they fear the austerity measures will cause riots rather than actually change course, they think ‘okay, how do we fight the population?’ I don’t understand why people want to continue that, let along strengthen it, which a ‘No’ vote will do. So I think most people who are ‘Yes’ voters among artists, creatives recognize that this is a really positive chance to start a country which will stand as a good example for people in the rest of the UK about how an economy and a society should be run.
 
Why do you think some Scotts will vote ‘No’ in the referendum?
 
There are three broad reasons why Scots will vote ‘No’; one is fear, they believe independence is too much of a risk and those fears are being fostered and nurtured by the ‘No’ campaign, the entire purpose of is to sow fear. The other is loyalty, a lot of people feel that their identity is British and that Scottish independence would somehow interrupt that, its understandable, but to think that somebody would disregard the livelihood and wellbeing of the rest of their country people in order to maintain their identity, I find objectionable. The third reason for a ‘No’ vote is the inferiority complex; it has been engrained in a lot of Scottish people that we can’t do it, that were not good enough, that we’re too small and we should just leave it to the big guys down in London. So I think if Scots vote ‘No’ it will be for those reasons and I don’t think there are solid foundations to any of them.
 
What is your ‘doomsday scenario’ for a Scotland voting ‘No’?
 
There will be a slow removal of power from the Scottish parliament because we will be defenceless against that. What they will do is pretend to give us more devolution and that devolution will take form of raising more taxes. That’s more devolution, that’s more power, but with the other hand, they will remove our budget. So they’ll scrap the Barnett Formula, a method by which Scotland is funded, and we’ll have a four billion pound hole in the Scottish economy. Now, what the SNP government is going to do to fill that hole? Raise taxes or cut public services, which then makes the post-no vote SNP government very unpopular, which allows Labour to walk in and occupy all the rooms. They’ve got it all planned out; Andy Burnham, who is the shadow health secretary, has already said that what he would like is to see a UK-wide health policy. Now, that’s quite a euphemism; what that means is removing control over health from the Scottish parliament, because health is now devolved. Scotland will be punished for this rebellion, even if it’s a ‘No’ vote, we won’t be rewarded for loyalty, and we’ll be punished for having the temerity to get this far.
 
What do you think will happen to the Scottish identity, should Scotts vote ‘Yes’ on its independence?
 
I think the psyche of the country will change, we’ll have a lot more confidence that we have lacked in the past, well have a lot more optimism, the culture of blame, which exists in Scotland, will become a thing of the past. If we’re responsible for our own successes and our own failures, we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves so it will force us to grow up as a nation. If we vote ‘no’ then essentially what we’re saying is that we don’t want to mature as a nation, we want to just be controlled, kept and remain stunted. So I think it will force us to become a better democracy. I think that democracy will be greater than the one we have at the moment, Holyrood already has a better and fairer electorate system than Westminster. Because of proportional representation, we’ll see much more of a left presence in our parliament; we’ve already had five or six socialist SNPs in parliament, who have actually called themselves socialists. Obviously, that fell apart because of the whole Tommy Sheridan scandal, but that’s not an inherent problem with socialism. When was the last time a party calling themselves socialist got elected in Westminster? I think there will be a presence for the right, but I think the left will be much stronger, what we’ll see is a battle between the left and centre, the centre being SNP, the left represented by socialists, the greens, hopefully a reborn Labour and Liberal party, who actually remember their values. Again, that mirrors what we have in Westminster, which is a battle between the centre and the right.
 
What does the future hold for a Scotland let free of Westminster’s rule then?
 
We’ll have a better democracy, we’ll have more cultural confidence, we’ll have a stronger economy; we can invest in green energy, because if the oil is going to be used it should be used to plan for what happens when the oil runs out. We will reindustrialize Scotland, Thatcher deindustrialized Scotland and she used our oil money to do it. We’ll reindustrialize Scotland to get Scotts working, create green energy programs, not only so we can use green energy but also export its technology. We’ll have a stronger industry, stronger economy and I think we should start looking at nationalization of industries; keep water in national hands, nationalise the transport networks, oil, and energy, anything that is vital for the survival of the people. Which is again exactly the opposite of what is happening at Westminster, where basically there’s a fire sale of the nations’ assets, it happened with Royal Mail; a knock-down price that’s handed over to the market for no good reason, why? Because it enriches wealthy people, who also tend to vote Tory. So I think in every respect Scotland would be a stronger, healthier nation.
 
Many people worry that Scotland largely separate from British power will become an underdog in the international arena. What are your thoughts on that?
 
I think that’s a good thing, I don’t think large states are necessarily healthy, the larger the state is generally the more aggressive and messier it is. How can you reconcile the various contradictions within one country? I think size is dangerous because with size comes aggression and paranoia, we only have to look at USA, or China. What you ‘re hearing from the ‘No’ campaign is ‘we have more clout in the world stage, we have more presence, we have more power’; that’s a legacy of imperialism. They need to have presence; they need to have more power. Often what they mean by that is the ability to invade other countries, or manipulate economies. I think there’s something to be said for a small stable, state and secure state that looks after its citizens and contributes in a positive way to the international community, I think that’s what Scotland can be.
 
Interview by Michael Borowiec

Vote for Snowden

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We, the students of Glasgow University, have a unique opportunity, even responsibility, to show our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Edward Snowden. It is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with him and various other activists exposing injustices committed by those in power. Indeed, Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the Pentagon Papers detailing the United States’ covert enlargement of its stake in the Vietnamese conflict, himself came out in support of this anti-surveillance whistleblower. According to Ellsberg, the leaks relating to on-going state surveillance are even more significant than the papers he released forty years ago. It is this sense of urgency about Snowden’s personal struggle that we believe could inspire and benefit Glasgow University and our city as a whole.

 

Through Snowden’s nomination we are emphasizing that he is far from being a ‘traitor’ as the Pentagon have called him, but rather an incredibly brave individual who put his life on the line to inform us of the disgusting intrusion into our privacy practiced by, among others, the United States’ NSA and the UK’s GCHQ. In doing so, he has sought to protect what is not only a fundamental human right but also one of the pillars of free society. What is more, we are voicing our own opinions unambiguously to those involved in monitoring our every move that we oppose this. If Edward Snowden becomes the rector of Glasgow University, our demand for open government, transparency and fundamental right to privacy will be heard loud and clear.

 

Some people may wonder whether it is wise to vote for a rector who, at present, is not free to enter United Kingdom. It is important for those people to understand that this nomination goes beyond the question of representation; indeed, Edward Snowden’s symbolic presence would provide us with an opportunity to finally represent ourselves in this generation-defining struggle. Inspirational figures the likes of Albert Luthuli, former president of the apartheid-opposing ANC, or the imprisoned Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu have been absent rectors in the past. Having these individuals in this symbolic position clearly demonstrated our University’s stance on highly relevant issues troubling Western civilization. What is more, it showed that students of Glasgow University, as well as other individuals within the city, have a proud tradition of radical and virtuous leftist politics. Undoubtedly, these sets of values will be reasserted not only to the UK, but also to the rest of the world should Edward Snowden be elected. Finally, it is worth stressing that this debate goes far beyond campus. It extends to every single person who has ever maintained an on-line presence, or communicated using technology. Discourse on the ethical considerations underlying mass surveillance and the harsh punishment of those who dare to speak up against corruption has been far too little, even though there is very much to say about it, something we hope Snowden’s symbolic presence will inspire.

 

These so-called liberal and democratic states that spy on their own citizens and consequently attempt to persecute anyone brave enough to expose and hold them accountable for their perverse practices can not distract us from their twistedness by smearing those brave enough to speak out about abuses. We need to raise awareness and insist on justice because those guilty of committing such actions will not suddenly develop a conscience. It is up to us to let them know that we, too, are watching them and demanding an end to state intrusion into our personal lives. By supporting the campaign and electing Edward Snowden, we highlight our awareness of these matters to those in power and we further announce to the British state that we refuse to ignore the true issues at stake. In addition, we hope that this campaign will inspire not only students, but individuals everywhere to speak up for what they know is right.

 

In the spirit of leading by example, the ‘Edward Snowden for Rector’ campaign is transparent and all-inclusive. We are not only calling upon students of the University of Glasgow to join us, but indeed any person of conscientiousness can help. A lot of people have been doing great work already to give the campaign such a powerful start and anyone is welcome and even encouraged to show their support. We are in the process of planning a lot of exciting and significant events to highlight the previously discussed issues and to celebrate whistleblowers from all varieties of states and situations. If Edward Snowden is elected as rector, Glasgow University will yet again secure its place in the global opposition to a vast injustice, as well as against the persecution of those who have provided us with the invaluable opportunity to stand up for our basic rights.

 

If you would like to get involved in the campaign, you can either e-mail us, or find out more on our Facebook page.

 

– Lubna Nowak

Population Matters

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The modern human is a significantly different social creature to his primordial ancestors. A study published in the journal of Behavioural Ecology claims that, on many levels, we no longer resemble our closest genetic sibling, the chimp, but rather insect super-societies such as ants or termites. Having abandoned living in small units, albeit more consciously than the insects, we have entered structurally superior societies, which have developed over millennia into the current state of the human community. This, along with the ingenuity provided by our expanded brains and physical composition, has given us the potential to break the shackles of nature and become masters of our surroundings in nearly every part of the globe. Now, just like our formicidae partners-in-crime, the only real danger to our survival, apart from natural disasters and unavoidable tragedies, is ourselves.  Whilst economic or political turmoil, nuclear proliferation and clashes of cultures are destructive to segments of our population, it could be that the real danger to the prolongation of humanity lies in our biological drive to see it continue; human reproduction.

 

The twentieth century saw improvements in human rights, medicine, and general quality of life for hundreds of millions individuals around the Earth. This has allowed us to at last fully realise our reproductive potential, with an increase in population from two to seven billion in the space of just a century. Every new individual lives on average 67.2 years, during which time they must satisfy their needs through consumption of a wide-range of resources. Recent decades saw a rise in a new type of charity in western civil society, one that deals with spreading awareness of the risks such an accelerated growth of human population can bring. Earlier on this year I chatted to Simon Ross, a CEO of the British non-governmental organisation, Population Matters, which stands at the forefront of this movement.

 

Population Matters is concerned about long-term sustainability. We’re looking for a world where people can live within the renewable resources, which means that we have to think about population growth and how we consume finite resources’ explains Simon. As expected, the very idea of stabilising population growth runs the risk, if mishandled, of clashing with other movements. ‘There was a period in the nineties, where population concerns were seen as potentially leading to repressive measures, like the Chinese one-child policy and some practices in India, so the emphasis was switched much more onto women’s rights and onto human rights, making sure that they are protected.’ Of course, now we know that hard-social engineering isn’t an option, as shown by China’s growing dilemma of what to do with a surplus of two hundred million permanent bachelors, although Simon is right in stating that ‘people are realising the problem isn’t going away, population is continuing to grow.’

 

‘People are more aware than they were ten or fifteen years ago, looking at climate change, biodiversity loss and resources insecurity, [and] the fact that commodity prices have increased so much over the last decade.’ In 2009, Population Matters published research which stated that the easiest way to tackle climate change is through contraception, with every £4 spent on family planning over the next four decades reducing global CO2 emissions by more than a ton, compared to each £19 spent on low-carbon technologies. ‘There’s people living longer than predicted, so how do we live with an increasingly older generation? There’s also a youth problem, there’s a lot of young people in places like Africa because of past high-birth rates.’ This rings true if we consider that, by 2040, the average population of Africa is set to double.

 

People are more positive about addressing this issue than they were even ten years ago and are realising that over-crowding must be managed regardless of the complexity that surrounds it. But just as with the general subject of climate change, knowing is not enough anymore. The dire situation requires action, but what action I wonder. ‘We think there’s absolutely no need for fines which is what the Chinese government is doing, people will do it on their own’ Simon starts to explain;  ‘I think what we can do is get governments to say, smaller families are better for a nation, promote the idea of a smaller society. But that’s as far as it should go. In European countries there are no fines, but most people choose to have smaller families.’ However first world countries, bar the United States, or Ireland, Cyprus and Turkey in Europe, are not a significant problem within the population growth dilemma with most of their populations decreasing. There are also ‘still poor countries with low birth rates, for examples Bangladesh, Brazil or Iran.’

 

Population management ‘requires change in government approach, health services, and education systems, actually changing those cultures. From being enormously poor to actually ones where people prosper with opportunities and women have some say in their own lives.’ It seems, therefore, that the crucial key to stabilising this variable lies with a positive change at the very foundations of human society; elevating women to positions of full equality in their respective communities; ‘if women have family planning or smaller families, then they have more time to have jobs,’ which could have a positive impact on the issue. ‘I think that’s changing the culture and not in a negative way; not by saying ‘you have to be like Western Europe.’ You have to give people opportunities and what I also don’t agree with is people that say ‘well, you have to make them rich before you introduce family planning’ or ‘you got to concentrate on education.’ I think that family planning and promoting smaller families should go alongside that.’

 

Pursuing change in this dimension may seem tricky however, given that governments of developing countries may not be keen to abide to Population Matters’ vision. This may be due to cultural and historical issues, but also, in part, because of prudential ones. The backbone of every growing country is a well-functioning economy and each economy depends on a large work force as its primary fuel. Prime evidence for this is China, which over decades has elevated itself to the forefront of world affairs through a bulletproof export-economy based on cheap, gargantuan manufacturing drive. Simon seems to be optimistic on this point however; ‘I think governments are becoming more concerned about it [overpopulation] in developing countries because they do realise the impact of a very fast-growing population without proper education, in areas where there’s limited land and limited water supply’, a problem demonstrated by the already historically fraught India and Pakistan, both countries with nuclear capabilities. Of course, developing countries aren’t the only ones to blame; ‘Western countries haven’t helped either, by not putting much emphasis on family planning programs, or by coming up with negatives instead of positives.’

 

So where does Population Matters, and this issue generally, stand right now in the field of non-governmental movements? ‘Certainly we’re growing in the UK for sure. We lobby governments and international organisations like the United Nations, where we stress the importance of family planning and population concerns’ clarifies Simon. ‘The UN is currently considering our replacement to the Millennium Development Goals and they’re looking at our project called the Sustainable Development Goals, which deals, amongst other things, with how our world addresses poverty in the next fifteen years or so.‘ However, one NGO is not enough and this cause depends on individual participation to be recognised and approached. ‘People should ask their governments to encourage smaller families in the UK and worldwide, to encourage their populations to stagnate and then start declining to a level in which we can live with renewable resources when oil, gas and so on have run out.’

 

Comparing the human experience to that of an ant or a termite may seem reductionist by nature, but perhaps it allows us to understand the phenomenon of developing to a point where a species poses a threat to itself.  Human problems obviously stretch beyond over-reproducing, but given that in 2011, the birth of a baby girl in the Philippines marked the seven billionth living human being, relentlessly existing and consuming just like you and I do, maybe its an angle worth considering. After all, aside from what scientific speculation and sci-fi books may say, this earth is all we have for now, and an anthill out-of-balance with itself will not survive a storm, no matter how many ants stand together within it.

 

To get involved head to Population Matters’ website and don’t forget to hit ‘like’ on their Facebook page as well.

 

Words by Michael Borowiec

Do Marxists Really Hate Britain?

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The end of September brought the usual season of party conferences, with the Liberal Democrats attempting to defend capitulation to Tory policy, such as the huge hike in tuition fees, with promises of free school dinners; the Tories returning to their “nasty party” image with Osborne pledging to cut all benefits for under 25s – at a time when youth unemployment is 21%(House of Commons Library, 17/10/2013)and this does not include those in unstable employment – 37% of those on zero hour contracts are aged 16-24 (Resolution Foundation, June 2013); and Labour, after a quiet summer and promises of continued cuts if they were to come to power, making something of a small sidestep to the left with Miliband pledging to freeze energy prices, build 200,000 new houses and ‘bring back socialism’.

It is important to see these comments in a context where Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary for work and pensions, later stated that Labour would be harsher on those on benefits than the Tories! Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that Miliband, who up until this point had only pledged “softer and slower” cuts, must have felt some pressure to respond to the anger and squeezed living standards of ordinary working people. The fact that since the conference Labour have moved 11 points ahead of the Tories in the polls (Guardian, 19/10/13) goes some way to explaining the right-wing media reaction, with the Daily Mail leading the charge. Firstly, it should be noted, that Miliband’s comments, whilst important in the context of a Labour party still bound up in New Labour politics, are far from a return to Clause IV and socialist policies of widespread nationalisation. Miliband was quick to reassure big business that his policies remained committed to capitalism and the free market. If anything, this makes the media reaction more interesting, as it shows that there is that even small moves in a leftward direction can provoke a climate of fear and reaction amongst the ruling elite.

The Daily Mail’s article, stating that the root of Ed Miliband’s policies was to be found in his socialist father, Ralph Miliband – a professor at LSE from 1949-1972 – “the man who hated Britain”, was clearly written in an effort to provoke fear and backlash against any left rhetoric. This is hardly surprising given the climate that we are living in. The high rate of youth unemployment in the UK is supplemented by figures such as the increase of 300,000 children living in absolute poverty from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (BBC, 13/06/2013). As with the rest of the world Britain has experienced a deep financial crisis that has impacted upon the living standards and prospects of the working class and has only been worsened by cuts to benefits and public services.

It is in this climate that we have seen jolts of action such as the November 30th public sector strike in 2011 and the huge anti-austerity demonstration on March 26th 2011. These reactions have mostly been constrained to strike days and demonstrations, with the class struggle yet to be played out in the tumultuous forms we have seen in Spain and Greece, where crisis and austerity have been on an even higher level. But at this time of deep crisis, protests and strikes will not solve the problems facing society. What is needed is a clear political lead from leaders of the labour movement: the fight for a socialist programme to this crisis of capitalism and the ensuing austerity policies. The ruling class, as represented in the mass media by papers such as the Daily Mail, is only too aware that the conditions are ripe for class struggle; that ordinary people are open to socialist policies that break with capitalism. It is for this reason that small leftward moves, such as those by Ed Miliband, have resulted in such a hysterical reaction.

Having looked at the reasons for the ruling class’s reaction, we can now turn to the issue of the role of Marxism: do Marxists really hate Britain? Karl Marx stated ‘the workers have no country’ – in this sense, British nationalism, as purported by the British bourgeoisie, based on colonial images of “rule Britannia”, is certainly at odds with Marxism. But does this really amount to “hating Britain”? And what does the Daily Mail really mean when it refers to “Britain”? Does this image of Britain include the young people unable to find jobs because of a crisis they did not create but are being forced to pay for in the slashing of services? Does it include those who are giving up the opportunity to go to university because they don’t want to be saddled with nearly £30,000 of debt in their early 20s? The only Britain that is hated by Marxists is the ruling classes who exploit the majority in order to amass obscene amounts of wealth for themselves. Even the bankers, who played their part in creating this crisis, have returned to their bonuses with April 2013 seeing an 82% year on year rise (Labour Market Statistics 2013) in the amount paid out in bonuses in the financial sector.

The nationalistic image played out by the Daily Mail, one of the great, colonising British bulldog created through the hardworking, loyal citizens of Britain, is of no use to anyone but the ruling class. This nationalism must be seen as a jingoistic attempt to cut through class antagonisms with the idea that we’re all British and we’re “all in this together”; the “British” way is to put your head down and get on with it. This is part of the superstructure of ideology used by the ruling class to retain the economic base of capitalism – to encourage workers and students not to revolt and change society but remain under capitalism.

Marxists recognise the importance of national identity and culture but this should not be conflated with loyalty to the systems and structures of power within the country you happen to be born in. The bourgeoisie has proved it has no loyalty to Britain as it is in the process of tearing the country apart with promises of continued austerity, a dismantling of the welfare state and lack of access to higher education. The only loyalty we should have is to workers and youth across the world who are also being exploited by the same ruling class with a different face. In this time of global capitalism, and global capitalist crisis, we cannot be separated by national barriers but must move forward to a united international class struggle.

 

 

 

—Rachel Gibbs

The Playground

Aida is a refugee camp in Palestine, a mere ten minutes from Bethlehem. What it is also close to is Al’ Quds, which in Arabic means ‘Jerusalem’. This is where twenty-three international volunteers and I had been selected to work in a summer volunteer programme, run by the Lajee centre. Its inhabitants live within the walking distance of their Holy City and yet they have been forbidden to travel there by the Israeli forces. There are refugees from thirty-four villages, which are now occupied land. The road to Aida has a wall painted with images from each of these places. The first time we walked by the memorial, I found the paintings beautiful but once it sunk in that they represent the homes of Aida’s residents, homes, which don’t exist anymore, I found them harder to look at with each passing day.

 

During our stay we worked and lived with Palestinian volunteers from Aida who helped us learn and have fun at the same time. They taught us how to dance Dabke, which terrified us after watching the amazing way the experienced Dabkers do it! It was okay though; they let us learn the easy moves. They also taught us Arabic, or at least they tried. I certainly was not very good at it, no matter how hard I practiced, but at least I mastered ‘Marhaba!’ which means ‘Hello.’ We were treated to home cooked meals every day, usually by one of the mothers of the volunteers, sometimes we even got chips or spaghetti to make us feel at home. It was as though we were one big family; we danced together, ate together and even napped together. Our evenings were like huge parties. The days, on the other hand, were hard and long. We went to lectures from various organisations who shared their experiences of the conflict and how they now work within it to help the affected people. We heard from medical personnel, people who knew about education and even from the government in regards to the treatment of prisoners.

 

One thing which I have not been able to forget since I arrived back, though, was the playground at the Lajee Centre. It’s a place where children from the refugee camp can come to play, read, or take classes in dance and art. It is a safe place where children get to be children. Our role was to clear up the ground, take away the rocks so that eventually they could form part of the wall around the playground. Generally helping out with the upkeep of the Centre proved difficult at times; even menial tasks like watering the plants had a new dimension to it since it was common knowledge the water flow was controlled from Israel. We weren’t only responsible for looking after the actual playground though; we also got to help out with the kids. Of course the language barrier was a little difficult to overcome, but with the help of our Palestinian friends we managed to get to know some of them pretty well. Overall, this playground was a place for us to give something to these children, teach them our games but mostly just play with them and have fun.

 

There is something I feel is very important to share about this playground. I did not notice it immediately, but as soon as I did, I could not un-notice it no matter how hard I tried. Aida lies next to the wall, which separates Palestine from Israeli-occupied territory. Periodically along this wall, you can see army watchtowers. The wall is huge, around eight feet high, and the towers just add to its terrifying presence. Three of those watch towers could see straight into the playground. One day I was taking photographs of the football games, when I noticed one of them over the top of the field. After that I realised there was another one behind the swing set. Soon I found myself focussing on these towers when we were supposed to be playing with the kids. I never once saw a child glance at them but they are used to it by now, for me though this was something sinister and wrong. The very idea that Israel’s army looms over the children like that in their place of peace and fun really angered me.

 

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(left-click for an enlarged version of photos)

 

The whole of Aida camp is under surveillance and not far from the main entrance into Aida is the gate which the Israeli army come through whenever they go into the camp. The Lajee centre and the playground sit right between these two spots. The children, as well as the adults and the elderly of Aida live never really knowing if the army is going to come through today, or not. The camp as well as Lajee has seen plenty of interventions and the local photographer, who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet not long before our arrival in Palestine, caught footage of these attacks.

 

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Within half an hour of being home, I heard news that an eleven-year-old boy from Aida had been shot in the head with non-lethal ammunition. After a few stitches he was fine, but other children have not been so lucky. Lajee’s security cameras captured footage of a child being shot dead in front of the centre. Children aged twelve can be arrested by the Israeli Armed Forces and held in solitary confinement. Many of those who we played with were much younger than that, but this was a glimpse of their future if no change takes place. I look at the pictures of myself pushing little girls on swings, or of my friend helping kids to draw cats and all I can see now are the Watchtowers; with their eyes on the playground, and the children who will grow up to be their next targets.

 

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The gate to Aida bears the Lock and Key of Return. This symbolises the return of Palestine as a country and Palestinians to their homes. It is a powerful symbol and one, which shows that Palestine has not given up. Its countrymen are very much determined to gain back their land, even if their homes are no longer a part of it. I am proud to have worked with such wonderful and inspirational people, and I look forward to the day when I can return to Palestine and help them tear that wall down, away from the playground. I doubt even then, though, that the image of the Watchtower and the playground will ever leave my mind. A part of me hopes it never does.

 

words by Robyn Lee

Student Action For Refugees Sleepout @ The Wellington Church 25.10.13

 

 

‘The problem of destitution in this country is significant, and it’s not going away’ confesses Christine Park, the president for the University’s STAR. This student organisation is currently busy planning a charity event to raise awareness of destitution, funds from which will go to the Glasgow-based charity, Positive Action in Housing. The STAR Sleepout, apart from cabaret-led entertainment and good vibes all around, has at its core a very humanitarian cause concerned with the reality many asylum seekers wake up to every day, not only Glasgow but in the United Kingdom as a whole.

 

‘Glasgow is a dispersal city, meaning that asylum seekers are relocated here whilst they await a decision on their asylum claim, so there is a great demand for support services in the city.’ Despite this fact, nobody actually knows how many are there, since from the moment they have been refused an official status of an asylum seeker, they more or less disappear off the grid. Bearing in mind the esteemed position of United Kingdom in international politics and its past involvement in many countries of the world, this spells out a disaster of possibly tens of thousands living unnoticed among Britain’s cities.

 

Asylum seekers are at risk of destitution throughout the whole process, particularly when their asylum claim is refused and their support is withdrawn. According to a report on destitution by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Morag Gillespie, in just a weeklong survey, most of 148 foreign individuals and their dependants applying for support services in Glasgow were refused the asylum seeker status when applying. This puts them in a threat of living, sometimes for years, without income, failing to reach the United Nations global poverty line of $1.25 a day. ‘Even those who have been granted refugee status may sometimes become destitute, as they are evicted from the housing they were given as an asylum seeker, but cannot claim housing benefits until they get their papers, which can take weeks to arrive.’ Destitution is rarely a tragedy that happens to you once, 40% of the surveyed had been destitute on more than one occasion and the total time survey participants were destitute, ranged from a few days to six years, with the average time being one and a half years.

 

‘Although there are projects and campaigns trying to help people in this situation, the UK Border Agency’s stance has not changed, and there do not seem to be signs of improvement.’ This seems to be the uncomfortable truth for the STAR movement. Given the recent scandal regarding UKBA’s ‘Go Home’ campaign, one could assume that the problem of an unfavourable policy towards asylum seekers is another endeavour by the Coalition-led government. But the reality is different; this treatment of foreign nationals has in fact been prevalent since way before New Labour rule. How will this debate change with potential Scottish independence, I wonder. ‘There are supporters of better treatment of asylum seekers on both sides of the independence debate’ acknowledges Christine, before underlining the ultimate obstacle to changing the discourse about the rights of asylum seekers; ‘Truthfully, the attitudes of the general public must change first before the politicians will start to make any changes and the way we change the public’s attitude is through education.’

 

Whether be it by an inadequate mainstream media approach or by outright hostility from fringe parties like UKIP or BNP, many people have taken a negative view of asylum seekers. This can be seen as, predominantly, due to the fear of unknown, but also because of derogatory perceptions of those seeking asylum by some sections of the public. Christine elaborates; ‘most major media sources portray asylum seekers as greedy foreigners, who come to steal jobs and benefits, but this is completely wrong. While you are an asylum seeker, you do not have the right to work and get half as much money as a citizen would on job seekers allowance.’

 

So head on down to the Wellington Church this Friday night at 8. For a suggested donation of £2 you will contribute to a good cause and enjoy an open-air cabaret. If you’re up for a challenge, join the STAR team for a brisk October night outside, in solidarity with the many unheard voices, which on the same night will not have the choice to do otherwise.

 

STAR’s page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/STARglasgow/?fref=ts

Sleepout’s Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390344064535933/?fref=ts

Sponsor here: http://www.justgiving.com/Star-Glasgow or text “SLEP96” plus the amount you’d like to donate to 70070 (e.g. SLEP96£1)

 

– Michael Borowiec

Politics: Independence is Inherently Democratising, All Devolution Is.

The belief that society ought to manifest democracy seems ubiquitous by default, yet the obvious opportunity to promote its enhancement, or at least, apply its principle, appears less inspiring.

 

Alas, the people of Scotland, yet to enter the polling booth, have already seen their referendum compromised by forces out-with their control. The ever popular and ever viable devo-max option was aborted in a political deal between the SNP and the Coalition Government (which Labour supported) – it was a deal remote from any meaningful democracy, but the parties involved were democratically elected, only you didn’t choose to now have less choice.

 

The forfeit of Devo-Max is old news, but its something worth contemplating as the referendum approaches. It was indeed a dramatic rejection of democracy, one worth remembering and reiterating. Significantly, the event illuminated how very shallow the commonplace conception of democracy is, if that conception translates to one of the current representative democracy employed, whereby the public elects which party to represent them. To have political choices dictated and prescribed from which the public may express a preference seems largely undemocratic, let alone awash in contempt for those it purports to serve. Is the public to be reared and tamed? Is it so void of creative and moral substance that their democracy can only be represented at safe distance?

For democracy to flourish in any serious capacity would require the aforementioned system to be substituted with some degree of direct democracy; whereby individuals are free to participate fully in what is produced and how it is distributed. People would be autonomous, and this ought to be what the statesmen should aspire to, if their affairs are indeed their concerns. It’s a simple and natural notion for people to determine the operations of the economic institutions they associate themselves with, and in turn their own lives.

The question of whether to devolve Britain’s London-dominated concentration of power to enable an Independent Scottish State is in principle, parallel to any question of regionalization or worker control. All such progressions emanate from the precept, that the further power is devolved in any given society, so too is the associated responsibilities of its wielders. The result of its application is the neutralization of power, an equilibrial authority, which rings true the fundamental criterion for any democracy.

 

It’s ironic that a referendum posing a question of self-determination has been so preemptively restrained and filtered. Is there not something in and of devo-max’s malicious absence that would inspire people to acquire more control of their own lives, possibility that the ‘yes’ vote invites?

Indeed the referendum provides yet another opportunity to devolve a concentration of power and promote such autonomy. If a ‘yes’ vote prevails, the populace of the British archipelago will be divided between two exclusive State governments, namely Westminster and Holyrood. Not only does this follow from the principle of direct democracy, at a more basic level, dividing any populacebetween multiple means of governance can only be democratizing. That is to say, when power is devolved the ambitions and aspirations of people are less subject to others elsewhere – after all, it was a majority in Scotland who didn’t vote for a Conservative government in the 2010 elections.

 

Of course, achieving independence does not necessarily invite further internal devolution. It is perfectly conceivable for the government of an Independent Scotland to resist the self-determination of smaller communities and prohibit further autonomy; worker control say. However, the opportunity to pursue the opposite is just as real, and the decision to do so will be for those whom it concerns.

 

Individuals have to decide how meaningful is the democracy they wish to live under. The premise of the referendum has been tainted for a while now, and if democracy is to be taken seriously, there should be no question of how to vote; for me only a ‘yes’ vote fulfills the principles we value in democracy, and shortens the deficit between you and your will. It will see an independent Scotland materialize direct democracy, but only in and of its own establishment. The Scottish State will be an awesome distance from any ideal, but a fairer and democratising development, nonetheless. The question posed, is whether democracy is a value we wish to preserve, or something all too dangerous.

Liam Doherty

Istanbul Under Siege

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Gezi Park

The riots that have electrified the city of Istanbul for four days now continue to endure, despite heavy police retaliation. What began as a peaceful protest to prevent the redevelopment of Gezi park in Taksim Square has now escalated into a nation-wide demonstration against the current Government.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been repeatedly criticised for his dogmatic influence over the country based on grassroots Islamic ideals, and his latest staunch refusal to listen to protesters has ignited anger even among those who had voted him into his third term as Prime Minister. In his address to the country on the 2nd June he referred to the protesters as “terrorists” and has been quoted as saying “every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice”. Despite the democratic election Erdoğan seems to have forgotten that a democracy constitutes the decisions of several members of a party, yet it is shockingly clear that Erdoğan holds the majority of the power, and indeed earns more than any other politician in the world at $989,000 a month, although Wikileaks claims that his earnings may be far higher. It would not be a far stretch of the imagination to envisage Erdoğan as the next Putin and Turkish President Abdullah Gül serving as Medvedev, however in stark opposition to the Prime Minister, Gül has defended the people’s right to protest stating: “democracy does not mean elections alone. There can be nothing more natural for the expression of various views, various situations and objections through a variety of ways, besides elections.”

 Despite Gül calling for a peaceful end to the violence and a more mature handling of the situation, suggestive of mishandling on both sides, Erdoğan has continued to belittle the extent of the riots claiming that he would not ask permission for the redevelopment plans from “a few looters”. It has emerged that the destruction of Gezi Park is not only to free up valuable real estate for a shopping mall, but also includes the construction of a Mosque, a symbolic representation of Neo-Ottomanism and Turkey’s new incentive under the Justice and Development Party to engage with areas previously under Ottoman rule in the Middle East.

Although the riots are being referred to as the ‘Turkish Spring’ in reference to the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings of 2010, this would be a false representation. The events in Turkey are more an uprising against fascism than an Imperialist fueled uprising against Islam, which in such countries as Egypt were conducted by armed extremist groups. The protests in Istanbul began as a reaction against heavy handed police retaliation in Gezi Park, where peaceful environmental protesters were viciously attacked in their tents during a dawn raid. The nature of the events has magnified into a nationwide protest against an increasingly authoritarian government, with anti-government demonstrations appearing across Turkey including Erdoğan’s hometown Rize.

With cries rising from the crowd of ‘shoulder to shoulder against fascism’ the riots are not as complicated as Erdoğan has suggested. In an address on 3rd June he encouraged the view that the riots have a politically subversive agenda, stating “citizens should not be part of this ‘game’”; a ‘game’ that alleges the opposition party, the People’s Republican Party, are involved in actuating the riots for their own gain.The demonstrations, however, are obviously not instigated by a few extremist “marginalized groups”  as Erdoğan has stated; it is the result of a highly pressurised problem that has finally discovered a fissure out of which to escape. A large part of the population are fearful of being forcibly dragged into a theocratic state run by a “Sunni Islamist tyrant”, as one source expressed. As proudly stated by the men on the streets as well as by Erdoğan himself, albeit with different intent; “this is no longer about trees, it is about ideology”.

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As the fourth night of the demonstrations descend on the city, Taksim Square remains occupied and the streets are a cacophony of clanging pots and pans and car horns which can be heard from the other side of the Bosphorus. Despite heavy police intervention including tear gas canisters and high pressure water jets fired directly at the crowd just a day before, people are still resisting against what is being called a Dictatorship. Although Erdoğan conceded that “there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response” he also insisted that “the police were there yesterday, they are there today, and they will be there tomorrow.”

Continue reading “Istanbul Under Siege”

Inside Bahrain; an Interview with an activist

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Mizriya Maryam Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights activist. She is the daughter of a prominent Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and the vice president for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Freedom House has awarded Maryam and her father for their determination in the pro-democratic struggle in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

 

We’ve recently passed the second anniversary of Bahrain’s Jasmine Revolution uprising, marked by yet another death of a young dissenter from wounds induced by a security force birdshot into the rioting crowd. How do you see the situation in your country right now?

 

Unfortunately the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate. Due to the reality of local and international impunity, which officials of the Bahraini regime enjoy, little progress has been made to put an end to the ongoing almost daily violations.

 

On the other hand, the protests have not stopped. On the contrary, they continue almost on a daily basis. People understand that they’re in this for the long haul, but they also firmly believe in the idea of “no government can outlast its people”.

 

The unwillingness of the government to acknowledge some opposition and, in instances, choose to repress certain voices, has seemingly pushed many, mostly poor Shiites, to extreme political convictions. Bearing in mind the current state of countries like Egypt or Tunisia, do you also now also demand a full-blown revolution, or still believe in institutional cooperation towards pro-democratic reforms?

 

The people on the streets, one of the main groups being the February 14th Coalition are demanding the stepping down of the regime, regarding the self acclaimed king of Bahrain as being directly responsible for the ongoing violations. On the other hand, the political societies, whose popularity is decreasing as more people start to support the coalition, are demanding reforms and a constitutional monarchy.

 

As human rights defenders we do not have political asks. Our demands are more directed towards accountability, justice and the protection of human rights. The demand for accountability includes the heads of the ruling family; which means putting the king, crown prince and prime minister on trial.

Continue reading “Inside Bahrain; an Interview with an activist”

Interview with an Ambassador: Iain Ferrier Lindsay

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Iain Ferrier Lindsay has been Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain since 2011. Having joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the 1980s, he has since represented the United Kingdom on diplomatic missions in Hong Kong, Japan and Bucharest, among others.

 

What is the British embassy’s stance on the political turmoil that has been troubling Bahrain since the crackdown on the Jasmine Revolution-related protests in 2011? 

Our view is that sustainable stability in Bahrain can only be achieved through continued reform.  We support the reforms, which are underway and urge the Bahraini government to show greater energy in implementing reform.  Progress has been made in some areas but there is still a lot more to be done, e.g. on implementing the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review.  But there needs to be movement on the political track as well as the reform track.  We therefore welcome the resumption of political dialogue in early February and encourage all parties to remain involved in the process.  The only way to promote peace and stability in Bahrain is through an inclusive dialogue that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis and helps to build the trust and confidence necessary for longer-term reconciliation.

 

In 2005, Tony Blair officially stated that Britain and Bahrain have a ‘strong, warm and longstanding relationship.’ Given the current times of political crisis Salman al-Khalifa’s government seems to be troubled with, as well as allegations of accounts of rights abuses, is this strong relationship still the case? 

Britain has had a long-standing and close relationship with Bahrain, going back nearly 200 years.  We are Bahrain’s oldest and most trusted partners outside the region.  Bahrain is of great strategic importance for the UK.  Therefore Bahrain’s stability is critical for our interests.  Given, as I say above, that we believe that sustainable stability can only be achieved through continued reform and given the closeness of the relationship, not just with the government but across the spectrum of Bahraini society, it is natural that the UK should want to help Bahrain to reform.  So, yes, the relationship is still close.  But, as with all good friends, we are honest when we see things which we believe are wrong.  So we are not an uncritical friend.

 

The unwillingness of the government to acknowledge some opposition and, in instances, choose to repress certain voices, has seemingly pushed many, mostly poor Shiites, to extreme political convictions. Given United Kingdom’s experience of repression in Northern Ireland, what would your advice to the authorities be, for this particular issue? 

Bahrain needs reform and political dialogue.  There are legal opposition parties in Bahrain.  They are currently taking part in the political dialogue that is underway.  While I agree that the events of the last 2 years have led to an increase in radicalised young Shia I do not believe that they are representative of the Shia population at large.  I think it is still the case that Al Wefaq, the main Shia opposition party (who are in the talks and who won nearly half the seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections) still commands the loyalty of most Shia.  But the risk must be that if there is insufficient reform and the political dialogue gets nowhere that more people, on both sides of the sectarian divide, will adopt more extreme positions.  Some observers in Bahrain say that the country resembles Northern Ireland in the late ‘60s.  What the UK’s support for reform and dialogue is intended to do is to ensure that Bahrain does not stumble into becoming like Northern Ireland of the ‘70s or ’80s.

Continue reading “Interview with an Ambassador: Iain Ferrier Lindsay”

USA Election Day

Reflecting on election time it’s evident that, unlike the reserved and polite nature of British politics, people are shamelessly bias and extreme here. The campus pavements were scrawled with chalk. No longer did I walk on grey concrete to class, but had to tip toe over the red and blue screaming declarations of pro life and Christian values. The sheer volume of testimonies and lack of rain made the streets look like a carnival. You could turn on the radio and listen to a man tell you everything that was ever wrong with having a ‘Muslim’ and ‘immigrant’ run the country and how Romney is the next best thing since sliced bread. Like the metaphor itself, there’s little evidence to prove any of this true. But in an overwhelmingly Republican state, no one asked any questions.

There’s a shocking state of passivity brought on by a system which makes their own Presidential candidates into the stars of a reality TV show. They go on to join the celebrity culture and become participants in a sort of game show where the prize is America itself, along with all the people who refused to vote because neither candidate directly appealed to them. Despite the giant crater of ideological difference between the candidates, some people here seemed to be waiting for a President who would come and knock on their door with a pen and paper and tailor make a bullet point plan of exactly how they want their country run.

The scale of this election seemed sometimes to surpass the Republican South until on Wednesday morning the quad was filled with sore faces. The quickening understanding of the impact of this choice for America’s direction had sunk in.
It’s possibly because America has the tendency to make everything into entertainment and this election appeared so tight when, in reality, the outcome was much less of a close call.

It’s this that makes some voters stay in their armchairs with a root beer, watching a Presidential debate which is televised alongside a distracting twitter feed commenting on the comic choice of the candidates ties. Despite the ‘hard talk’ and ‘swing states’, the election is as much about television and media spinners as it is about Iran and energy independence. Nevertheless, four more years have now been decided and America is on the mend.

Words: Lucy Cheseldine

Views on Scottish Independence

To those outside the UK, the Scottish independence debate can seem strange. Strange because to many outsiders our country seems at ease with its unity, and although Scottish identity is certainly distinct from that of British or English identity, the distinctions are not so marked as to leave it obvious that Scots might desire to part from the Union.

Whether this shows the essential fallacy of Scottish nationalism or a misapprehension of the Scottish people’s wishes will become clear upon the referendum in 2014. Nonetheless, the non-Scottish perspective can add context to the independence debate.

Sometimes the political culture of Scotland is seen to be out of kilter with much of the UK. While this is true, it is also true for large parts of northern England. Furthermore, the lack of Conservatives north of the border is a relatively recent development. Last century, Scots were voting for Harold Macmillan’s Tories pretty much with the grain of the rest of the country.

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International Socialist Group: Egypt, Imperialism and Austerity

Photo: RN Smith

Rena Niamh Smith

On Wednesday night, the International Socialist Group’s public meeting on the Egyptian Revolution, Imperialism and Austerity had over double the expected number turn out to see five speakers relate their experience and world view to the given topic. However, two trade unionists from Egypt due to speak at the meeting were unable to attend as the Egyptian government blocked their application for a visa. In their place, Karim Reda, an Egyptian activist, and Chris Bambury, author and activist from Scotland, spoke with vigour and passion and inspired all those who came.

GU Student Occupation

Photo: J Nicholson

On Wednesday 8th December 2010, students of Glasgow University occupied the university theatre at Gilmore in protest of the cuts to the welfare state in general and to education in particular. Speakers including student activists and trade union officials, spoke of the need to voice concern and prevent the measures that will lead to an elitist education system and greater inequality in society. Arriving at 1pm, the student were initially shut into the building before organisers secured freedom of access to the building, when it became clear to the authorities that the protest was peaceful. Reportedly, around 30 or so students stayed the night on the university premises and many today attended protests which coincided with the MPs vote on education cuts. Parliament today voted to raise the upper-limit which universities can charge for fees in England to £9,000 by a narrow 323 to 302, but protests such as our own have been happening all over the country hae largely been backed b the public and are set to continue in the figt against austerity. Jonathan Nicholson was there to capture the 21st century version of student activism, amidst all the Tweeting, Facebooking laptops, and bags of supplies from the local exhausted Tescos.

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Impromtu Demo Against the “St. Andrew’s Dinner” @ GUU

The freezing evening saw thirty or so protesters – predominantly from the Anti-Cuts Movement – gather outside the Glasgow University Union in an emergency demonstration against the annual “St.Andrews Dinner” hosted by Glasgow University Conservatives.  Guests included Roger Helmer MEP and Bill Aitken MSP. The protest was modest but clearly voiced their opinions against the hypocrisy of throwing a decadent dinner party in light of the fact that universities (and other institutions) across the UK are facing drastic cuts. Students in Glasgow have seen lecturers losing their jobs courses disappearing and facilities unable to develop due to these cuts, all the name of government “austerity” promoted by a Conservative led coalition in Westminster. The protestors wanted to know how money could be spared for events like this, but not for the preservation of education – especially on the campus of one of Glasgow’s most important education institutes.

GUM arrived to see at least three police vans (later joined by at lest three more) and a disproportionate amount of police officers for what was clearly a legal and peaceful picket line. It later transpired that Colin Woods, president of the GUU, had alerted the police – although he had apparently not warranted the size of the police presence that would arrive. Woods was quick to state that he was not against the demonstration, but felt it was an “attack” on the GUU, which does not hold political alliance with any party.The police however found it necessary to have a strong presence at the picket line, although protestors stated that they were mostly not a threatening or obtrusive force – only asking that the protestors refrained from swearing  in their chants, because children may be present.

 However, police conflict did occur when a member of the Glasgow University Conservatives found it hard to get past the protesters, and in the subsequent struggle, three protestors were deemed to have acted aggressively and were arrested. Later they were released with ASBOs. It was at this point that the tension rose, as police refused to answer exactly why they had been arrested at a legal protest – and a rumour swiftly swept round that it was under the “terrorist act.”  Questions were also raised concerning the provocative actions of some G.U Conservative members towards the protestors – but the police did not comment. The protest continued peacefully, with the protestors leaving in unison.

Caught in a Bad Bromance

Politics. What do you think when you hear that word? Boring, right? Well you’d be wrong. Recently, there has been so much drama in the world of British politics that even Jeremy Kyle would be proud!

 

It all began with the expenses scandal when the public discovered they were paying for everything from duck ponds to dirty movies. Following this Labour were booted out of government only to be replaced by Tweedledee and Tweedledum aka David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Quite frankly we still can’t establish who wears the trousers in that relationship! Then William Hague’s ‘special’ advisor resigned following some disturbing rumours about his relationship with oor Willie. To top it all of we have the ongoing contest for the Labour leadership which is about as interesting as watching paint dry considering the only candidate with any balls is a woman who is, if we are being totally honest a bit of a nut job.  Even Ed Balls doesn’t have any! So, all in all, it’s no surprise there is only a barely functioning relationship between politicians and the British public. Bad romance indeed.

Continue reading “Caught in a Bad Bromance”

Document 8 Film Festival @ CCA

GUM’s attempts to drag peers to a “human rights film festival” were met by many excuses. Even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, do not dismiss this fantastic and unique event hosted in Glasgow every year. Spaced over six days, featuring films, music, talks, art and lectures from over 35 different countries – Document 8 serves as an insight into human rights issues across the globe. From feminism to local industrial issues, from Palestine to Paisley, Document 8 serves to educate even those who thought they knew the facts.  The works presented are beautiful and professional (despite many being completed on a limited budget), and the opportunity to question those who created them is often available – especially after the films. With tickets such £2 per event, we’ll see you next year then? Go on…challenge yourself!

Preview: Document 8 Film Festival @ CCA

From the 26th-31st of October at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Document 8 will be holding a huge event of documentary screenings, talks, exhibitions, presentations and music to inform and raise awareness about human rights around the globe. The works will be coming from over 30 countries – including Scotland – touching on issues both unique and broad to the origin of the films. The festival is the only one of its kind in Scotland and is held annually, although Document 8 participate and are the initiative behind several outreach programmes throughout the rest of the year. For perspectives and insight into issue that mainstream media fails to really grasp, the festival is a necessity and not to be missed. From Northern Ireland to Gaza, Document 8 provides a valuable source and platform for human rights movements.

For more information and tickets: http://documentfilmfestival.org/

MAKE MINE A SKINNY WITH SUGAR ON TOP

There are very few women who have never thought of dieting or actually gone through with it. That’s because our rolemodels, the girls in beauty magazines and those posing with the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage don’t seem to have a problem fitting into size zero jeans or top.  

But are the times a-changin’ ? STORY BY RENA SMITH

Mark Fast’s decision to use 3 ‘plus size’ models in his show of 20 this season was unprecedented. Not only because it showed that curvy girls can do fashion and body on at that. More, because never before had a designer so openly and constructively challenged the currently upheld fashion statute stating size zero equals size beautiful. And he didn’t even have them wear bras. The sight of size 12 model Hayley Morley striding down the catwalk was both a breath of fresh air and a slap in the face for editors, stylists and the like, who have long been ignoring the smell of vomit wafting from gaunt girls in studios and backstage dressing rooms.

Fashion “is about illusions and dreams”. So spoke Karl Lagerfeld, arguing perhaps that as fashion is an art like any other, we need to think of a model’s body as a canvas to materialise the workings of a creative mind. But does fashion really exist in such a vacuum? Top models are literally shrinking before our eyes as beauty is pushed to ludicrous extremes we not only accept as normal, but often strive to defend. 

Against a backdrop of Third World famine, cases like that of Ana Carolina Reston in 2006, of international supermodels starving themselves to death, are both shocking and surreal. In two new Ralph Lauren adverts, models were airbrushed so much that their pelvises appeared smaller than their heads. Perhaps illusion and fantasy work when designers pen cartoons on the drawing board, but the models who are asked to embody that are real people. The girl in the advert may be a fantasy for some, but she she should not represent what is healthy or attractive. Disordered eating has become the norm for almost all young women, constantly counting calories and following diet after diet. Further down the line, the number of patients suffering from anorexia admitted to NHS hospitals has risen by a startling 80% in the past decade, with most being only 15 years of age. 

It is widely accepted that it is easier for fashion designers to design for thinner bodies, because whatever exposes flesh is more difficult to pull off for bigger girls. To thwart this would hinder the creative process, but curves also possess design potential according to Fast; “the way I work is organic and on the body. With the curvier girls, I was able to make clothes specifically for them.” Fast also worked on the LFW exhibition All Walks Beyond The Catwalk. Rather than working in abstract from drawing boards, designers created pieces for designated models of sizes 8 – 18. The results were no less imaginative than a size zero show; in standardizing tiny frames, designers are just as hindered as if they were limited to size 12, suggesting industry change could be positive and lasting.

Mark Fast may have done something unprecedented, but he is certainly not alone; in June, British Vogue Editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman called for an end to “miniscule” sample sizes being sent by designers for photo-shoots. It highlights how deeply set the problem is; Shulman said that we are now at a point where many of the 

sample sizes don’t comfortably fit even the established star models. American Elle and German Brigitte are both making concrete moves to show more representative models in their publications too.

The answer may not be simply to throw bigger girls into the limelight; the University of Chicago’s Journal of Consumer Research  produced an interesting study that showed that the majority of women respond more positively to seeing thinner models than heavier ones, either because they do not see themselves as similar to bigger girls or, when overweight themselves, they feel much too similar. As the campaign for normality on the catwalk kicks off, the body fascism of the past decades has evidently had a real impact; we are simply turned off by the kinds of figures we ourselves probably have, as too do our friends, colleagues, sisters and mothers, wanting instead to escape in fantasy and illusion. 

The tiny frame of the top model has achieved almost a mythical status; Finnish top model and Glasgow University student Charlotta Poppius argues anorexic models are really only a minority; “in my experience most models are just naturally thin… People have different genes and different body types and accept yourself as you are naturally, whether that is curvy, chunky or thin.” While the sentiment is undoubtedly gallant, the curvy and the chunky are obviously far less visible on catwalks and billboards than the thin. And it seems an standardised image of the modelling industry that success means some degree of starvation; perhaps, if what Charlotta says is true, a democratization of the industry needs as much emphasis on just how natural being thin is as it does on how beautiful it is to be “chunky”.

In a highly traditional and elitist industry, size zero is also a question of status; Karl Lagerfeld sparked outrage and delight alike when he declared, “these are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly.” A size zero frame represents membership to a tiny class of people who have won the genetic lottery ticket in life, while Victoria Beckham has famously gotten thinner as she has gotten richer. Charlotta Poppius sums it up, “the definition of high fashion is that is exclusive, rare and desirable. And there is nothing wrong with that. Let high fashion be high fashion.” It would seem the idea of fashion opening its doors to bigger body types is a problem, not with bigger bodies, but with the doors opening at all.

Where do the illusions stop and delusions start? Fashion has oft revelled in the shock factor and pushing things to the extreme; the girls in Vogue and the like are almost sculptural in their honed, toned beauty. It is escapism from the reality of nationwide obesity if ever there was one, but we are bordering dangerously on a Jekyll and Hyde mentality. Anorexia should never be reduced to a problem of simple vanity; it is a complex mental disorder compounding issues such as a need for control and the desire to feel better than the rest. When Kate Moss tells us that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, though, the lines begin to blur between beauty and starvation. The fashion industry may be in the firing line but it is really the tip of the iceberg, with society at large having a lot to answer for too in what our notions of beauty really are and the way it affects how see ourselves and each other. 

SWINE FLU – A REAL PANDEMIC OR A LOAD OF PORK PIES?

Anne Marie Reid discusses the aches, pains, sniffles, fevers, coughs and the unnatural cravings for chicken soup!

Every day the news is filled with yet more cases, more panic, more geeks in lab coats talking about fancy drugs and vaccines. Many of us are confused and perplexed; and even if we are displaying flu-like symptoms, we are unsure whether to phone up NHS 24 and potentially ‘cause hassle’ (as we are often inclined to think)!

UNDERSTANDING H1N1

Swine flu is an influenza virus normally specific to pigs, however in very rare cases some viruses can infect other species, and that includes us humans. Indeed, this particular strain of influenza A virus, subtyped H1N1, based on two distinct proteins present on the virus – haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA)- contains sequences from human and bird as well as the original pig segments; allowing the species jump. The recent bird flu outbreak (avian influenza virus H5N1) did not cause as much panic due to the transmission from bird to human being very difficult, even though it has a much higher death rate. Swine flu, on the other hand, has evolved in such a way that it can be passed from human to human making it highly infectious. This is primarily why there are many concerns surrounding this outbreak. Due to it being able to transmit readily between humans there is worry that this could allow the virus to evolve into a more lethal form and be better adapted to exploit humans, though there have been no documented cases of this occurring. Further, even in a more benign state; this is a completely novel strain of virus thus there is no telling how it will affect humans. Seasonal influenza mainly affects the very young and the very old; in contrast, swine flu has affected people of all ages and some swine flu victims have also deteriorated into pneumonia.

PLAN OF ACTION

Okay, so what can we do if infected or to prevent infection? Well first things first, please take off that face mask you are wearing! Honestly, it will not protect you from infection, what will help is people adhering to basic hygiene and cleanliness. If you are going to sneeze or cough; remember the phrase from NHS 24. ‘Catch it, Bin it and Kill it’ and then wash your hands. Also, as in the case of seasonal influenza, simply shut the door on the rest of the world – you are not well and nobody wants your germs. The best thing that you can do is rest, relax, take some painkillers and maintain your fluids.

HELP IN A PILL BOX

What of these fancy anti-viral medications? Tamiflu (“oseltamivir” as it’s chemically known) is a highly effective inhibitor of the neuraminidase protein mentioned earlier; this prevents the release of new viral particles from hijacked cells within our body. In short, Tamiflu will alleviate symptoms associated with infection and hopefully prevent further spread and deterioration, but it will not however stop you from becoming infected. As for vaccines, influenza vaccines can be successful but still very much in the early days. They require chicken eggs and if a pandemic occurs, supply will not meet demand.

Swine flu is something that we should be aware of and not underestimate. However, we humans are hardy creatures and have survived a number of attacks and pandemics over the course of our time here on Earth so it’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last. The best thing we can do is keep a cool head, lie low if we start to develop symptoms and call for extra help when required. And don’t give up the pork chops and bacon butties!

FOR YOUR INFOMATION

  • An estimated 250,000 people died from Spanish influenza in 1918-19 in the UK.
  • An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 die from seasonal flu globally every year.
  • Less than a hundered people in the UK have lost their life to swine flu.

The Face of Student Politics

As a Glasgow University student, you are spoilt for choice if you want a bit of political activism. With a student body of over 19,000 people, does it still seem to you that political endeavours are a past-time for a selected few enthusiasts? James Harrison writes about the local face of young political activism and why you should vote in the 2010 general elections.

It’s hard to talk about politics without politicians. The university has a long history of famous political alumni from all the different main political parties. Labour’s Donald Dewar, who was Scotland’s first-ever First Minister, started his career being a President of the GUU. There’s also Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy, both also former GUU Presidents and both leaders of the Liberal Democrats Party (the latter subsequently becoming elected as our University rector). The SNP too have their deputy leader and current Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holding claim to a Glasgow degree, and Conservatives Liam Fox MP and John Lamont MSP are former Glasgow students.

Yet student politics isn’t nor shouldn’t be about going on to get a title in the parliament or government. What has perhaps ruined politics in general these days is the emergence of the career politician, with a student working up the ranks, then going on to work as an assistant to a politician, then becoming a candidate, becoming an MP and so on. What is crucial for university societies not just in Glasgow but across the country, is that they show that student politics shouldn’t just be left to the soon-be politicians. Societies offer the chance to discuss, debate, and campaign on student, national and international issues. Not to mention the many social events which are on offer throughout the year (occasionally enhanced by the alcoholic beverages that seem to be inseparable from student life).

In recent years, students have shown a genuine willingness and want to express their beliefs on both students specific and international issues. Many will remember the recent controversy on campus over the GU Stop the War society occupying the computer science building for a week (!) in the aftermath of the Israeli crackdown in Gaza. And in 2006 the SRC organised a highly attended demonstration on campus (with some students blocking the gates to the main building) calling for the university lecturers’ strike to end. Political activism has become more popular in recent years, so to speak. Despite these often loud types of political activism that have recently taken place in Glasgow, perhaps it’s still just a vocal minority making their voice heard as the majority of students stay out of politics?

Most students won’t care about a pothole in a road, or a certain building being redeveloped (unlike many local councillors who focus on them a lot), but when it comes to the big issues such as the environment, the War in Iraq or student financing, you’ll find that most students will indeed have an opinion on it. The wide variety of choice is probably why student politics remains to be attractive nowadays. It’s not just the usual Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour or Nationalist societies, but there’s also other societies such as Amnesty and OneVoice which lobby on certain issues and keep out of the general ‘thin vs thick state’ arguments that can put off a lot of us.

The SRC’s (Students’ Representative Council) impact reaches even further than just the GU campus border. It has taken part in protests with other student bodies across Scotland outside of the Scottish Parliament on the issue of student debt. The SRC is there to represent the students both inside the university, through its internal committees, and outside to the country and the wider world. While the SRC does of course attract candidates who stand from many different political backgrounds and opinions, the SRC itself is today a politically neutral organisation and will remain so for obvious reasons.

While student activism remains strong, in terms of voter apathy, (students and young people in general) are the worst offenders. If we don’t want to have the new generation of politics in the hands of just another bunch of people who worked their way up the ladder, then it’s crucial for students to get involved in democratic processes early on. So if you didn’t take a look at the Fresher’s fair this year, then you can find the list of all affiliated clubs and societies on the SRC website or find many of them on Facebook. If you don’t bother at all, someone activist will hand you a flyer over the course of the year. Surprise yourself and read what’s written on it. It might be exactly something that you believe in.

By June 2010 the UK will have to have had a general election. Don’t let it pass you by without you making your voice heard even if you choose not to rally for a better future on campus. Make sure to register to vote!

INGLORIOUSLY EXPLOITATIVE?

Do film directors and writers have an obligation to stay true to history when depicting the events of World War II? IAIN MITCHELL tries to find an answer

Do film directors and writers have an obligation to stay true to history when depicting the events of World War II? IAIN MITCHELL tries to find an answer

Marked with the trademark stylish cinematography, gratuitous violence and self-indulgent dialogue and pop culture references you’d expect, Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s eagerly awaited sixth film as writer and director, was generally well received by critics as a stalwart entry into the Tarantino catalogue.

However, not everyone was impressed. Tarantino has never been a stranger to controversy, with his arguably gratuitous, even gleeful portrayals of violence for comic effect, but ‘Basterds’ has one marked distinction from his previous films – its historical context. Set in the German-occupied France of 1941, its heroes are a French-Jewish girl seeking retribution for the slaughter of her parents by the SS, and a band of vigilante American soldiers committing themselves (with large knives) to torturing and killing every Nazi they come across.

By modern standards this might seem generally innocuous (last month I went to see Saw VI – it made Tarantino’s films seem about as brutal as an episode of ‘Murder She Wrote’), but should it be? After all, combine the subject matter with what we now take to be typical Tarantino fare and you have what the man himself describes as a “spaghetti western but with World War II iconography”. It’s not difficult to see how Tarantino could be accused of trivialising the devastation of the Second World War in his efforts to produce a cowboy movie.

Granted, anyone who has seen the film is under no illusions that Tarantino is presenting a depiction of history akin to that found in text books. But there’s no denying that a historical slant on a movie, for whatever purpose, alters its fabric. People watch Kill Bill and wince at Uma Thurman’s Bride character as she mercilessly ploughs through dozens of henchmen with a samurai sword, or in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. White mutilates an innocent police officer, but in these cases the root of this violence solely lies intrinsically within the plot, and thereby in the mind of the director. In other words, it is entirely fictitious, and we can leave the cinema comforted by that knowledge. However, when the opening scene hinges on the slaughter of a family of hiding Jews, or when we view the ‘Basterds’ butcher and mutilate German soldiers, the feeling is very different. These gruesome ideas aren’t the brainchildren of our friend Quentin, but rest on the crux of dreadful and real history.

Especially in Germany where attitudes towards World War Two media are still extremely sensitive (Before Downfall in 2005, the role of Adolf Hitler had never been dramatised by a German actor) the film was met with some concern. Tobias Kniebe, film critic for Süddeutsche Zeitung, attested “This is pop culture encountering Nazi Germany and the Holocaust with unprecedented force. The effects of this collision are utterly unpredictable.”

It seems to be a debate on the line of the director’s artistic freedom versus responsibility towards history. But surely if such critics are going to criticise Tarantino for colliding pop culture with history, he can’t be judged alone.

At the risk of sounding horrendously cynical, a high-budgeted, well produced and acted film based on the events of the Second World War, and especially the Holocaust (think Sophie’s Choice) seems to be guaranteed a perfect enclave in the Hollywood canon; an emotive piece that appeals to the Oscars, simultaneously a touching tribute to those whose lives were lost, but at the same time somewhat shielded from being scrutinised due to its hugely moving subject matter. This is something picked up on in an episode of Ricky Gervais’s Extras where Kate Winslet (playing a tongue-in-cheek spoof version of herself) insists “if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar!” Ironically, last year Winslet went on to win an Oscar for The Reader, a film dealing with the effect of the Holocaust upon the next generation of Germans.

Of course I am in no way implying the only reason directors of Holocaust movies make them is because they know the topic will bring in big bucks and scoop awards, but what if these hugely successful films aren’t entirely true to the events.

Last year’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a good example. The basic premise of the film, that two boys, one German and one Jewish, become friends through the fence of a concentration camp, entirely contradicts the facts of what Holocaust survivors have testified to be the reality. I don’t deny that the film (and the book on which was based) had good intentions, but there can be no getting past the fact that it is sentimental nonsense.

Such a view was exemplified by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who wrote in response to The Reader, “You have to wonder who, exactly, wants or perhaps needs to see another movie about the Holocaust that embalms its horrors with artfully spilled tears”.

Even the tour-de-force of Holocaust movies – Schindler’s List, sees its titular character augmented and distorted to almost mythical proportions in order to tie in with this sentimental myth. Again, it’s easy to dismiss such cynicism as missing the point of these films. They are not meant to be entirely accurate, and indeed it is necessary for some details to be embellished, otherwise the filmmaker couldn’t condense it into the scope of their vision. If we accept this outlook, I fail to see how Tarantino is any more reprehensible than any other film-maker who has dared to touch the Holocaust with a ten-foot bargepole.

But in my mind, this is where the distinction lies, and why Tarantino is in fact less reprehensible than most. Some viewers will be disturbed by Tarantino’s unique spin on the Holocaust of course, but the viewer is at no risk of thinking that what transpires on screen ever transpired in reality. This is not the case for a myriad of Holocaust films, many which greet the viewer with those powerful, yet misleading words ‘a true story’, before going on to deviate from fact extensively.  

As soon as a director tells the story through a camera it has been altered in some way, and therefore history as a necessity must be diluted in order to serve the purposes of cinema. But if history is diluted, then we are at risk of confusing it with myth. And that, in my view, would be the real crime.

However, if historical complacency arises, it is the fault of the viewer, not the filmmaker. While the memory of the Holocaust must be preserved, this shouldn’t be done through films. If we allow ourselves to believe that the view of the Holocaust we are viewing on the cinema screen is real history, we only have ourselves to blame for blinding following what’s served to us. In the words of Manohla Dargis, such films are not concerned with informing us of the truth, but “about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation”.

In a present day where it seems that only five years are required before the first“tasteful interpolation” of September 11th hits our screens, I don’t think these words could be more relevant, or foreboding. 

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Some time ago, in a place I can’t say, two policemen spotted a car with an expired tax disc, across a dark and wide street. They walked over and noticed the trigger of a sawn-off shotgun ‘sticking’ out of a bag in the back seat. The man in the car blamed it on his mate, saying the bag holding the gun must have been slung in the back without his knowing. His mate was in the nearby chippy at the time, and legged it when the coppers appeared. The coppers didn’t spot him running.

I was on the jury. We were asked to decide whether the man in the car was guilty of knowing that the bag containing the gun – not the gun itself – was in the back of his car. After being presented with evidence from both sides for two days, we were asked to adjourn and, without speculation, deliberate a verdict.

What they asked of us was impossible: to remove any thoughts we may have had on the case – which come naturally given the 2 days of chat about the bigger picture – and decide if the accused is telling the truth about one detail of a story swamped in lies.

I voted not guilty. I was half-lying when I did. The chances are he saw the bag in the back seat.

It doesn’t matter whether the gun was sticking out the bag or not; to be guilty he had to have knowledge of the bag in his car – even if it belonged to the absconded friend. One thing the jury did agree on was the mate being ‘more guilty’ than the accused himself.

A majority verdict found the accused guilty. I see the convicted man as a scapegoat, taking the blame to satisfy records. With rates of gun crime in urban England worrying the public (we may have seen figures decrease for the first time in 7 years, but news coverage remains constant with recent youth killings), one strategy of the home office has been to ‘strengthen the law’.

The law is so strong that a man has gone to jail because the jury I was on decided he knew there was a bag in the back of his car. It’s a shame the figures for convictions on gun related crimes are, in this case at least, skewed because justice got twisted up with politics.