Featured

2020 Indian General Strike

The biggest protest in Human history is currently happening in India, and when I say biggest I mean that this strike makes up one in thirty of the entire world population. 

So big. 

Very big. 

That’s 250 Million people on strike, to put that in perspective that’s as if every single person in the USA were on strike or even more clear, nearly four times as many people as live in the entire UK are currently on strike in India. 

Strikes have become ever more common in India in recent years with Modi’s far right government putting in place ever harsher restrictions on workers right, indeed the only major unions not to have gone on strike in India are those aligned with the ruling BJP. Modi has never been particularly popular with workers across India, and with the Government taking advantage of the Covid Crisis to push even more anti worker legislation into place a confrontation was inevitable. 

What has made these protests in particular grow in size has been the large contingent of farmers unions that have also used the same day to March on the Indian capital city of Delhi to protest the government’s policies that threaten to bring Neoliberalism out from the cities and into into the farming communities that still form a major part of the Indian economy. 

Unlike the worker’s from the city, which predominantly are from the poorer working class the farmers union protests appear to have drawn in agricultural workers from all stratas, and the protesters seem prepared to push for their demands with tenacity, with some farmers union representatives saying the group surrounding Delhi have come with months of food to wait out the government. 

This cross class movement isn’t the only united front forming in India with the myriad of communist parties of the region forming anti BJP coalitions, including the CPM and CPI, and even the Naxalite linked CPI(ML) Liberation. To those not familiar with Indian Leftist politics (we won’t shame you here but you should feel ashamed all the same) this might be confusing and just appear to be a stream of letters I threw at you but this is a bigger deal than you might first think.

India, despite being a region forced to through the horrors of imperialism and now the gruelling gears of global capitalism (or perhaps because of this) is a place where not only are communists more popular than in the west, they’ve also shown themselves as to be able to govern. Kerala, one of the richest states in India has largely been run by a moderate communist party and ran well. A reputation communist don’t enjoy in most of Europe, except perhaps in local elections in France. 

What does this mean in the context of the current strike action? Perhaps not much but the communists parties new found warmth to anti BJP coalitions, the worker’s unions ability to organize and agitate and now with new found support from both rural poor, and even rural landowners (groups typically not found in unity with Marxists) it is possible this movement could form into something that can effectively oppose the ruling far right Indian Government. 

There are hurdles in place and a difficult road in front of the nascent movement and the battle is not even won yet, to speak nothing of the class war but I for one am optimistic. To end our article we would like to leave you with words of Actor Deep Sindu, who has come out in support of this recent wave of protests and industrial action. 

“This is a revolution, sir”

Featured

International Day of Solidarity With the People of Palestine

Today marks the globally recognised day of solidarity with the people of Palestine. This is a UN organised observance that was officially established in 1977 to start in 1978. The following year they requested the issue of commemorative postage stamps. Outside of the performative gestures of solidarity there are a number of grassroots organisations that use the day to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and the Trade Union Council here in the UK is an outspoken supporter of the people of Palestine. Instead of a lengthy article detailing the long and harrowing history of the ongoing apartheid we would instead like to show appreciation for the organisations that have been tirelessly advocating for the people of Palestine and hopefully to point you, dear reader, to a place that you might think you could get involved in to make a difference.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is currently the biggest organisation in the UK dedicated to advocating for the human rights of the Palestinian people. Their goals are stated on their website as follows –

  • In support of the rights of the Palestinian people and their struggle to achieve these rights.
  • Against the oppression and dispossession suffered by the Palestinian people.
  • To promote Palestinian civil society in the interests of democratic rights and social justice.
  • To oppose Israel’s occupation and its aggression against neighbouring states.
  • For the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people.
  • For the right of return of the Palestinian people for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • In opposition to racism, including anti-Jewish prejudice and Islamophobia, and the apartheid and Zionist nature of the Israeli state.

Today they held an online Rally jointly with Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS National Committee.

You can become a member of PSC and get more involved in their campaigns. They also rely heavily on donations as they don’t accept money from governments, political parties or big businesses. If you’re interested in getting involved in some capacity check them out here.

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The Scottish political campaign for solidarity was established in September of 2000 in response to the second Palestinian uprising (intifada) against Israeli settler colonialism. They do similar campaigning and have been continually active in opposing the sale of Israeli goods in Scotland. To get more involved with this group check them out here.

Jewish Voices for Peace

Something that can quite easily be overlooked in the discussions about Palestine are the many Jewish voices that speak out in support of their right to self-determination and against Zionism. The US based Jewish Voices for Peace is one of the biggest organisational homes for Jewish activists. Starting in the mid 90’s they are ‘inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine.’ Check them out here.

Celtic Supporters

Although never far from controversy, the ‘Green Brigade’ ultras group of supporters of Celtic FC have consistently protested in support of the people of Palestine and against the rise of Fascism. Despite warning from Police Scotland that there would be consequences, supporters of the club arranged for hundreds of Palestinian flags to be flown during a game against the Israeli team, Hapoel Be-er Sheva in 2016. When interviewed about the protest one of the supporters involved is quoted as saying –

‘We took a stand last night because we had to. This was an Israeli team, one whose town is built on occupied Palestinian land.

They were allowed to travel here freely for the game. Israeli football clubs can go anywhere they want, from Israel to any country in the world. That freedom of movement is not shared with Palestinian teams and players, who have restrictions imposed on them.’

With Israel’s continued efforts to undermine international law and encroach further on the lives of the Palestinian people it has never been more important to show real solidarity and try and affect change. If you can spare the time and/ or money, please do so. The word ‘solidarity’ is at risk of becoming the left-wing version of ‘thoughts and prayers’. It should be a call to action; a statement of intent.

Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

Featured

Who was Joe Hill

If you’re a member of the IWW you no doubt already know of Joe Hill thanks to his contributions to the Little Red Song Book (and if you’re not, we would encourage you to join). Most famous for his song “The Preacher and the Slave” Joe was a travelling musician that became a folk hero for the radical work he carried out in the trade union movement; for his beautiful songs that cut right to the heart of the pains of being a worker in early twentieth century America and for his tragic death at the hands of the American state. As it is the hundred and fifth anniversary of his untimely death we at the ACU thought we would explore a little about the man’s life and work, and remember this martyr for the trade union movement. 

Joe Hill, originally named Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, was born on October 7th 1879 in Gävle, Sweden to a conservative Protestant Family. Despite his family being from a more traditionalist worldview, Joe’s early life was one filled with song. Both of his parents were musicians and while a young man Hill wrote songs about his family, and even went to concerts at the workers’ association hall in his hometown. Tragedy struck the happy family in 1887 when Hill’s father died from an injury at his job as a train conductor, and soon Joe and his 5 other siblings were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill found himself working in a rope factory rather than attending school but this too wasn’t to last. In 1900 Joe caught TB and at the age of 21 moved to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm both for work and to get treatment for his condition. It was during this treatment that the radiation therapy would leave the young joe with facial disfigurements. Two years after these treatments Joe’s mother would pass away, while herself under medical treatment. With this final tragedy the family sold their home and each went their separate ways; four of Joe’s siblings settled in different parts of Sweden but Joe and his younger brother Paul instead set off for America.

For the next 12 years Joe travelled America, working odd jobs, living in tent cities and writing songs about his experiences. In 1910 he joined the IWW and served as the secretary for the San Pedro local branch. During his time here he wrote many of his most famous songs, including “Pie in The Sky” and the famous “The Preacher and the Slave” that would make its way into the IWW songbook. When legendary folk singer Utah Philips performed Joe Hills songs in concert he would explain why so many were written to the tune of the hymn songs that the salvation army would sing – “Joe liked to steal, the Wobblies generally liked to steal the hymn tunes because they were pretty and everybody knew them and then changed the words so they made more sense”. 

In 1911 he put his revolutionary words into action and, along with an army of homeless radicals, joined up as part of a socialist army that invaded Mexico in hopes of over throwing the dictator of Mexico at the time, Porfirio Diaz, as well as hoping to take over Baja California and turn it into a worker’s free state. The invasion was a disaster and soon the better trained and equipped Mexican Army, still at that time loyal to Diaz, routed the revolutionary army six months after it had crossed the border. In 1912, Hill was apparently active in a Free Speech coalition of Wobblies, back when being pro free speech actually meant standing up to authority, and protested a San Diego police decision to put a stop to street meetings. During this time he was also spotted at sites of industrial action, offering kind words and zealous songs to lift the spirits of workers across America. 

It was in 1913 that Joe’s work supporting strikers would first bring him into conflict with the police. He was arrested for the first time and held for thirty days, charged for what he says in his own words as being “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg”. 

After this Joe was on the police’s watch list and in 1914 when a grocer and his son turned up dead after a botched robbery and Joe turned up the same day at a hospital with gunshot wounds the police pinned the murders on Joe. This was held up on shaky ground, with the only evidence being circumstantial eye witness accounts that did not identify Joe, only a young assailant that escaped with gunshot wounds. Joe, for his part, said he got his gunshot wounds in a feud over the love of a young woman, but refused to give up the name of the young woman or rival on worries that he would only incriminate them. 

The identity of the woman and the rival that caused Hill’s injury was a well kept secret, one that Joe thought he took to the grave with him, though a 2011 biography of Hill presents information about a possible alibi which was never introduced at the trial. Hill and his friend Otto Appelquist were rivals for the attention of 20-year-old Hilda Erickson, a member of the family with whom the two men were lodging. In a recently discovered letter, Erickson confirmed her relationship with the two men and the rivalry between them. The letter indicates that when she first discovered Hill was injured, he explained to her that Appelquist had shot him out of jealousy over their shared love for Hilda. 

During the trail and on the lead up to his execution Joe managed to draw in support from all across America. His supporters included a daughter of a former Mormon church president, radicals that he had worked with during his striking days, and even senior politicians like the Swedish minister to the United States and President Woodrow Wilson. Despite all of these appeals to justice on November 19th 1915 Joe was brutally and unjustly executed by firing squad. His last recorded words were to Bill Haywood, a well known and loved leader of the IWW, and it’s with those words we will leave you now.

“I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize!”

Featured

Scotland Qualify for Euro 2020

I’m not going to lie, 2020 has been a shite year. I’m not sure anyone would argue against that in good faith but there has been one bright light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel, and it has lit up my year. After 22 years Scotland has qualified for its first major competition since 1998, where we qualified for the world cup, only to be put out by Morocco in a brutal game that left us with a score of 0-3, and left Scotland’s dreams in tatters. 

To put that in perspective, the last time the Scotland squad qualified for something I had just started primary one and hadn’t yet been aged by the emotional toll of supporting the national team. 

The Euro qualifying game itself was a nail biter, as you would only expect from a Scotland game. Scotland put in a good show for themselves in the first half, even if there was a scare from Serbia, and Scotland managed to end the first half looking like the dominant team. The second half started even better with Ryan Christie scoring a goal in the 52nd minute. Now, as the clock got closer and closer to the 90th minute I was more certain we were through only for Serbia’s Luka Jović to equalise in the 90th minute. I had already turned away, telling my housemate how this was overturning years of agony, the biggest achievement in our adult lives from the national team when Serbia scored. I’m not going to lie, there was a pit in my stomach when Serbia scored in the middle of my victory speech where I thought “oh god, I jinxed it”. 

Watching the extra time with my head in my hands I thought, this is down to me, I should have kept my mouth shut. Lucky for my guilty conscience Serbia didn’t score in the extra time, unfortunately neither did Scotland. This meant a penalty shoot out and this is the point where I had completely lost hope, I thought to myself “typical, Scotland’s gonna lose on penalties and it’s gonna be another 22 years before we have another shot at something like this”. I was, however, proven wrong when David Marshall saved the final Serbian shot, leaving Scotland ahead on penalties at 5-4, winning us the game. Now David Marshall showed far more sense than me and even after he had saved the final penalty shot he waited until the refs had called the game before celebrating. An important rule of Scottish football I had forgotten is never celebrate until there is literally nothing that can come up. 

Now, not to show my bias or anything, but I can’t help but feel that the Scotland team’s recent success has been down to a good manager, Steve Clarke. The man was just fresh from turning Kilmarnock FC into a competitive force, and even briefly putting them at top of the league. Steve Clarke set to his next task, putting the national team in order. I remember being in Turkey when Scotland played Cyprus, and only being able to convince a café owner to put the game on on the promise that he’d get to watch Cyprus lose. I was fairly sure of this, both from my faith in Clarke, and because I knew Scotland had literally never lost to Cyprus. It was still amazing getting to see Clarke win his first game as manager. The next few games weren’t as great a success, with Scotland losing to teams like Belgium, far above their weight class, but with Clarke in charge Scottish football finally has a 9 in a row I can celebrate, having won the last 9 national games. 

I’m not going to lie, now that we’ve qualified this doesn’t mean we have easy days ahead; the group we’re in is very rough. We’ll be playing the Czech Republic, England and finishing with world cup runners up Croatia. To add insult to injury if lockdown isn’t lifted before June 2021 we might not even get the chance to completely ruin Wembley after our match with England, but in the meantime, I’m over the moon. We’re in the Euros and I don’t have to worry about jinxing a match again until at least June. 

As a final aside, and before any of our English readers get annoyed at Scotland over celebrating qualifying, just remember you gave your manager a knighthood for finishing fourth. 

Featured

What Does The Poppy Represent?

Today is Remembrance Sunday and you know what that means, you had better be wearing a British Legion red poppy or you’re a loony lefty traitor worse than Jeremy Corbyn meeting with the IRA and Hezbollah. The poppy has become so ingrained in the culture in the UK that it makes the news if anyone in the public eye, especially politicians, are seen in public without one on the run up to Remembrance Day and opens them to criticisms of hating either the UK or the soldiers that died in muddy fields to defend the country. Historically the poppy was a symbol of remembrance for the soldiers that died in the First World War and was quickly adopted by the Royal British Legion in 1921 but what this symbol represents has skewed slightly in the years since then, and now that this meaning has been overtaken this has influenced a desire to show respect and remembrance in other ways.

The inspiration for using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance can be traced back to the poem “In Flanders Fields”  that was written by Canadian physician John McCrae on the 3rd of May 1915, the day after he witnessed the death of his friend. The poem refers to the poppy’s growing amongst the graves of war victims in Belgium and is from the point of view of the fallen soldiers. Moina Michael, a volunteer working with the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries Organization, was so inspired by the poem that she published her own entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith” in 1918. Afterwards she vowed to always wear a poppy in respect of those that fought in and assisted with the war effort and she would go on to campaign to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol in America, this was successful and by 1920 the National American Legion adopted the flower as their official symbol of remembrance. 

A key figure in bringing the poppy to the other allied nations was Madame Guerin. Noted at the time as one of the greatest of all war speakers she would raise funds for the ‘Food for France’ organisation as well as separately for French widows and orphans, veterans and the American Red Cross. The poppy was first linked to her when she was tasked by the French government with travelling to the US to found the American branch of the ‘American-Franco Children’s League’  in an effort to raise funds to help orphans in the war torn regions of France. This organisation used the poppy as its emblem, and she would start holding poppy days in which she would distribute paper poppies in exchange for donations. Her work would take her to Canada, Newfoundland and eventually to the UK in 1921. Here she approached the British Legion and explained her plans to have an ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’. They were sceptical at first but came around to the idea after Madame Guerin paid for the British Legions poppies herself, vastly helping the extremely poor organisation at the time. The rest is history, the poppies were incredibly popular in 1921 and so from 1922 onwards British veterans made Remembrance Poppies at The Poppy Factory to be sold every year to fund the British Legion. Madame Guerin was very rarely mentioned in the British press and when they did nod to the original makers of the poppy, they usually referred to them as French “peasants”, further obscuring her incredibly important contributions to the poppy movement.

As well as for remembrance of military personnel, the yearly poppy appeal is to raise funds for charity that supports both previous and current personnel of the armed forces. As stated on the British Legion website – 

‘We are the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, with 235,000 members, 110,000 volunteers and a network of partners and charities; helping us give support wherever and whenever it’s needed.’

This has caused some to feel uncomfortable with what the poppy has come to represent. The poppy appeal is directly sponsored by companies that profit from war such as BAE Systems and it has built a highly charged nationalist aura around the wearing of the poppy. It’s not only for remembrance of those lost due to wars it is to show how much you support the troops. An appeal to protect those who were victims of their own state’s militarism into a jingoist competition to show who loves their country most. For those critical of the way the army has been deployed over the last few decades this can make the symbol of the poppy a bit of a mixed legacy, and difficult to weld with your own political views. . 

In 2010 a group of Army Veterans sent an open letter in which they complained that the Poppy Appeal had become ‘excessive’ and ‘garish’. They said it was being used to gather support for military campaigns and to pressure people into wearing them. A few years later the same group held a separate remembrance service by walking to The Cenotaph with a banner that read “Never Again” and laid a wreath of white poppies to acknowledge not only the military cost of war but the civilian cost. They wore t-shirts brandished with the phrase “War is Organised Murder” on them, in an action far closer to the true, original meaning of the poppy. This is a quote from Harry Patch, the last survivor of the First World War. 

The white poppy has been used since the 30’s as an alternative symbol of remembrance for all victims of war and to reject the glorification of militarism and its consequences. Nowadays in the UK the Peace Pledge Union distributes white poppies and holds an alternative remembrance service called the ‘National Alternative Remembrance Ceremony’. As they state on their website – 

‘White poppies commemorate all victims of all wars, including wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians.’

With the red poppy becoming a symbol for support for the harmful military industrial complex, having alternative ways to show respect to those that have lost their lives due to conflict are especially important. The last justifiable war that the UK has taken part in was the fight against fascism in the Second World War, most subsequent involvement in wars have been about power or money. As a society we should reject the endless wars that serve the interests of the rich.

To support the peace pledge union and find out how to get involved check out their website here.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Featured

Deradicalisation, Islamaphobia and France

“I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.”

― Napoléon Bonaparte

France’s attitude to Islam has been complex and mixed for almost as long as it has existed. The French national myth began when Charles the Hammer smashed the Muslims at the battle of Tours in southern France, and marked the end of Islamic expansion in Western Europe. From here the French would go on to form a mighty kingdom that would dominate their corner of Europe, and even provide the lion’s share of Crusaders to retake the holy land. This is not to say that the French relationship with Muslims would remain solely hostile. 

Despite the prestige of being Christianity’s defender in its time of need, France would eventually become the only major Catholic ally of the Ottoman Empire, which had proclaimed itself the Islamic Caliphate; a political arrangement that tarnished the French image as arch defender of the Catholic faith, that at the same time put increasing pressure on the nation’s Austrian rivals. France eventually even charmed and pressured the Sultan in Istanbul to elect France as the protector of all Christians within the Ottoman borders. 

France would also play an indirect role in the decline of the Islamic world. Before the French Revolution, if you were Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim, the only place you could live in relative peace with people of other faiths was under Islamic rule. The Islamic world was seen as a bastion of tolerance, but that all ended when France was consumed in revolutionary fervour, and where once there had been an absolute monarchy that ruled through divine right, there was now a republic, and that republic offered something better than the tolerance you could find in the Islamic world, it offered equality. Suddenly being safe as a second class citizen wasn’t the best offer in town, you could be a French Protestant or Jewish French and have the same rights as your Catholic co-patriots. It’s not a coincidence that once France embraced egalitarianism that the Islamic courts and palaces started to empty of their intelligentsia. Why be a well treated servant of the Sultan, when you could be free and equal in France?

To say the French relationship with Islam had been complex is an understatement but recent developments don’t show any sign of this relationship become any more simple, or even any less conflicting. 

Macron, the president of the Jupiterian French Republic recently made statements describing Islam as a religion needing reform while promising to further strengthen the separation of church and state in the country, and these comments paint the backdrop for the tragic beheading of a teacher earlier this month and another mass stabbing in Nice this week. The teacher of a freedom of expression class was targeted by Islamists for showing depictions of the Prophet Mohammed during lessons. These tragedies have again ignited the narrative that the West’s love of free speech exists in opposition to the values of Muslims and Islam as a whole. 

Macron specifically called out the rise of separatism within French Muslim communities in his speech where he referred to the Islamic faith as “in crisis”. This came about as he introduced new legislation to reinforce the separation of church and state, something historically treated very seriously in France, to the point where supermarkets have been closed in the past for refusing to stock pork or wine. This same speech was criticised by many, including Portuguese political scientist Bruno Maçães for breaking from the norm in the West when discussing Islam by not differentiating between Islam- the faith practiced by nearly a third of the world’s population- and Islamists, a minority that carry out violent actions. While others have drawn attention to the fact that during a time of increasing strife in France- with the ongoing Covid Pandemic and Yellow Vest movement- it was strange that the President choose now to call out his Muslim citizenry in such an inflammatory fashion. This may hint at a worrying trend in France where Macron, who in 2017 easily beat out the far right candidate Le Pen, might not stand as firm come next time, considering the course his presidency has taken, and might instead be attempting to beat the Rassemblement National at their own game. 

While this might prove politically expedient for Macron, this manoeuvring has allowed Turkish President Erdoğan to yet again position himself as both President of the secular Turkish Republic and Ghazi defender of the Islamic faith. While not quite unravelling the Black Standard and going to war (not just yet anyway) This is a position the Turkish President has found himself quite happy to fill whenever Muslims communities suffer, whether in China, Myanmar, Palestine or New Zealand, Recep is happy to talk about human right violations. If I was cynical, I would say that if Recep was genuinely worried about people suffering human right infringement or political attack, and his compassion came from a honest place, he wouldn’t have to look outside Turkey’s borders to find them. Instead, these incidents of human suffering are used by the Turkish President to leverage his position on the world stage, and as a way of legitimising himself to the religious right that form a key part of his voting bloc at home. 

Now France has appeared in Erdoğan’s firing line. What initially started as a war of words, with the Turkish President saying that his French counter part needed a mental check, this has now resulted in diplomatic envoys being recalled, Recep calling on a boycott of French products and Macron, in turn, calling on his allies in the EU to essentially back him up. Both Presidents seem happy to stroke their egos in public and stoke tensions if it means political gains at home but this vain posturing does take place on a dangerous foundation, namely a reckless placing of “Western Civilisation” against “The Islamic World”.

Stepping into this tense arena of religious struggle and clashing civilisations was Mahathir Mohamad, former PM of Malaysia, who added to the conversation by launching into a strange tirade, saying if Muslims believed in the concept of an eye for an eye Muslims would have the right to kill millions of French, before making another strange rant about western decadence being caused by bikinis. Twitter had the good sense to delete the former PMs strange posts but I think it stands as a good example of how world leaders are using these rising tensions as an opportunity to revel in their pseudo-intellectual idiocy and as a reminder that even if someone was formerly a head of state, that doesn’t mean their opinions aren’t to be dismissed. 

Returning to France, and Macron’s comments we have to examine the recent history of Muslims in France, and the fact that the largest minority that makes up its Muslim population is Algerian. Algeria has had a special place in the French colonial empire in that it was the only part of the empire outside of Europe that wasn’t governed as a colony, but instead as an integral part of France. This didn’t mean that Algerians were treated any better than other parts of the empire, instead that Paris took a far more direct role in exploiting, and controlling the region. This didn’t foster a love of France in the colonised peoples, and even furthered an ideological divide. An interesting example of this is when Stalin died in 1953, the French colonists celebrated, partying and drinking in the streets, the Algerians instead took to mourning.

Naturally a people so abused and oppressed by their colonisers would struggle for national independence, both in Algeria itself and France. In one particularly tragic clash in 1961 French police murdered 400 peaceful protesters in Paris, and threw the bodies into the Seine river. 

As with any war, symbols were as important as bullets and in a strange twist of fate football took a centre stage in this national struggle in 1958. Four French Algerians were shortlisted to play in the French national team in the World Cup in Sweden. Although flattered, these players had other ideas; instead of representing France, they decided to flee illegally and represent the nation of Algeria. In a plot straight out of a Hollywood film, these players left the country via Switzerland and assembled at the headquarters of the FLN, an organisation and army fighting for independence. This wasn’t a simple defection or emigration, these men were giving up a lot, many had got very rich from playing football in France and some were still to complete their mandatory military service, on top of charges of desertion, accusations of radicalism also followed. 

This is but one example of the multifaceted link between Islam and the French empire, as well as its link to liberatory nationalism that Paris saw as a threat; across the empire, other Muslim majority nations felt the boot of French imperialism on their necks. From Mali, to the tragic assassination of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, to policies of neo-colonialism in Western Africa, forcing states to keep their national reserves in Paris, and more recently in Lebanon where France is using the tragedy of the Beirut explosion and its economic devastation to re-exert French influence in the region. 

These nations are diverse, and their experiences under French rule and with Islam are unique to each people; the uniting experience is not that France likes to rule over Muslims, instead that it will attempt to maintain its power on the world stage at any cost, and part of that arsenal is the use of Radical Islam as an enemy that can be linked to anticolonial movements. Indeed, even calling Lebanon or Burkina Faso Muslim majority nations erases a large, non Muslim part of the national identity of these states. France doesn’t want to rule over Muslims, it wants to rule over people.

At home however, this relationship to Islam is a lot more direct and a lot more blunt. France has introduced a deradicalisation program that, by its own admission, targets those in prison for crimes that are not linked to radicalism, and instead selects people that the state views as vulnerable to radicalism. These people are taken away from the general population and instead put into a deradicalisation program; similar attempts in the past ended in failure and instead were accused of only working to make contractors rich off of French taxes. 

Deradicalisation is not a French “War on Islam”. Instead, it’s a tool the French capitalist and political classes use to impose their economic weight abroad and control populations at home. Its not a coincidence that its anti-Islamist policies gives France an excuse to deploy its soldiers all over the world, from the Middle East to Africa, and Islamophobia at home gives the French state an excuse to monitor and oppress a population that it ultimately views as a possible threat. 

While it is true there are radicals in the Muslim community that use violence to achieve their evil political goals, this fringe minority does not give the French state apparatus an excuse to paint a population of nearly 2 billion with the same brush, and attempts to do so should rightly be opposed. Even a broken clock is right twice a day- this doesn’t mean Macron has Muslim’s best interests at heart, and it does not mean we can pretend any reformist movement in Islam will come from people seeking to benefit France, and solely France. 

“Napoleon would lie in bed reading and dictating to Bourrienne. His principal reading was from the Quran. Like Alexander the Great before him, he intended to absorb the religion of the people over whom he would rule. He insisted that, if necessary, he himself was willing to become a Muslim—an intention that, at least initially, he would show every sign of wishing to fulfil. However, it should also be noted that in Napoleon’s shipboard library the Quran was shelved under “Politics.” At the same time, he also busied himself with dictating his “proclamation” to the Egyptian people.”

― Paul Strathern

Featured

Tories Vote Against Free School Meals Extension

Over the past week the political discourse in the United Kingdom has taken a sharp downturn. On Wednesday 21st the Labour party proposed a motion that called for an extension of the free school meals program until Easter 2021. The motion was defeated as more than 300 Tory MPs voted against it. If not for the tireless work of footballer Marcus Rashford and the kind generosity of already struggling cafes and restaurants, over 1.4 million children could miss out on what is potentially an essential part of their daily nutrition.

A cursory glance at the policy history of the Conservative party shows that they have a long history of making life more difficult for poor children as they do all they can to make their friends that bit richer.

Margaret Thatcher

One of the most notorious examples of this was in 1971 when a little known politician by the name of Margaret Thatcher, that held the position of Education Secretary in Edward Heath’s government, decided to stop the provision of milk to any junior school pupils over the age of 7. A shameless bid to cut costs at the expense of the poorest in the country, understandably there was outrage. Five years before she adopted the title the “Iron Lady” she would be anointed another title, one that was used in school playgrounds all over the country – “Milk Snatcher”. She reportedly hated the nickname and 19 years later when she discovered that Health Secretary Ken Clarke was proposing ending the free milk program for nursery children, she wrote him a handwritten note that said –

‘No – this will cause a terrible row – all for £4m. I know – I went through it 19 years ago’

Jump forward to as recently as 2017, just one year after Theresa May had taken over as Prime Minister despite never having been voted in. May idolised Margaret Thatcher so much that she decided she would try to emulate her. Firstly, she proposed scrapping the free school meals program entirely in England with the quote from the education department at the time being that the party does not believe “a free school lunch for every child in the first three years of primary school… is a sensible use of public money”. This one earned her the nickname “the meals snatcher”. Then, a year later she had another pop at it with the proposal to cut the free milk for nurseries scheme. It seems that stopping nursery age children from having a drink of milk is the true white whale for the Tory party, the one policy change they just always want to make. For this she started to be directly compared to Thatcher with the “milk snatcher” title. I’m sure, deep down, she loved the name, anything to relate her to her hero. Even if that did mean taking away more provisions for the most vulnerable children.

This brings us to 2020, and the country limping its way through the covid-19 pandemic with Boris Johnson at the helm. In June, the young footballer from Manchester, Marcus Rashford, used his platform to raise awareness about the depth of the food poverty problem in the UK. Speaking from personal experience Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs urging them to reverse their decision to not award free school meals vouchers to over 1 million children who were eligible. To be eligible for a free school meal a child’s family has to earn a maximum income of £7,400 a year after tax so it was always the most vulnerable children that relied on the free school meals service.

Marcus Rashford

Rashford gained so much support that the government was forced into a U-turn. The prime minister’s official spokesperson said at the time –

‘Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the Prime Minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer. To reflect this we will be providing a Covid Summer Food Fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period. This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals.’

This original scheme was reported to have cost around £120 million. Over the course of the summer the Tories decided to implement the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, to make sure that the people that could afford to go to restaurants would get back out there with the government footing half of the bill. This scheme cost more than £522 million.

As well as this the government decided to set aside £10 billion of public money to spend on the failed test and trace system. Most of the money made its way into the hands of private companies such as G4S and Serco and amounts to more than 100 times the annual budget for Public Health England which tops out at £90 million. Newcastle University public health professor Alysson Pollock described the budget as “shocking” and is quoted in the Independent as saying –

‘This money should have been put into supporting the established system of public health services instead of going into new parallel centralised and privatised services run by private companies where much of it is squandered and wasted.’

Unsurprisingly the Tory government believes that public money is better spent on middle class leisure and the interests of private companies, rather than ensuring the health and wellbeing of all of the people of this country.

In typical fashion the Tories have lied and played the victim since the backlash to their decision to vote against the free school meals extension. MP Jacob Young claimed that he’d been told that parents had used their £15 a week food vouchers on “alcohol, tobacco or on unhealthy food”. In support of comments made by MP Ben Bradley, MP Mark Jenkinson tweeted “I know in my constituency that, as tiny as a minority it might be, food parcels are sold or traded for drugs.”

So determined to justify letting children go hungry they will invent stories about struggling families.

They have retreated behind the barrier of respectability politics. Claiming to have their feelings hurt by being reminded that the decisions they make will hurt a lot of children. Maybe if Tory MPs wanted to avoid being called scum they should stop acting like it.

Featured

Dungavel: Scotland’s Shame

In recent days, the question over how to handle refugees and asylum seekers has reached a boiling point. With the far right in ascendance all over the world- from Hungary and Poland, to the USA and UK- and refugees from war, famine and climate change likely to increase, it seems that the victims of circumstance are going to be left in an increasingly hostile world with nowhere to go.

In the US, Trump’s nativist rhetoric might be shocking to some, but far more damaging to immigrant communities have been institutions like ICE that have existed for longer than Trump’s administration has allowed him to put his rhetoric into practice; founded under Bush Jr, later expanded and used by Obama to enforce mass deportations of groups like the Haitian community, under Trump ICE has been accused of enacting sterilisation of immigrant women in concentration camps. A disgusting practice that is currently being investigated by the US government, but hardly surprising considering Trump’s own comments on refugees and asylum seekers, all in the backdrop of the USA’s long history of bigotry.

This isn’t to say that the American public are, to a number, happy with the policy of their government; cries of “Abolish ICE” have been heard at protests across America, and an attack on an ICE facility was carried out in 2019.

In the UK the debate over what to do with asylum seekers is being answered by the Tory party, an organisation with it own long history of racism that had attempted to rebrand as a modern party under David Cameron, but now led by Boris Johnston, a man prone to bigoted statements that won his election with a manifesto that specifically targeted British Roma by promising to seize their property. Perhaps a party winning an election on a promise to target an ethnic group that was a prime target during the holocaust should have raised more of an alarm among the public, but now this party is the one in charge of determining the UKs policy concerning asylum seekers.

The answers these amoral ghouls are coming up with are as suitably evil as you would imagine: Priti Patel considering shipping asylum seekers to Ascension– an island in the South Atlantic with a population of just over 800, that’s closer to Brazil and Nigeria than it is to the home isle- was a particularly egregious highlight. Being around 6400 kilometres from the UK, the primary reason this was argued against wasn’t on the moral grounds of turning an island in the middle of nowhere into a concentration camp, but instead the costs involved in the morally vacant venture.

The idea of having offshore detention centres to process migrants is heavily inspired by the Australian system of processing migrants, and the idea itself appears to be gaining traction in the UK, despite the failure of the Ascension plan. The idea itself is not without controversy with any such plan meaning the UK would need to withdraw from both the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid violating the law. The fact that a policy that is widely detracted as based on racism and denying basic human rights violations is being calmly debated simply because another English speaking nation has already put it into practice demonstrates just how far into xenophobia the UK has fallen.

What then about Scotland? We have always portrayed ourselves as the more humanitarian part of the union but how much does that really hold up to inspection? These tensions between those who want to welcome immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees and those who would instead embrace xenophobia definitely exist in our own nation. One saving caveat, at least, is that our government is not seeking to ignite these tensions for political gain. For example, after the tragic attack in June this year by asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam the Scottish government’s response was to challenge the Home Office for the way it had been treating asylum seekers.

Nicola Sturgeon even chimed into the debate down south around the possibility of offshore detention centres by saying that “They [Westminster] can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me”. Is this true however? 

In South Lanarkshire, near Strathaven exists Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. This facility is operating on Scottish soil, for profit by a private company in the name of the Home Office, housing those who have had their asylum pleas rejected, while they wait for deportation. Currently the capacity of the site has been reduced from 249 to 125 at the start of the year, but this might already be too little too late. A recent outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in fresh calls to close the facility by refugee rights groups, who say the facility has a history of poor treatment for the people it houses, evidenced recently by the death of a man in the facility in 2017. With detention already putting a strain on a person’s physical and mental health one can only imagine the stress a covid outbreak could cause in a facility like this. I would also like to remind readers that these people haven’t broken any laws, they have simply been denied asylum by the Home Office, and that nearly two fifths of the people housed in this facility are reported as being vulnerable. At the time of writing the Home Office have not released the numbers of those infected by and who might have died from Covid-19 at this facility, and even refuses to give exact numbers on the total number of people held there currently.

If Scotland wants to maintain its reputation and self image as a land of tolerance and understanding we have to confront the reality of Dungavel, because a tolerant society can not tolerate a facility like this on its own soil.

Featured

Bottled History: Museum Acquires Rare Shipwreck Whisky

A piece of Scotland’s bottled history was recently acquired at auction by the Scottish Maritime Museum, based here in Ayrshire; A bottle of whisky salvaged from the wreck of the SS Politician, along with the helmet of diver George Currie, who retrieved the bottle, and two bricks that were also part of the cargo of the ship are now part of the Museums national maritime collection.

 The story of the SS Politician was the basis of the widely popular book, written by Compton Mackenzie, and film of the same name Whisky Galore!, in which the residents of the tiny Scottish Island of Todday are horrified to learn that they have run out of whisky; soon after, the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground nearby during heavy fog, carrying a cargo of 50,000 cases of whisky. Theft and hilarity ensue as they try to hide the whisky from the officious English commanding officer Captain Waggett. As it turns out, the true story that Whisky Galore! is based on may be even stranger and more interesting.

Life was particularly difficult for the Island communities in Scotland during the Second World War; the introduction of rationing in 1940 meant that anyone over the age of 5 had a ration book which contained tokens to be used for various items such as butter, sugar, eggs, meat and clothing. This was done to prevent stockpiling and while the Islands in the Outer Hebrides were mostly self-sufficient, it still meant supplies they could not cultivate for themselves were running low. The small island of Eriskay, just south of South Uist, was mostly crofting land at the time and the residents were feeling the brunt of the ongoing war; the constant threat of German U-boats meant that it was dangerous to send out puffers to the islands, so life became quite difficult.

In February of 1941, the SS Politician was heading north to pass the Outer Hebrides on its way to Kingston, Jamaica and then New Orleans. Once past the Isle of Man they hit a spell of bad weather with gale force winds forcing the ship off-course. The captain, Beaconsfield Worthington, attempted to change course to compensate but ran aground on sand banks just off the Isle of Eriskay, rupturing the engines and causing the ship to flood. The crew survived with the help of the islanders but after learning of the contents of the cargo and believing it was perfectly legal to take it under marine salvage laws, the islanders decided to salvage as much of the precious cargo as they could.

Although the ship was carrying all manner of trade goods such as medicine, biscuits and even £145,000 in Jamaican 10-shilling notes, the islanders were mostly concerned with the contents of Hold 5 – around 264,000 bottles of whisky. People from all around the island and others gathered to take part in night raids of the wrecked ship to rescue as much whisky as they could.

The UK Customs and Excise Officers did not share the islanders view on marine salvage, declaring their activity illegal as the whisky was destined for America, so no duty had been paid on the cargo. This prompted a swift response with the authorities raiding villages and crofts to recover the untaxed spirits. The islanders made a valiant effort to hide as much of it as they could – be that by storing it where it could not be found or simply drinking as much as they could. It was estimated at the time that around 24,000 bottles had been stolen and some of the islanders were successfully charged with illegal salvage and black-market trading offenses for which they could spend up to 6 weeks in prison in either Inverness or Peterhead.

In spite of this many of the items recovered from the ship were never seen again, and after the official salvage operation was called off the decision was made to scuttle the SS Politician using dynamite to deter any further temptation. Interestingly, included in the cargo that was initially completely written off were the Jamaican bank notes; after recovering what they could, it was believed the rest couldn’t have survived being in the water and the head of the official salvage operation even handed out the few that were recovered as souvenirs. Only four months later, branches of Barclays in Liverpool started reporting being presented with water damaged Jamaican notes and over the next couple of years these notes would show up from the south of England all the way to the north of Scotland. It took a further fifteen years before Crown Agents decided to make a final tally and what they discovered was that of the 290,000 notes on board, 211,267 had been recovered in some capacity. They calculated that around two thirds of the recovered notes were presented around the world legally which left 76,404 bank notes (£38,202) allegedly salvaged and used by the islanders.

The rest of the goods that went down with the ship remained largely untouched until June 1987 when Orkney resident George Currie decided to dive to the wreck after completing a repair on a sub seas cable between Eriskay and South Uist. Five bottles of whisky were recovered that had lain there for over 40 years and he kept one in his possession until just recently.

Inside the Scottish Maritime Museum

The Scottish Maritime Museum was able to acquire the bottle along with the diving helmet used by George Currie, two bricks that were part of the ship’s cargo and a poster of the 2016 remake of Whisky Galore! thanks to funding from the National Fund for Acquisitions. This brings another important part of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage back to the public. In their own press release on their site the Senior Curator of the Maritime Museum, Abigail McIntyre, is quoted as saying –

“We are thrilled to add this bottle of whisky which has become so embedded in Scottish island folklore to the collection.

“There are so many fascinating topics we can explore with our visitors through it, from island life during the war period and underwater archaeology and recovery through to challenging our understanding and portrayal of smuggling in Scottish waters.

“The wreck of the SS Politician had a profound effect on the life of the islanders of Eriskay, many of whom felt keenly the injustice of being prosecuted. As well as looking at the impact of the shipwreck generally, we will also explore maritime laws and their implications through this wonderful new artefact.”

The bottle of whisky- along with the diving helmet- has been put on display for free in the museums boat shop, and there are plans for the objects to be used in the 2023 exhibition ‘Smuggling and Swashbuckling’, where it will contribute to a discussion around the history of smuggling in Scotland.

At a time when so many cultural and heritage organisations are facing hardship, it’s great to see that the work to protect and maintain Scotland’s cultural heritage continues.

Featured

Lessons in Radical Education: The Legacy of R.F. Mackenzie

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that universal access to education has been revolutionary. Only since the late 19th century have people of increasingly diverse backgrounds been able to have some kind of access to formal education, and, thankfully, that access has only improved alongside our understanding of the necessity of education to the development of a flourishing and just society. Yet, as for every hard-won progression, there is an ever-present danger of becoming comfortable and complacent in our attitudes towards these social provisions, of losing forward momentum and, eventually, backsliding. We come to view them as broadly static objects within our cultural landscape, unchanging and indeed without the need to change. They exist as monolithic pillars of our society and of our minds: work is work, school is school, democracy is ticking a box every four years. Our lives exist on an assembly line of citizenship, with school primarily serving to prepare us for later subservience and capitulation to data-driven corporate management and inept local and national governance. Only the university is culturally understood to be the site of liberating self-discovery, of intellectual development and action, and even the integrity of that space is increasingly under threat from the pressures of consumerism and neoliberal orthodoxy. When we think back to our own experiences in primary and secondary school, it’s likely that little, if anything, stands out in memory as radical, revolutionary, or even slightly against the grain. Thanks to rigorous- and often overbearing- systems of standardisation, we can pretty much assume our experiences of education were broadly similar to other students up and down the country: a utilitarian emphasis on conformity, acceptance of authority and a diet of passively received knowledge.

As the foundations of society grow increasingly entrenched, it can be difficult for us to conceive of what a radically different system might look like. In the face of the tedious persistence of modern inertia, it’s useful- revitalising even- to remember the reformist, radical thinkers within our own tradition. In the history of Scottish education, Robert F Mackenzie was one such thinker.

R.F. Mackenzie was born in Garioch, Aberdeenshire in 1910. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 1931, Mackenzie travelled extensively around Europe, earning a living as a tutor and journalist. During his time in Europe he witnessed the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and joined the RAF as a navigator during the Second World War. After the war ended, he trained as an English teacher and in 1957 took a position as Headteacher of Braehead Junior Secondary School in Buckhaven. ‘Junior’ secondary schools were designed for pupils who had failed entrance exams in primary school and offered a narrower curriculum than other schools.

It was during this time that Mackenzie was at his most prolific in pursuing his vision of a radically different education system, developing his ideas in a series of three books: A Question of Living (1963), Escape from the Classroom (1965) and The Sins of the Children (1968). With these, Mackenzie advanced a philosophy of education which was child-centred, humane and compassionate to children living in difficult circumstances, children who were often marginalised by educators and society more broadly. He placed emphasis on allowing students to engage with their learning on a more democratic basis, on developing an interest in the natural world through excursions outside the classroom, and on teaching children to work cooperatively with one another. in the first of his books he outlined his thoughts, saying, ‘I believe that human nature is generally good, that human beings react generously to conditions of freedom and that therefore teachers doing experimental work in education would be wise not to try and “mould” children into some shape but to help them to grow in freedom’. In contrast, Mackenzie took serious issue with the dominance of exams and metrics as the increasing focus of education, as well as with the prevalence of corporal punishment in classrooms, at the time dished out for even the most minor of ‘rebellions’. ‘The tradition of sin and punishment,’ he observed, ‘is deep in Scottish Education.’

With a dedicated staff and the support of an engaged parent council, Mackenzie was able to put a lot of his theories to the test, developing a curriculum which was focused on the well-being of the students first and foremost, and which provided ample opportunity for growth as cooperative individuals beyond the classroom. Mackenzie had a love of Scottish history and the Scottish countryside and, together with mountaineer Hamish Brown, led students on various expeditions to the highlands, observing and commenting positively on the youngster’s response to being allowed a modicum of freedom and the responsibility which comes along with it. He even acquired a country house for the school to carry out regular weekend activities.

Robert was deeply critical of the examination system, believing ‘it inspires boredom; it impedes experiment and progress; it enslaves the curriculum; it ignores real values; it measures useless information; it ignores character.’ He had no qualms in vigorously advancing his position and preference for the abolishment of contemporary examination systems in favour of continuous modes of assessment. 

He was equally critical of corporal punishment- especially for girls- believing it a barbaric relic of the Calvinist tradition. At both Braehead and later Summerhill, Mackenzie made attempts to abolish corporal punishment. On this point, however, he was met with the most resistance from both teachers and parents, and was ultimately unsuccessful.

On the advent of sweeping and prescriptive educational reform, in April of 1968, Mackenzie left his position at Braehead Junior Secondary School for a position at a new Comprehensive- Summerhill Academy in Aberdeenshire. The introduction of the Comprehensive system saw the closure of many smaller schools, which were then integrated into these new campuses which served much larger areas and populations. Alongside this, the reform began to introduce more stringent and centralised standardisation measures. Mackenzie was deeply sceptical of this development, believing this new system simply ‘made the traditional Tory curriculum and view of society available to a larger number of working-class children.’  The limited success of Mackenzie’s programme at Braehead had been aided by the relatively small number of students and an open-minded staff; at Summerhill, he would find neither. He had pleaded with the Education Council to be afforded a staff with at least some similar qualities as those he had worked with in Braehead. No such concession was made, and Mackenzie soon found himself assailed on all sides by disagreeable staff, confused parents and critical inspectors.

For the next six years, Mackenzie fought tooth and nail against a system designed to curtail dissent and prescribe thought, and in 1972 he was formally accused by more than half of his staff of having an ‘unusual and particularly permissive philosophy.’ Without support from staff and parents in his attempted ban of corporal punishment, and occupied with daily battles against draconian education authorities, his methods were increasingly called into question, having never been given much of a fair chance in the first place. The school was perceived to be increasingly ‘lawless’ and in 1974 Mackenzie was called to a meeting with the Aberdeen Education Committee. At the meeting- more accurately a ceremonial sacking- a characteristically impassioned Mackenzie proclaimed “It is not me who is on trial today, it is comprehensive education that is on trial …you have given us children with wounds in their souls. We could have cured them, we should have cured them, but we couldn’t because you gave us a divided staff.” His protestations and admonitions fell on deaf ears, and his initial suspension led to dismissal the following year.

Following his exile from education, Robert wrote his own account of events at Summerhill leading up to his suspension and eventual dismissal, entitled The Unbowed Head (1976). In it he continued to rail against the prevailing culture of standardised testing, corporal punishment and submission to uncaring authority which had begun to fully permeate Scottish education with the introduction of the comprehensive system.

In 1980, he wrote the Manifesto for the Educational Revolution; this work was at once an elegy for wayward ideals in Scottish education and a furious, radical call to arms. The Manifesto failed to find a publisher during his lifetime, but the manuscript was recovered and published posthumously in 2004. Ruminating once more on his disillusion with modern educational practice, Robert said, 

‘This journey into the interior of education showed me how it is powered. I had been aware of its faults and strove to make improvements because I believed that at heart it was sound. I know now that I was mistaken.  At its heart it is not sound. The commodity it is merchandising is Authority, and the teachers, like the commercial advertisers, are the hidden persuaders using subliminal, quasi-religious concepts to assure pupils and parents that their salvation lies in the worship of Authority, in accepting the Law, in preferring Judgements of this ‘revealed’ religion above their own unlettered thoughts.’

Mackenzie had been derided by a backwards establishment as an unruly blight on Scottish education. In our modern context, we can recognise that the only thing Mackenzie was guilty of was being ahead of his time; the intervening years since his dismissal saw the eventual banning of corporal punishment, and, through the recent implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland has been making attempts to allow more space for learners to grow as individuals, for educators to account for agency and difference between pupils, and for assessment to more accurately support and account for the development of students at various levels.

There is, however, an ever-present tension between the ideal of learning for personal and social development and the utilitarian view of learning which reductively and deterministically stratifies youngsters in service of maintaining neoliberal cultural norms. We still conceive of education as being primarily a means to prepare the young for work, an attitude which reproduces on a national level the classroom habit of ‘teaching to the test’, wherein students are rushed through schools with little opportunity to really consider, or even ‘play with’ ideas being presented to them; instead we learn what employers want from us, how we are to conduct ourselves, what level of questioning is acceptable and appropriate. How then, can we expect to develop an informed and engaged citizenry, if from 0-18- despite what toothless philosophising might go on within the safe confines of a Modern Studies classroom- we are instructed to accept the world around us as adequate, fair, or inevitable?

As Scots we are often told- and surely would like to believe- that our education system is the ‘envy of the world.’ If that was ever a certainty, it appears progressively dubious. While our education system is different from Englands, the same cultural forces are at play here as down south, who view education as  little more than a tool to reproduce an authorised image of society, which runs deeper than Labour or Tories or the SNP. `one need only look at reforms pushed through down south as recently as last month to understand what’s at stake; in a new ‘guidance’ brief for teaching, the UK government advised,

 ‘Schools should not, under any circumstances, use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as it could imply an endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances include, but are not limited to: 

  • a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections.
  • opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience
  • the use or endorsement of racist, including antisemitic, language or communications
  • the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity
  • a failure to condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people or property

Elsewhere, the ‘guidance’ advises against working with those deemed to be peddling ‘victim narratives’. While these measures don’t have any bearing on Scottish education, it would be foolish to imagine ourselves as above such restrictions on free and reasonable enquiry, which this suspiciously timed manoeuvre undoubtedly represents; while for some it can be comforting to conceive of primary and secondary schools as idealised spaces free of politicisation- and this latest revision in England comes under the guise of such agnostic principles- in reality, education is always a politicised space, and the powers that be know this only too well. In a cultural moment characterised by civil unrest across the world- in BLM marches, the struggle for advances in LGBTQI+ rights, and a broad interrogation of social inequality in the wake of covid- they have been shrewd to target schooling in their efforts to stem the tide.

It might be said that RF Mackenzie was a romantic idealist at heart, and surely his philosophy of teaching could often come across as woolly in his various books, light as they were on developing robust educational theory. It might also be said that he placed too much hope in the ability of schooling alone to remake the cultural landscape. While we should recognise that sweeping, radical change rarely springs forth from one area of life in isolation of others, education, as Mackenzie recognised, will nevertheless play a crucial role in any social transformation. ‘A revolution in child rearing is essential to a widespread cultural change,’ he said. ‘ Without it there will be no rule of the majority, that is to say no democracy. With it there will be a new perception of the nature of intelligence and a fusion of thinking and feeling into a deeper understanding; a new perception of how to live our lives; and the healing (the making whole) of our sorely riven society.’ 

Featured

Political Arrests in Turkey

Earlier this week the Speaker of the House in America, Nancy Pelosi, made comments regarding Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transition of power, reminding the President that he was not in Turkey. This provoked a response from Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister who was deeply offended that the legitimacy of Turkish Democracy was being brought into question; even tagging President Trump in a response that called Speaker Pelosi “worrisome for American democracy” and saying that she showed “blatant ignorance”. The same day that Cavusoglu was using twitter to defend Turkish democratic prestige, the state carried out arrests on 82 people linked to anti-government protests, including an opposition mayor.

The majority of those arrests are officials of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The Turkish state issued the arrests, saying these people encouraged others to take part in the protests across Turkey in 2014 that left 37 dead. The HDP blamed Turkish police for the violence. A party that puts defending the rights of the Kurdish population at the centre of its political agenda, the HDP took part in mass protests after the town of Kobane– a Kurdish majority town in Syria- came under siege by ISIS; the protestors demanded that Turkey provide military assistance to fight off the Jihadi forces, in order to prevent a massacre similar to when ISIS had taken over other Syrian and Kurdish towns.

The plight the HDP finds itself in is not anything new; in 2019 the HDP had 65 mayors elected, and now 47 of these mayors have been undemocratically replaced with state appointed officials. Some are even facing imprisonment after being branded terrorists by the Turkish Government. 

Terrorism charges are often levelled against the HDP as it is a Democratic Socialist party going out of its way to defend the Kurdish population in Turkey, a political minority often persecuted and hated by both the Turkish Government and the majority of the Turkish nation. This is due to perceived links to the PKK, a pro Kurdish Communist group branded terrorists by Turkey, the EU and the USA. The HDP denies any links to terrorism and denies any support for violent action. This Government crackdown is nothing new for the HDP. Ayhan Bilgen, a well known mayor from eastern Turkey arrested in this latest round previously having said in an interview “We joke with another, wondering whose turn is next”.

The shape of Turkish democracy, however, means that it’s not only the Kurdish population and political leaders that face charges of terrorism. In June this year 149 warrants were issued for Turks involved in the state’s armed forces for links to FETO, an alleged organisation that the state insists carried out the 2016 attempted Coup. This was followed by another 41 arrests from 28 warrants towards the end of July. Fetullah Terrorist Organization (or FETO) is an organisation the Turkish Government says is headed by its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen, a man once tightly linked to the rise of the ruling AKP and Erdoğan’s own career but now forced into exile due to a political falling out.

The AKP’s rampant use of arrests to silence democratic opposition has increased greatly over the summer. The AKP lost the mayorship of Istanbul- Turkey’s largest city, and the seat that Erdoğan started his political career in by winning it for the religious right- just over a year ago to the CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, despite an attempt by the AKP to prevent this loss by demanding a new round of voting through the high court. It’s not hard to see why the ruling AKP is lashing out at any dissent; with their star no longer on the rise they’re scrambling to make sure they can keep what they’ve spent the last decade building up. It might keep them in power a little longer but this willingness to bring the weaponry of the state against political enemies does lay bare the hypocrisy of Cavusoglu’s passionate defence of Turkish Democracy.

Featured

Does Shetland Want Independence?

If you read many of the mainstream media’s reporting on the council vote that was held recently on the Shetland Isles, you might’ve been led to believe that the people of Shetland want full independence from Scotland. As is the case with most stories sensationalised by the modern media, the actual story is a bit more nuanced than a gotcha to be thrown in the face of the SNP government and the wider movement for Scottish Independence.

On September 9th, the Shetland Council voted 18 to 2 in favour of supporting a motion to explore options for gaining “financial and political self-determination”; the most likely form this would take would be for Shetland to take on a self-governing Crown Dependency status- much like the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands- or, less likely, to be a British Overseas Territory. These were part of the demands made by the Wir Shetland movement that launched in October of 2015. The group has been greatly opposed to Scottish Independence, as well as the European Union and so has found a lot of support from the Tories in their bid for island autonomy. The Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Johnston is quoted as saying –

‘Over 13 years of SNP Government in Edinburgh, countless promises have been made to our island communities, but few are ever delivered. It’s no wonder islanders have run out of patience.’

In spite of the hypocrisy of a Tory sympathising with a community that wants to take its future into its own hands, the frustration felt by islanders is not unfounded; being a part of one of the smaller communities in Scotland can be isolating and many residents feel that their needs are not adequately addressed in Holyrood. A large part of the frustration also comes from the severe budget tightening across all local authorities in Scotland since the 2008 financial crash. These cuts have hit hard in Shetland, particularly in regard to its ferry service. The Shetland Council is responsible for running its inter-island ferry service, which the Scottish Government partly subsidises. The Shetland council has felt that the government has not funded the service well enough and it claims this is the main reason they have had to dip into their reserves to the sum of £8.5 million.

On the other side of the issue the Scottish Government has regularly shown sympathy for the desire for more autonomy on the islands. In 2013 they made the Lerwick Declaration, claiming an intention to further decentralise power to the three island council areas (Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles) and stating that in the case of Independence for Scotland they would allow the islands even more autonomy if that’s what they desired. More recently in 2018 the Scottish Government passed the Islands Bill. This legislation meant that ministers had a legal duty to prepare a “national islands plan” to address the long-term improvement of the island communities and to extend powers for the island councils over areas such as marine licensing. Whether the government will hold itself to these promises is yet to be seen and this is likely contributing to the islander’s frustrations.

They find themselves in an awkward position. The Northern Island communities seem to be against Scottish Independence in the majority but want greater autonomy for themselves, in spite of the fact that Scottish Independence would mean achieving greater autonomy over all. The Scottish Government could definitely be doing more to support the island communities, but we should be wary of any UKIP style pushes for independence. Wir Shetland has no desire for a radical change in politics to better deal with large problems like wealth disparity and failures in democracy; they simply want more financial autonomy and stricter control of the borders around Shetland. While I’m personally a fan of dismantling large power structures, the Shetland Islands are running the risk of becoming a Little Britain.

Photo by ella peebles on Unsplash

Featured

Solidarity with Bangladeshi Workers

The Dragon Sweater Group is a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s garment industry, producing about $4.5 billion in revenue per year from exports. The organization is headed by Mostafa Golam Quddus, a former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and an important figure in establishing the country’s industrialised clothing industry. You might not know a lot about this company but if you’ve ever bought clothes from Zara, Primark, H&M or even Asda you might have a jumper made in one of the companies factores in your house right now. Lately, the Dragon Sweater Group has come under fire for their treatment of Bangladeshi garment workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, the factory closed down as part of precautions over the pandemic, and it was at this point that a large part of the company’s employees were dismissed; the company claims only 140 workers did not return to work and that everyone was given their proper wages while the factory was closed over. However, the Daily Star- an English-Bangladeshi newspaper claims the number is between 500 and 600, with the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre and the Industrial Workers of the World claiming the number of employees that were dismissed and had their wages withheld being ten times that figure, at 6000

This unfair, and technically illegal dismissal of such a large portion of their workforce has naturally caused some backlash towards the company; but with management unwilling to even admit to an agreed upon figure of dismissed workers- never mind admitting wrong-doing- negotiations drew to a halt over reinstatement of the workers and lost wages. In response, the union organised protests, including occupying the factory owners’ home and a hunger strike at the Prime Minister’s office. Jolly Talukder, general secretary of Garment Workers Trade Union Centre makes the group’s demands very simple, saying that “Every worker deserves legal payment by the employer”.

The union has also garnered support internationally with groups like the IWW and the International Confederation of Labour organising pickets and poster campaigns targeting businesses still trading with the factory worldwide, in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even our own Ayrshire. 

You might ask yourself what benefit these demonstrations can do and what material help this is actually giving the workers in Bangladesh, but the campaign is looking to be on a roll, with the Walmart Group(owners of ASDA) stating they will no longer work with the factory until the workers demands are met. In the UK, only Lidl are yet to issue a response. With mounting pressure on the Dragon Sweater Group, both in Bangladesh and internationally, the workers are hoping to bring management to the negotiating table, reinstating their jobs and wages and returning to normal life.

If you want to get involved you can get more information about the campaign here and if you want to take part in action in support of workers locally and worldwide, you can join the IWW here.

Featured

In Respect of Stuart Christie: A True Anarchist

On the 15th of August, in the midst of the strangest year in recent memory, Stuart Christie, an important Anarchist figure, activist, writer and publisher passed away at 74 years of age. I say figure because Christie was probably the most famous Anarchist to have come from Scotland. In 1964, at the age of 18, he would be arrested in Spain after being found with explosives that were intended for use in assassinating the Fascist dictator and Nazi collaborator, General Francisco Franco. Outside of his physical activism Stuart Christie’s writing has had a profound effect on many in how they view the world, including this writer. His story is an interesting one and shows the contrast in the sentiment of activists of previous generations compared to those of todays.

Born in Partick, he would move around a lot, staying in Ardrossan, Arran and eventually settling in Blantyre. It was in the political hot bed of Glasgow that Christie would form his world view. Growing up in the highly sectarian city had given him an early indication of injustice in the world. In 1964, out of a strong desire to actually do something, he jumped on the opportunity to help the cause in Spain. He told his family that he was going to pick grapes in France and set out for Paris. Here he was equipped with everything he was to need, including explosives that he kept taped on his person under a heavy jacket. This would prove to be his first hurdle as he had to keep the jacket on in Spanish weather and was concerned that his profuse sweating would cause the tape to come undone and the explosives would fall. Luckily they never did but his mission was not to succeed as it turned out that the organisation he was working with had been infiltrated and he was arrested alongside his collaborator Fernando Carballo.

An amusing myth had formed around Christies arrest; one that he himself had dispelled in later years. It was said that Christie was arrested while wearing his kilt that he had with him to make hitchhiking easier (people tended to be more trusting of a Scotsman than an Englishman), which confused the Spanish press who described him as a “Scottish Transvestite”. This is what Christie had to say on the matter in an article written for Bella Caledonia last year –

‘Also, for the record, although it’s a good canard, I wasn’t wearing my kilt when arrested — or indeed at any time during my travels; it was folded, neatly, under the flap of my Bergen.’

Under the circumstances he would be treated fairly well; after the Allies had won the Second World War, Franco did his best to keep a good relationship them and even opened up trade with the UK. (There was a lot of support for Franco in the upper echelons of British society at the time, he was seen as having saved Christianity in Spain) This meant that he did not want to be seen mistreating a British National. Christie would be sentenced to a 20-year sentence but was released after only 4. While in the Carabanchel prison he was heartily accepted by fellow anarchists and old republicans that appreciated his commitment to the Spanish cause. During his time in prison he studied for his A-levels in English, History and Spanish and worked as a Nurse. His mother would consistently send letters to General Franco pleading for his release which he granted after 4 years. In Christies own words this gave Franco the perfect opportunity to project the image of a gentleman while still being a brutal dictator –

‘He was trying to pass himself off as an old avuncular gentleman on a white charger while in fact he had all these political prisoners, thousands of whom were tortured and some killed.’

After being released from prison he would move to London and find work as a gas fitter. It wasn’t long before he was accused of being a member of the Angry Brigade, a radical group that had planned for bombs to be set off in strategic places to attack the government. Through the trial it was discovered that Christie had only been picked up because of his reputation and the police had planted detonators on him. After being acquitted him and his wife decided to get out of London so as to avoid any further targeting by police. They moved all the way to Orkney where they started the Cienfuegos press and later the Refract press. This would lead to his prolific catalogue of written works, including his memoirs titled “Granny Made me and Anarchist”. He would also set up an online bookstore ‘Christie Books’ documenting Anarchist struggles through books, pamphlets and videos.

Stuart Christie was at the heart of a political movement in the 60’s that genuinely believed it could challenge the power systems of government. It seems a stark contrast to the general apathy that seems to have infected the generations of today. There is a lot we can learn from the life and story of Stuart Christie. We’ll end on another quote from the man himself from an earlier article in Bella Caledonia. Something to think about –

Where are today’s angry young people? They can’t all have been muzzled by debt or seduced by the idea that freedom is somehow linked to property ownership. What if anything are they doing to vent their anger about Britain’s criminal military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the blatant infringement of habeus corpus, the stifling of free speech, the medievalising of the public realm with the so-called anti-terrorism laws which allow police officers to shoot suspects dead and detain people without trial, charge or even explanation. Or to halt the present onward march to an undeclared permanent state of emergency – and the constant, grinding erosion of our liberties.

But I don’t worry too much about it. As the American psychologist William James wrote “The ceaseless whisper of the more permanent ideals, the steady tug of truth and justice – give them but time – must warp the world in their direction.”’

Featured

Scots Wha Hae

This past week a revelation hit the internet when it was discovered that nearly a third of the Wikipedia articles in the Scots language were made by a single person, from America, who in fact does not have any understanding of the Scots language. Starting in 2013 at the age of 12 the young man showed an enthusiasm for cataloguing articles in the Scot’s tongue that, unfortunately, never extended to learning the language itself, instead making articles written in English in a faux Scottish accent. 

Examples include the rather poetic “In Greek meethology, the Minotaur wis a creatur wi the heid o a bull an the body o a man or, as describit bi Roman poet Ovid, a being “pairt man an pairt bull”.” which is very well put, but definitely not Scots. While most of this is funny (the article for telekinesis simply states “Telekinesis es a form of moving[sic] ebjocts with yor maind”) there are people who see this as linguistic vandalism; Scots is already a language struggling for its place and identity in the world separate from English, often viewed as little more than a crude bastardisation, and now a single person with an obsession online has managed to add over 60000 articles and hundred of thousands of words worth of credence to that harmful and untrue idea. 

The 19 year old man describes himself as a “Brony” and “ INTP” and goes by AmaryllisGardener on the site. His user page describes him, rather ironically, as being able to “contreebute wi ae middlin level o Scots.”. The boy himself doesn’t seem to have done this with malicious intent, saying, “Honestly, I don’t mind if you revert all of my edits, delete my articles, and ban me from the wiki for good. I’ve already found out that my “contributions” have angered countless people, and to me that’s all the devastation I can be given, after years of my thinking I was doing good (and yes, obsessively editing, I have OCD).” 

While some have been rather upset at this linguistic parody of the Scot’s language, and even called for a complete removal of all the user’s edits and articles, not everyone is as quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater; while most of the articles are a mess of fake Scots forced into English grammar, the structure of the articles could still be built around using the proper Scots tongue. Kilwinnings article only says “Kilwinnin (frae Scots Gaelic: Cill Fhinnein) is a toun in North Ayrshire, Scotland.” which is more than existed before AmaryllisGardener decided to make the page. Now that this controversy has brought attention to the issue, site admins like Michael Dempster, the director of the Scots Language Centre, have set out to amend and correct the articles, and have even reached out to Wikipedia about working on this project in an official capacity.

This does, however, highlight another issue that might not be as obvious at first look: Wikipedia is very Anglo centric. English makes up the largest portion of pages on the site, with nearly 12% of the total articles and the highest number of editors and admins. The use of Wikipedia outside of English is difficult and unreliable. With English having 10 times as many users as the second most popular language, German, it’s clear to see why the Anglosphere might dominate the site. This dominance however also means minor languages often get ignored, with even Ultach, the reddit user that first discovered the edits, stating that “The Scots language version of Wikipedia is legendarily bad”, noting how it is more often than not ignored by the Scots speaking community. This lack of maintenance and attention has led to strange situations like what’s happened to the Scots language pages, or -even stranger- what’s happened to the Cebuano Wikipedia; an Austronesian language spoken in the southern Philippines, despite its low number of admins(currently only 6) Cebuano has the second highest number of total articles; here, history has repeated itself, with the majority of the articles in this language being written by a non native speaker- a Swedish man who designed a “bot” (or computer program) that would, rather poorly apparently, create and translate articles. This lack of attention not only means that a non native speaker has made themselves an authority on the language on the site, but that it’s happened twice now to separate languages. 

A darker side of this has come up in languages like Croatian and Azerbaijani, where far right theories are spread as verified facts and political agendas and biased sources crop up again and again to enforce dogma. The Croatian Wikipedia- according to Signpost, a Wikipedia newsletter- is now in the hands of a small group of fascists after many of the other Croatian editors abandoned the site. This has even been highlighted by the Croatian government when Željko Jovanović, Croatian Minister of Science, Education and Sports, in 2013 said that “Regrettably, we must warn Croatian students that a large part of content of Croatian-language Wikipedia is not only dubious, but clearly falsified, so we therefore urge them to use more reliable sources of information, such as Wikipedia editions in English and other major languages.”. In the Azeri Wikipedia, a similar controversy arose when it emerged that Azerbaijani users were abusing their authority to shut down and suppress discussion, pushing their own agendas on issues like the Armenian Genocide

What’s going to become of the Scots Wikipedia is still up in the air; while a degree less worrying that the site becoming a den of far right conspiracy theories and genocide denying propaganda, the site definitely lacked the attention that it deserved and hopefully this rather funny chapter in the language’s history will galvanise the Scots community into making the site workable to help, not hinder the language..

Featured

Community Ownership On The Isle of Eigg

The ownership of Land in Scotland has been a contentious topic over the decades. For many years Scotland still had a Feudal Tenure system; private landlords could buy large pieces of land or islands, becoming that lands “Laird”, essentially controlling everything that happened on that land, including housing, jobs and infrastructure. Nowhere were the failings of this system as readily apparent than on the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the Eigg saw a massive decline in population due to the difficulties of island life and serial mismanagement by the various owners. As a result of this string of bad landlords, the people of this small west coast island banded together to create the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, the vehicle by which they would raise the money necessary to buy the Island and later to “govern” it democratically.

Possibly the most notorious of the Lairds to control Eigg was Keith Schellenberg, a former Olympic bobsleigher and businessman from Yorkshire. He bought the Island on the 1st of April 1975 and would keep control of it for the next 20 years. By all accounts Schellenberg treated the Island as his own personal holiday retreat, having his toff friends visit in the summer where he would drive them around the island in his 1927 Rolls-Royce.

In spite of this the islanders were pleased at first when Schellenberg took over ownership of the island; he promised to bring tourism to the island and re-opened the community hall so that the islanders could take part in some indoor sports during the winter and ceilidhs in the summer. He had buildings renovated into holiday homes and sent out adverts for jobs around the island, bringing the population back up and renewing interest in the small island.

By the 1980’s the island had established many tourist attractions but struggled to keep them staffed. The people that were hired for these positions were housed in poor conditions so turnover was high. Outside of this Schellenberg himself had divorced from his 2nd wife so found himself in a more precarious financial situation with an island to look after. The Farm manager quit and tractors that ran out of diesel were not being refuelled. Buildings- especially the older islander homes- were becoming more and more dilapidated and the only way Schellenberg could keep money for anything was through specific government tax breaks, one of which requiring that he introduce environmentally harmful plantations of non-native trees to the island habitat.

A lot of the people Schellenberg hired and then fired did not leave the island. They had fallen in love with the community so decided to stay and eke out a living any way they could, usually on small self-sustaining crofts. A sense of solidarity grew out of this between the older islanders and the newcomers. Schellenberg started to claim that Eigg had a growing population of no good hippies, characterising the people that he had let down as wasters that could not handle the real world so had come to his island. He was not doing a particularly good job of coping with island life himself and was taken to court by his ex-wife over his mismanagement of the island. It was around this time, in 1991, that the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust was founded, and an appeal was started to raise the millions of pounds needed to buy the island. The following year Schellenberg was forced to put the island up for sale but simply bought it back himself. He had planned a victory lap of the island in his Rolls-Royce when it was roadworthy again but only a couple of years later the sheds on the pier where he was keeping the car burned down with the car inside. When later interviewed by the American TV program ’60 Minutes’ and asked about this event local woman and administrator of the Heritage Trust Maggie Fyffe simply replied, “a mysterious fire, spontaneous combustion, who knows.” The culprits were never found.

Determined not to let the islanders claim ownership, Schellenberg sold the island to a German artist that went by the name Maruma. In one last act of selfishness, Schellenberg went back to the island to take an 1805 map of the island from the craft shop. Hearing of his imminent arrival, the islanders parked an old community bus across the doors to the shop to stop him from entering. He left again by boat shouting “you never understood me!” and did not return to the island.

Again, at first, Maruma seemed to want to do great things with the island; he promised to implement a renewable energy grid and remove old rusty cars; he was to build a swimming pool and improve opportunities for the local residents- none of which came to pass. Even outside of the fact that he only spent a total of 4 days on the island (He remained resident in Stuttgart), it turned out that he was not who he said he was and had used Eigg as security on a £300,000 loan.

The Trust restarted its efforts to raise the money to buy the island, this time gaining a lot of attention. They had captured the imagination of many as a modern-day David & Goliath story, a whopping £900,000 was donated from one wealthy woman from England whose only condition was that she remained anonymous.

The islanders victory eventually came on the 4th of April 1997; after Maruma had defaulted on his loan, his creditor went through the Scottish courts to force him to put the island back up for sale and his solicitors accepted the islanders offer of £1.5 million. The chairman of the trust is quoted as saying at the time –

‘a triumph for all that is good in humanity and certainly one in the eye for everything that is mean spirited and self-seeking.’

Eigg has been owned by the community now for over 20 years and since it has been freed of the greedy objectives of private landlords it has flourished in many ways. The Trust operates its own housing association which provides housing with much cheaper rent, about half the level of affordable housing in the rest of Scotland. They also have a self-sufficient energy grid that is mostly renewable that provides electricity for the community all year round.

There is a lot to be learned from the community ownership on Eigg. Partly due to the success on the island there has been a push for land reform in which local communities get first dibs on the land that they call home, a big change from the previous feudal system. This, along with the push towards workers ownership of businesses is an exciting positive step for the future of Scotland. Unsurprisingly, it seems that once any enterprise is freed from the grip of private, profit driven individuals and given back to the community that cares for it we tend to see a dramatic increase in life satisfaction and positive environmental outcomes.

Crazy right?

Featured

Subclub and the decline of the Glasgow Nightclub

In recent years the nightlife of Glasgow has gone through a decline, even before the impacts of lockdown. While not a trend unique to Glasgow- nightclubs all over the UK have been struggling for the last 10 years– a combination of circumstances have devastated the city’s nighttime landscape and next on the chopping block might be the iconic Subclub. 

Subby has been a pillar of Glasgow’s EDM and techno scene, with DJs from all over the world coming to the club, as well as being an integral part of the city’s music scene more generally since it was founded in 1987; bands like Primal Scream had their first gigs in the small but illustrious venue. Once voted the 10th best club in the world despite a capacity of just over 400, the club’s future is now looking uncertain. Having survived a fire in 1999 and even the accidental demolition of one of its walls, it looks like a legal battle over an empty plot of land might be the greatest threat the club has faced yet.

Situated between the iconic club and Crystal Palace, the Jamaica Street Wetherspoon, the plot of land was sold to the national chain of pubs to be developed into a hotel in 2014. The club says that the idea of building a hotel on the street will threaten Subclub with a litany of noise complaints and other issues that will make the clubs existence untenable. A bit of drama emerged this week when it came to light that the plot of land was sold to Wetherspoons by the club director’s own family. Explaining in the same article to the Ferret, Barry Price- the director- made it clear that they didn’t object to a hotel in and of itself, but that any plans would have to take into account the existence of Subclub and accommodate the urban history of the street and club as a world famous music venue and nightclub. 

On top of this existential threat the club is already struggling, after an administrative error meant that the club was unable to access the government’s furlough scheme. Subclub submitted an online crowd fund to help make sure the club survived this financial difficulty and had its goal met in a couple hours after posting and finishing at £189,620 raised by 4339 supporters in 28 days. Clearly showing that there is support for the club in the community, and I do hope Subby does buck the trend of nightclub closures. 

A similar tragedy that hit the city was the closure of the Arches nightclub in 2015, literally just round the corner from Subclub. Serving as a grim reminder of what can befall even the most popular venue, the Arches was once a cultural Mecca of the city. On top of being renowned as one of the city’s best nightclubs it was also known for its support of the arts with plays and art exhibitions, as well as weirder nights like Alien Wars, an Alien inspired, horror adventure through the venues lower levels. 

The Arches founding has a bit of a mythology behind it. Andy Arnold, a theatre director, was looking for a unique setting for a show and came upon the venue almost by accident, disused and unloved under the train station, with no one quite sure what to do with the space. With a bit of imagination and ingenuity, it was soon opened to the public and the rest is history

After police complaints about drug abuse on the site following the death of a 17-year-old girl, the city council withdrew the venue’s license, meaning it could no longer operate as a nightclub as of April 2015. This was done despite an appeal by Scottish creatives that had loved the venue, including author Irvine Welsh, members of Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand, and came amid criticism that the local council had an anti nightclub agenda. The council has been accused previously of withholding late night licenses and generally making business for the clubs difficult, the use of drug abuses as a reason for closure were seen as especially flimsy when down the street a food venue (which will remain unnamed) that had for a long time been anecdotally more associated with drug abuse, and drug deaths remained open. As the nightclub side of the business had been the money generator that funded the arts and culture events, the business soon entered a tailspin. Despite being promised support from the Scottish government, the venue closed its doors in June. Anecdotally, a friend of mine was personally affected by this closure as he won a TV in a raffle on one of the last club nights; after the venue went into administration he never did get his prize. The venue is now open again under the name Platform as a 350 seat bar and restaurant.

Another victim of club closures has been the O2 ABC, a massive venue host to club events and an important stop in any major artists european tour. On the 31st of January 2019 a proposal to demolish the entire building was submitted to local authorities after it was severely damaged in the tragic Art School fire. Who knows what will be replacing it, or even when the demolition will go ahead but the venue that used to host popular nights like Propaganda will be missed. 

The elephant in the room for every club in the city is lockdown. It’s uncertain how these venues will recover after the financial hit which has meant the they have remained shut for nearly half a year. On top of this Donald MacLeod- the owner of both the Garage and the Cathouse- is currently going through a legal battle after he had taken out insurance against outbreaks of infectious disease, and now is getting stiffed by the insurance company. The first in what might be many insurance disputes, other venues are watching MacLeod’s struggle to get his payout with interest but it paints a poor picture for the city when even clubs that had done their best to prepare for something like this are now struggling.

Little by little the clubs we went to in our youth are closing, and the cultural venues that had shaped the landscape of the city’s music and art scene are being resigned to the history books. I hope Subby survives this ordeal, and doesn’t go the way of the Arches but the only thing we can be certain about is that after Covid we’ll be left with a very different Glasgow.

Featured

SQA Results: Class Bias In Education

The long-awaited results from the Scottish Qualifications Authority are finally in and they seem to have revealed a bias in how students are graded. The SQA had refused to disclose how they would decide pupils’ final grades, at least until the results were published. This despite the fact that the Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed concerns that the proposed grading system may have been illegal.

On Tuesday of this week, as young people around Scotland received their results, the SQA finally revealed their methodology; it appears they decided that the professional opinion of the teachers that work with the pupils was not enough, electing to include taking the historical performance of the schools in which pupils attended. In essence, the grade pupils achieved was altered based on how other people had done in the years before them. If the school had no historical data, they simply went with the teacher’s recommendation.

What this means is that pupils from deprived areas saw their grades lowered at a much higher rate than pupils from wealthy areas. The estimate for the number of poor students that had their final estimate reduced from their teachers estimate was around 15.2%. In contrast, the wealthiest pupils saw only around 6.9% of their grades reduced from teacher estimates. In general, the poorest kids across Scotland had their marks downgraded from a pass to a fail at twice the rate of the richest kids.

This has resulted in many pupils that have worked hard- many of them harder than their wealthier counterparts- having that hard work thrown away by a system that cannot be described as anything but classist.

One pupil from Coatbridge tweeted –

“I’m really trying to understand how the SQA think it’s okay to mark me from a predicted A to an F in psychology because I come from a deprived school with low results despite having four A’s at Higher already. If that doesn’t show I’m a capable student then what does?”

As a result of the backlash the SQA has received, one of their Chief Executives, Fiona Robertson, will give evidence to the Education and Skills Committee on Wednesday. The deputy convener of the committee had this to say –

“Today’s events place teachers in a horrendous position… The failure of the SQA to publish their methodology in advance is solely [to] blame for that.”

The only thing the First Minister has had to say on the subject when confronted about it was that an unprecedented rise in their pass rate would not have been ‘credible’.

In isolation this is bad enough, but when you look at the wider context of the education system in Scotland it becomes clear that this is just one event in a history of discrimination against students from deprived backgrounds; in a report in 2018, Professor Sir Peter Scott, the Scottish Government’s Commissioner for Fair Access found that students from the poorest areas are typically 5% less likely to complete degrees than those from elsewhere. Poorer students are defined as being from the 20% of areas at the bottom of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivations (SIMD). Professor Scott is quoted as saying –

“Part of the reason for ‘underperformance’ by SIMD20 students may be that our current definitions of academic ‘performance’ are deeply interwoven with largely unacknowledged assumptions about behaviour linked to class and culture… it is commonplace to talk about ‘institutional racism’ that is so deeply entrenched it may go unrecognised, the same is true of class.”

Any pupils that are unhappy with their results have an opportunity to appeal the decision for free once (although this process in itself can take up to 9 months). We can only hope that positive steps are taken to rectify this national embarrassment. A good step forward might be for Nicola Sturgeon to take Professor Scott’s advice and set out a route map for closing the attainment gap by 2030. He argues that merely improving access to universities is not enough- more must be done to support marginalised students who face barriers to entry not based on aptitude or ability, but on financial and social factors. This latest debacle shows how far we have to go to to address inequality and prejudice within education.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Featured

Scottish Tory Leadership

The Tories are in disarray. After less than 6 months of being confirmed party leader, Jackson Carlaw has resigned and now the role is empty. Already people are putting their hats into the ring and today we’ll take a look at what this could mean for Scotland’s second biggest party (I know right? still stings) and Scottish politics as a whole. 

Jackson Carlaw (A man with two surnames for a name) began his leadership when Ruth Davidson went on maternity leave in 2018 as the interim leader. During this period he oversaw the loss of 7 out of 13 Scottish conservative MP seats in the 2019 election. Not exactly a fantastic track record, especially considering the overwhelming majority won by the Tory party in England, however this did not hold him back and at the start of 2020 he launched his bid to be confirmed as leader of the Tory party. His main challenger was Michelle Ballantyne, but Jackson managed to get a long tally of endorsements, including from Ruth Davidson herself, going on to win over three quarters of the total vote. 

Once confirmed, his leadership was largely uneventful, mostly defined by the policies of his party co-patriots down south. For example, the largest revolt the Scottish Tory party faced in recent memory was when Jackson initially supported Boris when his chief advisor Dominic Cummings broke lockdown. Jackson was also accused of grandstanding and lying over Covid lockdown restrictions in Scotland by the Green Party. Whilst not a great record, his resignation still came as a surprise to observers after such a short time as confirmed leader, who said he had come to the painful decision after realising he wasn’t the man to lead the party or make the case for preserving the Union– a particular worry for the Scottish Tory party as support for independence in Scotland appears on a sharp rise. 

Who might be leader next then? Ruth Davidson managed to lead the party out of political irrelevance in Scotland and firmly established them as the SNP’s major rival over Labour. Popular and effective, unfortunately for the Scottish Tories Ruth will instead be taking a seat in the House of Lords.

The current favorite to be leader for next May’s election appears to be Douglas Ross, a football referee turned politician. Unsurprisingly, Douglas is making preserving the Union a central issue of his would-be premiership. But who is the man? Winning his first seat as part of the regional lists as an MSP in 2016, Douglas would go on to win a seat in Westminster in 2019, taking the seat from the SNP’s deputy leader- a rare success for the Scottish Tories in what was otherwise a political nightmare. He also initially supported remaining in the EU, over concerns for what brexit would mean for the Union, initially voting against Theresa May’s brexit bill and missing the second vote due to his wife going into labour with their first child. 

Despite voting against the party and appearing as a remain rebel, it seems the Tory party held no grudges and Douglas even got support from Boris in the 2019 election when they campaigned together in Moray

Douglas is, however, not without controversy; a video from 2017 emerged where Douglas said his number one priority if he was Prime Minister would be to bring in tougher enforcement against “Gypsy Travellers”, a curious turn of phrase that shows a strange attempt at PC language while discussing how his top concern during a time of crisis for the UK- with an ever looming Brexit and rising independence movements- would be to introduce more bigotry to our society. Not surprising for a party that in 2019 promised to specifically target Roma as part of their election manifesto, but still truly concerning for those of us who don’t particularly like ethnic cleansing on the British isles. 

What does all this mean for Scottish politics? Well not much will be known for definite until a leader is actually picked, but a party that doesn’t have a leader already in place 9 months before an election is going to struggle. While this might be to the advantage of the SNP, Labour is unlikely to be able to seize a victory out of this Tory chaos, other than possibly being able to retake their position as first loser to the SNP. What can be said is that with the strongest Unionist party in Scotland now leaderless, independence might be appearing sooner rather than later, and with their star again on the ascendant it might be time for the SNP to call for a second referendum, especially if the 2021 elections continue to look like a clean sweep for the party as they do now.

Featured

The Russian Report, State Failure and Corruption

On the 21st of July, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) finally published its long-awaited report on Russian interference in the UK’s democratic process. Allegedly the report has been ready since before the election in 2019 but the Johnson led government has been accused of deliberately delaying its release until after they were elected. The chair of the ISC himself, Dominic Grieve, said that the reasons given for the report’s delay were “bogus”. The version of the report that is available to the public has been heavily redacted as it contains a lot of information related to the Intelligence Services, but it still shines an interesting light on the way the government has failed to mitigate the threat of Russian cyber attacks and political interference. It also points out a serious issue of Russian Oligarchs with ties to the Russian Government using London as a haven while also helping to fill the Conservative Party’s coffers.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the amount of resources allocated to protection from Hostile State Activity has rapidly fallen; twenty years ago, MI5 devoted around 20% of its resources to this cause. As the threat of terrorism grew, Hostile State Activity resources continued to dwindle; by 2008/9 around 97% of all of MI5’s resources were tied up in counter terrorism activities. It was not until 2013/14, in response to an increase in Russian cyber activity, that resources increased back to 14.5%. The report states –

‘Since 2014, Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries.’

In spite of an increase of resources in the intelligence community to try and deal with this problem it is obvious that the response has been completely disorganised with many different agencies expected to deal with the issue with no clear chain of responsibility in place. After describing all the different agencies involved, the report goes on to state –

‘Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a “hot potato”, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.’

This shows a worrying lack of cohesion and a clear weakness in the supposed stated goal of the UK’s intelligence agencies in “the defence of the realm”. It is clear that since the inception of these agencies the definition of what the ‘realm’ is has changed and more needs to be done to update what it means to defend it.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union there seemed to be a genuine hope that Russia could be seen as a potential partner in the upper echelons of UK businesses and political parties. As a result, the UK has been incredibly open in accepting Russian money and investment which has resulted in London becoming something of a recycler of illicit finances and has been referred to as “Londongrad” or the “London Laundromat”. On this matter the report states –

‘Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.’

Probably of little surprise to most it also describes a possible issue of corruption within the House of Lords –

‘It is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state – these relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.’

So, in which direction is all of this Russian money and influence going then?

Since 2014 the Conservative party has received millions of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, nouveau riche that emerged like vultures picking apart the corpse of the USSR for profit.

The largest donor among them has been Lubov Chernukin, the wife of a former Russian deputy finance minister. In the last year she has donated more than £450,000 to the Tories (more than £1.2 million since 2014) and has repeatedly purchased one on one time with high ranking Tory members. In February while attending the Black and White ball- an event held for major Tory donors in Battersea Park- she paid £135,000 at an auction to have dinner with Theresa May. Chernukin also gave almost £15,000 to the constituency office of the Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP who is now the Minister of State for Security. In 2014 she also paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron and £30,000 so that she could have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. We don’t deal in conspiracy theories at ACU but various Tory MP’s prostituting themselves to Russian elites seems very strange indeed.

Another prominent Russian donor is former arms tycoon Alexander Temerko. Over the past 7 years Temerko has gifted over £1.2 million pounds and speaks kindly of his “friend” Boris Johnson. He revealed how close he is with the now Prime Minister when talking with Reuters, claiming that when Johnson was the Foreign Secretary the pair would often “plot” late in to the evening over a bottle of wine on the balcony of Johnson’s office at parliament. The two men reportedly call each other “Sasha”, the Russian nickname for Alexander, this being Johnson’s real first name, which only close friends call him. Alexander Temerko has links to the highest levels inside the Russian government.

There seems to be many on the left that think that the Russian state deserves support as a great anti-western power in the world. This is a dangerous position to take as the current Russian state power is increasingly shown to be incredibly corrupt, confrontational and has many ties to the criminal underworld. It’s not one or the other, it is possible to acknowledge that both the western governments and that of Russia are at least as corrupt as each other. The findings in this ISC report appear very damaging, despite Johnson trying to downplay the revelations in Parliament. In yet another facet of governing, the Tory party has completely dropped the ball and now appears, pretty convincingly, to be heavily influenced by the elites of Russia.

Featured

Green Capitalism: The rise of Eco Colonialism

We are on the verge of climate catastrophe, possibly within the next decade. Already the UN has acknowledged climate change as a reason for refugees fleeing their homes, islands are disappearing under the waves and we might be witnessing the first of the coming fights over water as a resource.

The world will change irreversibly for the worse due to industrialisation, deforestation and the release of greenhouse gasses within most of our lifetimes. It’s not a nice thought, but the scientific consensus largely agrees with the idea that we are heading toward ecological collapse. Luckily however, the market has thrown out a solution to us, a lifeline in these trying times. Green Capitalism. You don’t have to cut back, you can still get a sports car, but now it’s electric; you can still fly abroad for holidays every year, this nice company will plant trees for you to offset the carbon emissions; you can enjoy your imported coffee; have red meat for dinner as many times as you want- everything is grown sustainably! All your waste will be recycled, nothing goes into a landfill anymore. For a small price markup, you can live life almost the exact same way as before but you’ll be saving the environment- guilt free, and in luxury. 

Except, can you? 

It’s a good sales pitch and I wish that if everyone did offset their carbon emissions and drove a Tesla and used green energy the world would fix itself; but what you’re hearing isn’t a solution to the climate crisis from scientists, it’s a sales pitch from the money men to an audience they know wants to help the world but doesn’t know how. The sad fact is climate change came about because, we- and by we I mean the west- over consume. A lot. 7 out of the top 10 countries that consume the most energy per capita are in the west. While Green energy is growing, reaching about a quarter of all energy generated world wide in 2016 according to the REN21 think tank, the majority of energy generated world wide isn’t green. Even if all energy in the West was green, the energy that goes into manufacturing the goods we import largely isn’t. Until all energy is green, it won’t matter that you have a solar panel on your roof, if the parts in the solar panel have a bigger carbon footprint just from manufacturing than you could ever make by leaving your hall light on at night. 

The best example of this is the newest name in luxury cars, and the reddit of automobiles, the Tesla. Rolling up with the promise of making electric cars cool, Elon Musk’s company has certainly achieved that mission statement. Teslas are cool. They look cool, their branding is cool, their image is cool and one day, when I finally figure out how to jailbreak one I’ll let you know if they feel cool to drive. Are they, however, green? 

Well… that’s less clear cut.

They do produce less carbon emissions than a petrol or Diesel engine. Even taking into account that electricity powering the car might not be the cleanest, as well as the entire manufacturing process, the footprint was still likely smaller. This, however, is comparing a new petrol car to a new electric car. If you were looking to limit your environmental impact, a better option would be to buy a used petrol car. It might not be as cool or as stylish as a new car fresh off the range but the used car has one massive advantage: it’s already been built. The environmental impact of manufacturing has already been dealt, and not only that, but keeping an old car running keeps it from turning into waste. Cuba has shown that it’s possible to keep old cars running for decades rather than replace them every couple of years. Due to the US blockade, foreign imports weren’t an option for Cubans; instead of consumption, maintenance dictated car culture on the island and Soviet Ladas are still seen in Havana today. Cars that were built in the 50’s kept running as a result of Cuban ingenuity and a Soviet design philosophy centred on building a car to last rather than building a car to be sold. Now there’s Ladas out there that outlived the USSR and may even one day stay running longer than the Soviet experiment lasted. 

There’s also another option, one where we don’t even need cars. Instead of every household having a car, or two that consumes and pollutes, imagine a world where clean energy powers a transport system that’s robust, modern and reliable. A nationwide fleet of solar powered, self driving buses. A train system that’s fast and free. A world where no one has a car because no one needs one. The technology for this already exists, what we don’t have is the demand. The market instead has firmly decided cars will stay.

Tesla isn’t an environmental lifeline that’s going to save the world, it’s a lifestyle that’s being sold to you.  

Everything I’ve said has been talked about before. You probably already knew that a second hand car is better than a brand new Tesla, but an aspect of Green Capitalism I don’t often hear discussed is something it shares with regular non-green capitalism- a complete reliance on the third world to sustain itself. The West has relied on the developing world to stay afloat since the days of the East India Company. It provides cheap labour and a wealth of raw materials and things haven’t changed much since those early days of international industry. Not only this, but with a reliance on rare earth minerals like cobalt electric cars in particular have even been linked to child slavery.

Further still, the demand for rare minerals in green industries have been linked as a motivation behind the US-backed coup in Bolivia. Evo Morales himself touted this as a motivation behind the coup. This might sound like another socialist conspiracy theory until you hear it from the mouth of Samuel Doria Medina, the man who came in second to Morales in the 2014 election, in his own tweet. The US-backed coup in Bolivia is not a break from established American policy in Latin America. The same tactics being used to try and topple Venezuela to fulfill the West’s demand for oil are being used in Bolivia to fulfil the West’s demand for green technology. 

The same imperialism that puts petrol in your engine is at work helping build electric cars.

I used electric cars as an example here, but don’t think Tesla is some outlier, or that green initiatives are somehow more vulnerable supply chains that rely on human rights violations. As long as green capitalism is still capitalism and the profit motive and market dictate policy, the need for cheaper and cheaper goods to be consumed en mass in the west will force exploitation into existence.  

We can’t consume our way out of a crisis. The people telling you we can aren’t the people that will lead us through our darkest days. They are salesmen. Green capitalism only exists as a way for the money men to exploit our guilt and concerns over the environment, to sell us more things and distract us from taking any real action that could actually help. Not only this, but Green Capitalism relies on the same exploitation of the third world that our economic system sustains. 

But sure, Teslas are cool.

Featured

Manufacturing Indifference: Fast Fashion and Consumerism

This past week, fashion industry giant Boohoo made headlines as news of poor working conditions and underpayment came to light from its supply chains in Leicester’s garment district; workers are being paid as little as £3 per hour, well below the national minimum wage, as well as being required to work in unsafe conditions throughout the pandemic, with no social distancing or safety measures put in place. With Leicester being one of the first cities forced to implement a localised lockdown in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, it is believed that these conditions in garment factories contributed to the rapid spread of the virus among the community. Developments in this wave of fashion industry controversy are ongoing- two days ago The Times announced the findings of an investigation which similarly implicates the Quiz brand in sourcing products from garment factories with a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights. As “shocked and appalled” as Boohoo- and us along with them- may claim to be at finding what amounts to slavery on our own doorstep, this is nothing new. While some may be genuinely surprised workers are treated this way in our own country, we, like the bosses at Boohoo, know the suffering that goes into producing the shirts on our backs and the shoes on our feet; “Made in Bangladesh” labels on £4 Primark dresses don’t exactly conjure images of workplace utopia’s. 

While we are hazily aware of oppression in the Global South, this level of awareness very seldom translates into the kind of moral outrage garnered by analogous oppressions in our immediate environment. Geographical as well as cultural distance help us to otherise workers suffering in far off places. Yet this is not a problem solely for foreign governments and traders to deal with. As this latest affair shows, the oppressive and callous conditions of capitalist production persist everywhere; even in ostensibly ‘developed’ countries like our own, huge retailers and restaurant chains will routinely underpay and overwork staff. Last year, the Low Pay Commission found a record number of workers in the UK, most of them women, were being paid less than the national minimum wage. If companies with huge public profiles like Wagamama and Marriott can get away with underpaying employees and violating their rights, is it any wonder that for migrant workers locked away in sweatshops the situation is significantly worse?

‘Fast fashion’ has developed exponentially in the last decade, as high street shopping has been overtaken by the online sphere and the demand for personalised convenience. As highlighted by clothing magnate Eileen Fisher (while accepting an industry award for environmentalism), “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world… second only to oil… it’s a really nasty business… it’s a mess.” At every level, from the harvesting of raw materials, to production, to transit, to distribution, to consumption and finally to disposal, the environmental impact of fast fashion is gargantuan. Behind endless sales and new seasons in perpetuity, inland seas are drained, landfills pile high with poor quality, instantly dated clothes and rivers are poisoned with dye. Cultural awareness of the environmental impact of our consumption habits has arguably never been higher, as we hurtle on towards climate catastrophe. In recent years, the high-profile protestations of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have dominated much of this conversation, and around the world, leaders are being put under increased pressure to develop a ‘Green New Deal’. As this snappy business-backed euphemism suggests, the more radical (often non-white) voices of the environmental movement are subsumed by a mainstream which proposes investment in emergent technologies, streamlining production and developing a carbon-neutral ‘eco-capitalism’. Quick to dismiss the utopian visions of far- out socialists or even social democrats, liberal policymakers the world over have seemingly found their own fairy tale to inhabit.

Understanding our consumption habits in terms of environmental impact is hugely important if we are to have any chance of preventing- or, at this stage, mitigating- climate change, and no doubt there are emergent or developing technologies which will help us accomplish a reduction in the footprint of industries like fashion. Yet conversations around the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ typically fails to provide any consideration for the workers, whose already precarious existence will face the most upheaval at the hands of automation or efficiency technologies. Some continue to argue that innovations on the production line benefit workers by increasing output while minimizing their required labour input; as workers in the fashion industry have known since the invention of the sewing machine, any perceived reduction in exertion leads inevitably to an increase in hours and a deflation of wages. Whatever the case may be, these people won’t simply cease to exist once we fully automate production lines and will need to be accounted for.

The coronavirus lockdown has created the space and conditions in which this conversation could reasonably be expected to come to a head; earlier in the pandemic, online retailers reported huge surges in profits as more and more people turned to online outlets for their grocery, entertainment and consumption needs. This uptick in revenue and usage has led to increased scrutiny. Or, at least, more conscious scrutiny. After all, environmental groups have been warning of the devastating impact of over-consumption for decades, and similar reports to those shaming Boohoo and Quiz have come and gone in years past. While it might typically be easy for us to think of these as issues solely for private business and government, the true impact and danger of our consumption demands- not only for the environment but for workers- has been thrown into sharp relief by the threat the coronavirus poses. 

Yet it’s almost easier to imagine the end of the world as a result of a deadly pandemic than the end of rampant consumerism, a mould we have been collectively shaped and moulded into since at least the 1920s. Industrial capital has manufactured our indifference to the suffering of workers for decades. When one story breaks through, as has happened with Boohoo and the Leicester factories, they follow a standardised playbook: plead ignorance, pledge funding to weed out the bad actors and wait for everything to blow over. We can’t rely on the self-regulation of huge companies to improve working conditions or avert climate disaster. While they may offer empty gestures and platitudes (the £10mil pledged by Boohoo to address this controversy is less than 7% of the £150 millon bonus scheme already planned for bosses), these organisations will forever be the propagators of unchecked and exponential consumption. It will take unlearning and challenging our roles as consumers to exert the kind of pressure needed to win big for the environment and workers.

Featured

The NHS Needs Real Solidarity

Today marks the 72nd Birthday of the National Health Service. It officially came into operation at midnight on the 4th of July 1948 and was the first completely free healthcare that was made available anywhere in the world on the basis of citizenship instead of through fees or insurances. It came at a time when the infant mortality rate for children less than 1 year old in Britain was around 1 in 20. Every year saw thousands die of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, meningitis, polio, and pneumonia. There is a common perception that the NHS was gifted to working people by the altruistic tendencies of the ruling political elites. This is simply not true. The creation of state medical services was a hot topic for debate within the Trade Union Council since the early 1890’s. With the incredible popularity of the Labour Party- which became an official party in 1906- and the massive rise in trade union activity around the same time, the two big-business parties now had to seriously address the concerns of the working class.

In an attempt to stop workers from flocking to the newly formed Labour party the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time, Lloyd George, introduced the National Health Insurance Act in 1911. This act meant that lower paid workers had medical insurance as long as they paid fourpence a week. They had free access to a GP, medicine, and sickness benefit but it did not include dentistry, opticians, artificial limbs, x-rays, or any other kind of hospital treatment. Crucially, it also did not extend to unwaged workers or women and children. Understandably many workers were not pleased with the bill as it did not go far enough. The Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, had this to say on its introduction:

‘What was the answer received when a minimum wage of thirty shillings for all and eight shillings per day was demanded for those who worked underground in unhealthy conditions? No, say the Liberals, but we will give you an Insurance Bill. We shall not uproot the cause of poverty, but we will give you a porous plaster to cover the disease that poverty causes.’

From the passing of this Act to the introduction of the NHS as we know it today, there was a period of great tension between the working class and the ruling class; a back and forth of pressure from the working class and the political parties trying to placate them just enough that they would stop striking and pushing for social change. Around 1944 Tory health ministers started to put forward various plans for a National Health Service in response to the Beveridge Report and the worry of a demoralised workforce during the Second World War. There was no detail included as to when anything would be done and so the Labour Party came to power in 1945 in a wave of support. There was dancing in the streets and the Labour Party sang the Red Flag in the House of Commons.

Aneurin Bevan was appointed as minister of health and set out to organise the new NHS. Private practice was never fully disbanded, but healthcare was now available to anyone that needed it.

The NHS has faced difficulty since its inception. The Tory party has always tried to starve it and bring back more privatisation; in the early 70’s the only way the Tory government was willing to spend money on new facilities was by lowering the pay of the already low paid health workers; in the 80’s Margaret Thatcher would oversee massive cuts in public spending, a privatisation of many nationalised industries and a significant drop in funding for the NHS; hospitals were taken out of the control of district health authorities and run by trusts; an internal market was established, meaning that some parts of the NHS purchased services while other parts provided them. This effectively ended co-operation between districts. Between 1989 and 1992, an extra 30,000 administrators were hired for the NHS and the number of nurses fell by 26,000.

All of these decisions contributed greatly to the defeat of the Tory party in 1997. Tony Blair famously proclaimed in his campaign that he would save the NHS, but instead would only continue the process started by Thatcher as soon as he got into power. This new Labour stopped defending a publicly run welfare state and continued Tory spending plans for 2 years. Bit by bit, parts of the NHS have been given away to private companies. Starting in the early 2000’s, any new hospital that was constructed was owned privately and then hired out to the NHS with guaranteed profits for 30 years or more. Interest payments increased to as high as 16% and according to the trade union Unite private companies were estimated to have made £23 billion in profit over the length of their contracts.

This creeping privatisation has never ended. Back-door deals are constantly made to try and privatise more of the industry. Hospitals are even attempting to set up separate private companies to then hire cleaning staff and porters so that they can pay them lower wages and give them more unsociable hours.

All of this has meant a drop in the quality of outcomes, which the major parties use to sour public opinion on the NHS so that they can claim that people deserve “options”- which just means that they get redirected to private practices.

The current pandemic has been a clear indicator of the attitudes the modern political elites have towards the NHS. Supplying PPE has been an utter shambles, with frontline NHS workers only having surgical masks when dealing with seriously sick Covid-19 patients. The health secretary Matt Hancock simply urged NHS staff to stop overusing PPE and refused to discuss the potential of increasing the wages for the NHS staff that fully deserve it. Instead he claimed that nurses have already had a pay rise and so do not need one, a claim for which he has been roundly criticised. In reality, the findings of the independent fact-checking charity Full Fact make clear that nurses in 2020 are worse off than they were in 2010, as their wages have not kept up with inflation.

Around 200 NHS and social care staff have died due to coronavirus. As a people we seem to be perfectly happy to shower these workers in empty gestures and praise but do not push for any real change or recompense for the risks they take to care for us. If you really want to support the amazing staff of the NHS stop voting for the Tory Party and, just as the workers of the past did, show your solidarity by putting pressure on the government and refusing to back down. If the past teaches anything, it’s that progress can come when we speak out as one against injustice.

Featured

A Post Police World

You might remember my last article where I went through the history of policing. Today, I’m going to do something a little different than usual for ourselves at the ACU and discuss something hypothetical- what a post-police world could look like. 

Before this however I think it’s only fair that I put my biases on the table and admit- at the risk of losing my leftie credentials- I don’t hate polis. 

At least not individual ones. I do believe that the police service is something that has outlived its usefulness to communities across the world some time ago, that better systems already exist and that- sometimes by design and sometimes by accident- policing has upheld systems of abuse and oppression. I do not, however, as a rule hate polis. I am sure there are individuals that join the police service looking to exercise some authoritarian power fantasy because of an antisocial tendency that they never grew out of; but I also know polis that are good people, that want to help their community and for these people, for better or worse, if you really want to help your community police work can be, if not the only, certainly the most obvious game in town. I can’t bring myself to hate individual people who want to make the world better but don’t have the radicalisation or the education to imagine other, more effective ways of going about it. 

I do, however, firmly believe that for a better world to exist, police need to not. 

If we’re going to imagine a world without police, we need to first understand their job, and then look at what bits we would want to keep and what parts are better left to the dustbin of history. Police Scotland define their role as “improving the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland” which sounds rather nice. Those are, after all, principles I do like and that I think are important. However, police do serve specific roles, like upholding the law and serving the community interest, which are two purposes that can be at odds with each other. 

Before lockdown went into place I had a nice chat with a police officer. We were talking about body cameras, a practice that some reformers are calling for the expansion of, where an officer will be required to have a camera that’s on 24/7, recording everything they say and do. Naturally, I was very much in favour of this proposal and said as much to the officer, that accountability in any role is important, doubly so in a role where you exercise a lot of power. This officer, however, said something that stuck with me: “How many people in the west of Scotland would still have a license if instead of letting people off with a warning, I had to write them up when they did something a bit daft on the road? How many kids would be spending time in juvy if instead of giving them a telling off when I caught them stealing something or vandalising something, I had to make sure that they were persecuted to the full extent of the law? If the camera is on 24/7, I don’t get to decide what’s worth taking seriously, and I don’t want to take every daftie to prison ‘cause then streets would be empty”. I still think police accountability is a good and a vitally necessary thing, although what she had said really hammered home the (perhaps unintentional) point that the community interest and the exact letter of the law is not always one and the same. 

Until the introduction in 2011 of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act there were a number of so-called “cold cases” like the famous incident involving Angus Sinclair; historic cases that had new evidence emerge as a result of modern DNA analysis techniques, that were nevertheless not able to be taken to court as the law at the time stated you could not be tried again for a crime you were already found innocent off, even if new evidence emerged. Angus was arrested in 2004 for the World’s End murders in 1977 and then acquitted; it wasn’t until 2014 and the passing of this new law that he was finally able to be taken to trial and found guilty of the crime he long ago been proven to have committed. Stepping aside the complex issue of the use and morality of prison as a punishment and instead focusing on the issue of upholding the law, we can see here that keeping to the law does not always mean keeping the community safe, it sometimes means letting a known murderer walk free for years. 

Another, less savoury role police serve in modern society is using violence in order to maintain the state’s internal monopoly on violence. Essentially, the only way a modern state can exist is if it is the only organisation that is legally allowed to use force to maintain itself and its property, and it does this via the use of police. 

That’s a word salad, so what do I mean by this? Basically, if you do something the Government doesn’t like they can send the folk in blue to batter you and take you away, you however, canny rock up to a polis station and arrest the polis. This makes sense, it would be bedlam otherwise and most people would agree that if you are a murderer or a violent criminal it’s good when the polis stop your rampage. The Government, however, has a longer list of do’s and don’t’s than just “don’t murder people” and in the past police have been happy to oblige Government directives to cracks down on union strikes, and have turned up in full riot gear to peaceful protests, often leaving protestors bruised, and sometimes dead. The same police force that keeps our communities safe also turned up to gay bars to do mass arrests, fed information to employers about trade unionists for industry black lists  and conducted spying on minority groups that amounted to targetted harassment

What’s the alternative though? If the Government doesn’t have a monopoly on violence, does that mean anyone could be violent? Surely that chaos is worse than any oppressive order imposed on us? We tried might makes right in the past and collectively agreed it was not a very nice time for most people. What if instead of there being a select group of people permitted to dish out violence on the Government’s behalf and to uphold the Government’s laws, police were instead directly accountable to the people they serve and protect? 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume, dear reader, that you, like myself are a fan of democracy. If we agree that democracy is good, we can employ it as a solution here. Instead of being representatives of the Government we could introduce a model where every police officer is elected by the community. This sounds strange, until you consider that the people that decide our laws are already elected- why not, then, the people that actually carry out those laws? This would mean that the police aren’t just faceless men and women that act as agents of the state but instead people with names, faces, promises and accountability. The police are not apolitical, each and everyone will have some political inclination even if it’s not shown during work hours and they remain completely professional throughout their career. Would you not rather know if the person walking about your town, upholding the law in your community is ideologically opposed to you? The Police and Crime Commissioner is already an elected role in England and Wales, so why not officers on the ground?

Now that’s a pretty radical idea, and not jumping at joy at the idea of bringing political division into police work is an understandable response. What if you don’t like the government, and think the MPs people vote for are all idiots already, that Westminster and Holyrood are without a single honest person. You agree we need some form of police, but you don’t like the mercenary idea of just hiring people to do it, and don’t trust the type of people that would stand for election just to put on a uniform. There already exists in our legal system a method of selection that avoids the issues that both methods raise: Jury duty. What if the police officer walking through the town was from the town and picked out by lot. No favouritism, no politics, just a lottery, and two weeks out of their life a year, everyone gets a shot and no one gets the be polis for too long. The idea isn’t as far-fetched as you might first think, it’s an old idea. Lenin discussed something similar to this that he thought could have been brought about in Petrograd while he was still in Germany, and Ancient Athens put a lot of democratic trust into the idea of selection by lot. After all, we already have jury duty as part of our justice system, if twelve strangers chosen by chance are a fair way to send someone to the jail, maybe it’s a fair way of bringing them to court in the first place.

What we have discussed so far still falls under the umbrella of reformism, even as dramatic as my proposals so far have been. Let’s say you aren’t satisfied with what I’ve offered up so far. When you say you want police abolition, you don’t want to just fix recruitment and have a better police force. You’re saying exactly what you mean: you want the abolishment of the police. What would we be left with? 

More than you might first think, actually. Detectives, the people that investigate serious crimes are already separate to the day to day officers and CID. They don’t carry out many of the roles that could fall under the term population control and support the court system by providing evidence. What about community policing? Well, we have experimented in Scotland in the past with community wardens; without a police budget to support we would have more money to invest in the warden scheme that suffered more from a lack of resources than anything else. Police, as part of their role, don’t just respond to crimes but also mental health crises- without police who would turn up to prevent suicides? What about social workers or medical staff properly trained and focused on providing the care and support needed in such extreme situations? 

A post police world is possible, and it wouldn’t even take a radical change in society to make it a reality. All we would have to do is expand what already exists to make sure the parts of policing that we need in place still gets carried out.

These are just my own ideas, there are better educated and smarter people you should listen to first but I hope this has maybe opened you up to the idea of what a post-police world could look like, and that it doesn’t necessarily look that different from the world we already live in. The ideas I have presented today have been hamstrung in this discussion because the scope of this article was to discuss the post-police world, but any suggestions that do not confront the prison industry, the mental health system, poverty, legalism, capitalism and statism are ultimately limited to be reforms rather than revolutionary changes in human history. If I got into all of that, this would have turned into a very long and very boring book. Instead, what I wanted to do was write about ideas that are not just possible within today’s system, but could be put into action tomorrow. We already have the tools necessary to build a better tomorrow. We just need to be willing to imagine a better world and make it real.

Featured

The Racist Attack on No Evictions

This past Wednesday saw another gathering of racists in the city centre of Glasgow. Organised by the ‘National Defence League’ (the new name of the far right, racist group ‘Scottish Defence League’) a large group appeared in George Square to intimidate peaceful protestors as they tried to raise awareness to the shocking conditions that asylum seekers are being forced to live in. Regardless of your opinion on the validity of protesting in the current lockdown; the rise of violent right-wing groups, emboldened by increasingly populist rhetoric by people in power is a serious problem.

Being banned from Facebook prompted the organisers of the SDL to set up a page with the new name National Defence League in June last year. They are a fiercely loyalist group that continues to share memes about hatred of Irish republicanism, Muslims, and anyone they see as being on the Left.

Wednesday was not the first time they have been active and aggressive. You may remember an incident which happened in 2018 in which a catholic priest was spat on outside his church as an Orange march passed by. This prompted the Glasgow council to start rerouting marches away from catholic buildings and the response to this from loyalist groups was to form Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination (SPAD) as they accused to council of singling out unionists and treating them unfairly. This group would be the cause of multiple riots last year with the council deciding to ban all marches as a result of a riot in Govan in September. Just before marches were called off a couple of republican marches were allowed to go ahead, and this is when the National Defence League decided to act. Creating a Facebook event for a counter protest they turned up to oppose the republicans with footage being released of attempts at violence towards them.

So, to the unrest this past Wednesday. The group ‘No Evictions’ organised a demonstration to bring attention to the horrible conditions that asylum seekers are being forced to live in in Glasgow. This is in large part because of the contractor that is being used for the accommodation of these people called Mears who are working on behalf of the Home Office. Over 400 asylum seekers have been forced from their homes, transported in crowded vans and cars with no PPE and placed between six hotels across Glasgow. They live in close proximity to others and often have to share facilities like bathrooms. They have also had their financial support stopped by the Home Office. Repeated requests for help with medical issues have been met with a lax attitude from Mears who refused to take a man with a broken foot to the hospital and ignored an elderly man that was having cardiac issues. One of the residents that Mears ignored when he pleaded for help was Adnan Olbeh who fled the Syrian Civil War. On the 5th May he was found dead in McLays Guest house.

The demonstration was set to start at 6pm and the NDL once again organised a counter protest. They occupied George Square claiming they were “making a stand” and protecting the Cenotaph, something that was never in danger. Once the No Evictions group arrived at the square the NDL protestors started clashing with police in an attempt to get to the demonstrators. The No Evictions demo was moved away from the square and eventually had to disperse.

The NDL is nothing more than a group of racists out looking for a fight. There is no place for them in Scotland and need to be opposed at every turn. The important thing, however, is that the message of solidarity with asylum seekers is not drowned out by the violent far-right. What these human beings are going through is disgusting and must be changed. For more information and to find out how to help visit the No Evictions website or visit their twitter page for up to date information.

Featured

A Short History of Policing

As a result of the ongoing civil unrest in the United States, brought about by the consistent and repeated police brutality on flagrant display in the past few weeks, the Overton window has shifted dramatically and now we have police abolition being discussed seriously by those in power. Places like Minnesota- the city at the heart of the recent reaction against police violence following the murder of George Floyd- recently unanimously voted to replace their police service with a community led model. The project is currently in the early phases, the motion giving a year to research and engage with the community to develop the idea. With the suddenly very real possibility that we might- perhaps sooner than expected- be witnessing the belated end of a particularly grim and militaristic chapter in policing, I thought it worthwhile to give an account of the history of policing.

Let’s take a look at where the institutions of policing and legalism originated from. Strangely, these are two separate histories; the oldest known codified legal code being the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu originated around 2100 BC, while the earliest recorded instance of what could arguably be called a police force did not develop until around a thousand years later, in ancient China as part of the prefecture system. So what happened in the time between inventing a legal system and a police force? Laws were enforced, often brutally, by whatever petty king ruled over you at that time and because of this the legal tradition of early civilisation matched the barked orders a king would give in his court. As a result, most of the laws in the Code of Ur-Nammu would be more at home in the old testament than in the high court; crimes like theft and murder are swiftly dealt with via execution; punishments are dealt out for adultery and sorcery, and finally a good chunk is devoted to when and when it’s not okay to sow another man’s field. These laws would not have been enforced by anything like police, instead the king would enforce them by right of having a local monopoly on violence, with weaker warlords agreeing to enforce them in their own lands as part of working for their king, and the priest caste making themselves useful by dealing with the complex issues of divorce and witchcraft. 

While this might sound like an ideal system, as these kingdoms grew in size, and the king was no longer able to personally hand out justice on the end of a spear, these warlords began to employ other men with spears to make sure their laws were enforced further and further from the capital. In Egypt the policing had a very militaristic structure. Policing often involved enforcing borders, protecting caravans and suppressing slaves. Not exactly dealing out justice for the common man but more so keeping the increasingly complex economy running. The guards of temples however would go on to take an increasingly more civil role; instead of just being men with spears that reported to the Pharaoh, they would be taken into the religious structure as priests. These guard-priests would be responsible for handling religious law by conducting arrests and acting as judges in the Pharaoh’s name.

In the Jin state of early China, bureaucrats would appoint prefects to investigate crimes and enforce the law in their jurisdiction, this is where things start to look a bit more recognisable as a precursor to the modern police force. Prefects were appointed by the state, reported to the local magistrate, had limited authority and served until dismissed, obligations which differentiate them significantly from the warlord-enforcers of earlier periods.

Much like in Egypt, where the early judges would get their authority from the Pharaoh, these prefects drew their legal power from the Emperor, who had appointed the governor, who had appointed the bureaucrats, who had appointed the prefect. It was this trickle down of authority that defined early policing. But what if your society didn’t have a king?

Both Rome and Athens decided they didn’t like kings, and politely yet firmly asked their kings to leave the city. This however left the people of these cities with a conundrum: all legal authority was handed down by a king, so what do we do now without one? Well, in deciding new laws Rome invented the senate, originally made up of the aristocratic families that had done the firm but polite asking earlier, who took on the responsibility of making new laws. In Athens, they decided that anyone could propose a new law and everyone would get to vote on it, and by everyone I mean adult men, who weren’t slaves, or women and weren’t considered metic (someone who’s family had lived in Athens for multiple generations but weren’t quiet Athenian enough to have a vote). 

Now that the boring legal stuff was decided, who would do the policing? Both cities had experimented with a police force but these had quickly devolved into gangs, loyal to whoever paid them. This wasn’t so much of an issue when the king was the one doing the paying- everyone was already meant to be loyal to him. Instead, whoever was willing to put up the money could have roving gangs meting out “justice” in the city. People quickly decided this was a bad idea. So what did they do? Athens came up with the interesting, and incredibly amoral idea of purchasing 300 slaves that were collectively owned by the Athenian state. These men would be responsible for arrests and guarding important events, as well as preventing riots. The investigation part of police work however fell to the average citizen, if you wanted to take someone to court over something you had to prove it yourself. 

Rome went a different path. After overthrowing their last king, Roman culture underwent a bit of an obsession with legalism; where other cultures would brag about their kings, or in the case of Athens define themselves by democracy, the Romans decided they were the superior culture due to their rule of law. Legal ceremonies took on almost religious significance, and in a few instances like designating the legal boundary of the city, actual religious significance. Lawyers like Cicero would go on to become celebrities and statesmen. So how did this city obsesses with law decide to form its police force? Well, it didn’t. The laws inside Rome weren’t enforced by any separate group of privileged nobles or state owned slaves, but instead every citizen made sure the rule of law was upheld. This sounds like a system doomed to fail, and it eventually did, after a few hundred years. Eventually, the Roman republic gave way to the Roman empire, and Augustus established the Vigiles, a mix of police, firefighter and town watch, bringing with them the end of Rome’s experiment with legalism without a police force. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at the early history of policing and legalism let’s move on to take a look at the institutions in the UK that gave rise to modern policing. 

After the Act of Union, Glasgow had started to grow rich by being the main link to the Americas: sugar, cotton and about half the empire’s tobacco flowed through the city. With all this wealth going about, things started to go missing- a crate here, a box there. Eventually the leakage brought about the attention of the Tobacco lords. In the late 1770s the city of Glasgow had been experimenting with its own police force, and in 1800 the Glasgow Police act was officially passed by the government, establishing the City of Glasgow Police. While it began small, only 8 officers assembling for the first time at the Trongate on a cold November’s day, this group would go on to set the mould for what modern policing would become. The philosophy of this group of men was different than what had come before; rather than just react to crime like town guards had done in the past, the new name of the game wasn’t simply to catch criminals, but to actively prevent crime. Another important tenet was non-lethality, which saw these men armed with a lantern and a long stick as opposed to a pistol or sword. If things got rough the idea was people left with bruises not bullet wounds. Finally each officer was given a badge with a numbered ID, a distinctive uniform and a 24 hour rotating rota. 

The success of the Glasgow model would not go unnoticed by the rest of the Empire. Soon other towns in Scotland had adopted a similar force to patrol 24 hours a day, and by 1822 Ireland would go onto found its own police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary. 

London was having similar troubles to Glasgow in the late 1790s, a bustling port with no one to watch over it resulting in a leakage of stock. The merchants of the capital were fuming, and decided to form groups like the Thames River Police. Much like in Glasgow these proved incredibly successful in protecting shipping cargo, however this was not to last. Soon, London was in the thrall of the industrial revolution, and the city, which was already massive, began to expand even faster as people from the countryside migrated for work. Robert Peel, home secretary at that time decided now was the time to reform all the volunteer and private police forces into something modern and capable of maintaining order in the city. Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1829 and this force would take on a lot of what had made the Glasgow City Police a success, there was a focus on visibility to deter crime, and because of the cities distaste for the French Model, which was heavily militarised, the Met had a big focus on being civilians policing civilians. This model eventually spread throughout the empire and commonwealth, influencing policing across the world, from Hong Kong to Delhi to Vancouver. 

Across the pond in America, however, policing grew out of a different tradition. The early colonies had a police force that was organised around elected officials called sheriffs, who would then raise a volunteer militia from within the community to police the community. This all sounds rather idyllic- democratic accountability, community focused recruitment- so what went wrong? Well, the modern American police force is not descended from this volunteer group. Instead the men that would be the foundation for policing in America were slave catchers. Places like Carolina heavily depended on slavery to maintain their economy and out of fear of a slave rebellion the men of wealth created groups like the Charleston Guard and Watch. Salaried professional police that had a distinctive uniform, these figures laid the foundation of police work in America. These men were given a strict chain of command, sole authority for policing in their jurisdiction and given the right to use force as they deemed fit. They also took on the lessons from the UK about preventative policing, but with a focus on preventing slave uprisings rather than petty crime. Their role was more similar to the ancient’s way of executing authority and population control rather than anything worth praising. 

Looking at the history of policing it seems its historic role is at odds with how we imagine the role of policing today. Instead of being about protecting people the ancients, like in Egypt, used policing as a method of population control and a way of exerting central authority into places the Pharaohs could not reach themselves. Further we can see that the idea of legalism hasn’t always been married to a police force, in both Athens and Rome the existence of a police force was seen not only as unneeded to enforce law and order but also as anathema to democracy. In modern policing’s foundation we also see a divorce from the ideal that policing is about protecting and serving the public. Instead these early forces were formed by the wealthy classes to stop their property going missing, and in the case of America, that property was sometimes people. Next time we’ll take a look at how a modern society could function without a police force. 

Featured

The Scottish Utopia Myth

As protests start to be organised across the UK in support of the Black Lives Matter movement it has been troubling to see the criticism that has been used against them. A lot of people in the UK like to look to America and criticise the failings of its systems but put the blinders on when it comes to being a bit more introspective and taking a look at the country we live in. This phenomenon is even more prevalent in Scotland. There is a tendency to think of Scotland as the “best wee country in the world”; a place where the majority of us reject Tory rule and are proud of an international reputation for friendliness and good humour. Many only think of the wars of independence and our countries involvement in the world wars when they think of the history of Scotland. While being important parts of the history of the Scottish people they are not the only parts. Ignoring Scotland’s role in the British Empire and involvement and benefit from the Atlantic slave trade, as well as ongoing issues with racism and tribalism invalidates the experiences of people of other ethnicities and makes it less likely that these issues will be meaningfully dealt with.

To be clear, this article is not here to proclaim that Scotland is a racist nation and all Scottish people should be ashamed of themselves (although some definitely should be!) It is simply a candid look at the issues, both historically and currently, that contribute to inequality. There absolutely is reason to take racism seriously in this country and the people marching for Black Lives Matter have every right.

THE PAST

As part of the British Empire, Scotland had an incredibly involved role in all its aspects. From military to plantation ownership and even as settlers the people of Scotland were involved all over the world. North America, the Caribbean, Australasia, South Africa, India as well as colonies in South-East Asia and Africa all saw involvement from the Scots.

One mainstay of Scottish history is the wealthy elites of Scotland jumping on any opportunity to make more money and grab more power. It was true in the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England which, after the failure of the Darien venture, gave the wealthy in Scotland access to all of England’s colonies as well as to the East India Trading Company. This meant that Scotland became heavily involved in the colonies in India and the Caribbean very quickly with many plantations in both areas. And with plantations came involvement in the slave trade.

Glasgow is most notorious for its involvement in the trade, especially with the so called “tobacco lords”. Men that made so much money through dodgy dealings and the slave trade that they were said to live as well as aristocrats, these men were well respected in their times. Glasgow was seen as the second city in the Empire and reaped a lot of benefit due to the slave trade. Many streets in the city are still named in honour of these men, something that has recently come into the conversation again. Over 16,000 people have signed a petition to have the names changed and one activist has attached alternative street signs such as ‘Fred Hampton Street’ and ‘Rosa Parks Street’.

Moving on from the 18th and 19th centuries, let us look at the 20th century. You may have heard of the “Battle of George Square” in 1919, the day that between 30,000 to 60,000 peaceful protestors in Glasgow were violently put down by the police for asking for the 40-hour work week, amongst other basic workers’ rights. This was the famous event in which Winston Churchill was so afraid that it would turn in to a revolution that he had Scottish soldiers contained in the Maryhill barracks and ordered tanks into the city. A moment of pride to many in the struggle for workers rights, however the labour movement at the time was also implicit in racism. Just a few days before the Battle of George Square one of the ugliest events in Glasgow’s history took place. Known as the ‘Broomielaw Race Riot” it was the result of speeches delivered by local delegates of the National Seamen’s Union in which they scapegoated, mainly black British colonial and Chinese sailors as the reason that the white Glaswegian sailors were finding it hard to get work. It was all an attempt to gain support from the local seafaring workforce in the general strike that was planned for that Sunday. Such inflammatory speeches simply stoked fires that had already been lit. The shipping trade already enacted racist policies with many shipowners instigating a ‘colour ban’ in response to trade unions opposing the hiring of non-white British subjects.

The events unfolded later in the day as sailors were waiting at the port offices to try and get work. A group of around 30 African sailors were harassed by a much larger group of white sailors, it got so bad that the African sailors ran away to seek shelter where they were staying in Broomielaw. The mob of white sailors followed them and attacked the building causing the African sailors to run again to a nearby lodging house. Again, the crowd followed them, now numbering in the hundreds, and attacked the building with bricks and bottles. The police eventually arrived and took the African sailors away in ‘protective custody’ but subsequently charged them with riot and weapons offenses. None of the white rioters were arrested or charged.

Scotland has always struggled with poverty and is a place in which the scapegoating of immigrants has always had purchase. Whether it’s African and Chinese sailors in 1919 or South Asian migrants in the 50s and 60s or more recently the Syrian refugees; there has always been a narrative pushed that the poor people of this country have the poor people from other countries to blame for their woes.

THE PRESENT

If you read all of that and scoffed, thinking them the actions of a past nation no longer linked to the Scotland of today, think again. The systemic racism of that time has reverberated through the generations and is still evident today.

In response to a Glasgow Times article discussing the Black Lives Matter protest, this is what the comments section looked like –

Comments section of a Glasgow Times article about BLM protests

Interestingly in 2018, Glasgow University academic Neil Davidson, a lecturer in Sociology, co-authored a book with findings that between 2000 and 2013 there were 1.8 race-related murders per million people, compared to 1.3 per million in the rest of the UK.

We also have similar issues with policing. Although nowhere near the extent that the policing in America is a problem, a remarkably similar incident to the murder of George Floyd happened here in Scotland. In May 2015 in Fife, police were called out to reports of a man acting erratically with a knife. The mans name was Sheku Bayoh and by the time the officers arrived he was in no possession of a knife. The officers used CS spray, leg restraints and batons to subdue him resulting in 23 separate injuries. Much like George Floyd he shouted that he could not breath, he died in hospital after the incident. The officers denied all wrongdoing and were never charged for his death, luckily the incident is being investigated in a public enquiry.

Other than these examples there are always reports of racist abuse at football games, of attacks on people of other ethnicities and a normalisation of the use of racist language.

Racism is not something that can be ignored until it goes away. It is a parasite that must be confronted head on. The collective ignorance or wilful dismissal of the issues of racism in Scotland, whether in the past or the present, simply entrench the problems further. As a people we need to be educated and mindful of this country’s historical place in the implementation and complicity in scientific racism and can only claim to be the friendly wee country we seem to think we are if we start acting like it.

Photo by Donald Edgar on Unsplash

Featured

Palliative Protests: How Liberals Undermine Social Movements

The murder of George Floyd has galvanised a desire for change extending far beyond the borders of the United States. The most recent in a long line of racially motivated police killings, George’s death and the resultant police response to protests, have revealed the callousness with which a great many law enforcement officials wield their power. Amidst a backdrop of coronavirus, social disenfranchisement, and police brutality, peaceful protests have erupted into riots and looting across America, invariably with police inciting or exacerbating through excessive force. As video after video surfaces online of police engaging in violent suppression of largely peaceful protesters, many are recognising the need for a serious and widespread interrogation of our relationship to the mechanisms of power and social control.

With that said, hand wringing over the validity of rioting and looting as a form of political protest threaten to overtake the issues; predictably, conservatives- who portray themselves as gun-toting freedom fighters ready to go toe-to-toe against government tyranny- are positively salivating at the prospect of government violence being meted out against their enemies- these violent thugs with no respect for property rights or law enforcement. This gleeful inconsistency on their part is par for the course; what is more insidious, however, is the tendency of supposedly well-meaning liberals to hijack social movements and placate them while performing their support. The anger and desire for change which liberal protestors feel is often proportionally less than that of others involved in rioting and looting, no matter their radical rhetoric (adopted as it comes in and out of vogue).

This article will consider the role liberals play in de-fanging and disowning protest movements, often demeaning or erasing the very people they purport to care about, all whilst demanding little in the way of change.

One of the recurring criticisms levelled at protests by conservatives and liberals alike is that rioting- and especially looting, the wanton infringement of property rights- in some sense diminishes the seriousness of the demonstration, detracts from “the message” and robs them of their political legitimacy. This claim is nothing new; as far back as the 1960s conservatives and liberal elites have attempted to police the boundaries of acceptable protest by casting aspersions on the working classes engaged in acts of social disorder, like property damage and looting. For conservatives, this means characterising riotous protesters as violent degenerate thugs, often with racialised overtones. Liberals- who typically place themselves ostensibly on the side of change and progress- weaponize Martin Luther King Jr in decrying rioting and looting; here, they say, is evidence of the evergreen effectiveness of peaceful protest. Offering up a palliative and reductive distortion of the civil rights movement, liberals effectively erase not only Malcolm X, but almost the entire revolutionary character of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr existed against a tumultuous and violent backdrop of rioting in which marginalised communities strove to assert themselves against an oppressive system which routinely and openly denigrated them. While MLK had his own perspective on the righteousness of rioting, this was not shared by all who were fighting for emancipation. Had there been no civil unrest as a threatening backdrop, MLKs tactics would likely have proved less effective in bringing lawmakers to the negotiating table.

Additionally, this liberal invocation of Martin Luther King Jr, with various sombre references to the world he envisioned in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, betrays its insincerity in its depthlessness. Opinions are, of course, not static and towards the end of his life MLK had begun to show a greater understanding for rioting and its legitimacy as a means of political dissent. “Riots do not develop out of thin air… a riot is the language of the unheard.” While still critical of the effectiveness of riots in achieving political goals, MLK did not, in doing so, undermine the legitimate grievances of the working class, or fail to recognise the conditions from which riots emerge. That MLK’s actions and previous positioning allows disengaged liberals to pay lip-service to social progress- while simultaneously preserving their own economic interest- was perfectly encapsulated by such individuals accusing MLKs son of misappropriating his own father’s words. Perennially, these predominantly middle-class, predominantly white people stand atop the moral high ground, tutting paternalistically at the huddled masses who don’t know what’s good for them.

While this moralistic dismissal of rioters is most readily observable in the white middle-classes, themselves removed from the protests and brutality of police oppression, it does in fact cut across racial boundaries, revealing the class interests at the heart of these criticisms. In the face of civil disobedience and protests in Atlanta, Run The Jewels MC and landlord Killer Mike took to a podium with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. While wearing a T-shirt reading “Kill Your Masters”, a visibly upset Mike cautioned protestors against “burning down our own homes”, despite black people in Atlanta making up the bulk of the city’s workforce while being disproportionately less likely to own a home. As Mike took the opportunity to encourage people to vote their way out of oppression with a mishmash of buzzwords,  absent from Mike’s T-shirt, the twin directive “Kill Your Idols” was a silent scream. 

Both white and black middle class self-styled leaders attempt to hijack the rhetoric and trajectory of social movements, bringing them into the orbit of their own class interests, namely the aspirational preservation of their wealth, status and property. Another key way in which this manifests itself is in the scapegoating of the “outside agitator”. While conservatives use rioting as an excuse to legitimise violent and oppressive policing- the mobilising of state-sanctioned tyranny against their political opponents- liberals make reference to the presence of “outside agitators” souring the character and spirit of the protest movement. This spectral opponent allows Democrat senators and mayors to use the presence of subversive elements as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from uncomfortable social truths, to pretend there is no civil unrest bubbling over in their own citizenry, that white nationalists and/or antifascist organisers are using their once idyllic towns and cities as battlegrounds for a shadowy proxy-war. In Cleveland, a city with a Democrat mayor, Police Chief Calvin Williams preemptively claimed that the majority of detainees during protests had been from out of state. Jail records later showed that not only were those arrested mostly from Cleveland, most were also black. Frequently this attitude and rhetoric extends also to social leaders both black and white aiming to demobilize the more radical elements within the social movement. This is not to deny the presence of such actors within a widespread and diverse movement with no centrally planned directives; but the characterisation and insistent blame of the bulk of property damage and looting on white fringe elements effectively erases the black working class involved in more radical action. Fearful of playing into stereotypes, and of acknowledging the destruction of property as a legitimate expression of outrage at a culture which values and protects property over people, liberals instead marginalise radical black activists and the working class in favour of an anaemic version of social justice which seeks only to improve their standing within the status quo.

Perhaps most egregious in liberal insistence that rioting sets back social progress by entrenching prejudicial beliefs is that this claim is patently false. As recently as 2014, the Ferguson riots following the murder of Michael Brown present a microcosm of events which are now playing out on the national (and international) level. Despite an onslaught of negative press coverage, recent research has shown that the attention commanded by the Ferguson riots led to a significant increase in those who feel equality is still an issue which needs to be addressed, even among republican voters. To bring this closer to home for a moment, the 1990 riots in the UK against the poll tax lead to the bill being repealed and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation.

The duplicity of liberal involvement with and commentary on social movements should be of concern to any who desire fundamental change. By allowing them to take the reigns, we set ourselves up for more of the same with regards to policing and government. Already emergent in the wake of discussions around police brutality following George Floyd’s murder is a schism between liberal “reformists” and the radical desire for the abolition of policing in its current form. Liberals, keen to preserve the state’s monopoly on violence, seem to think institutional racism can be overcome with a diet of increased funding, sensitivity training and increased accountability, completely disregarding that all such methods have been tried and tested time and again and the results are plain to see. Yet with their aspirational and actual class interest in the preservation of the sanctity of private property, liberals cannot envisage a world without the need for police as agents of property enforcement, and so will continue to be ineffectual conduits for manifest social change.

Featured

Minneapolis riots

No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States. 

On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital. 

The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. 

The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.

By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. 

The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further. 

In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.

On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause. 

This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other. 

Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night. 

Saturday began with Trump threatening to use the national guard to suppress civil unrest; a terrifying prospect for anyone concerned about human life, out of the 12 times this has happened previously in American history, 10 of these times had been in response to black communities protesting state violence and 8 of these deployments resulted in the National Guard using firing on American citizens. Trump’s words clearly had the desired effect as later last night the Governor released a statement that 80% of those arrested had come from outside of his state, a claim unsupported by arrest records, which show that those arrested were predominantly from inside Minnesota and Minneapolis. This false pretext has since been used to justify the full mobilisation of the National Guard. At the time of writing, no one has yet been killed, but with 2500 troops heading into the state, with maybe 12000 more mobilised across the US- ostensibly to assist in the coronavirus pandemic response– this looks likely to change knowing the historic reputation of the Guard.

We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Featured

Anti-Union Terrorism: The Judi Bari Story

Yesterday marked the 30th year since American environmentalist and IWW labour organiser Judi Bari, along with fellow activist Darryl Cherney, were the victims of a terrorist attack in which a pipe bomb was detonated in Judi’s car as they were driving in Oakland, California. Judi was a key figure in the Earth First! group, a radical environmental advocacy organisation that, at the time, was trying to arrange protests to protect the ancient redwood forests in Northern California. Unfortunately the bomber has never been caught and the FBI response to the incident was suspicious from the start and led many to believe that they had something to do with the bombing or were wilfully mishandling the investigation to hurt the labour activists. They even went so far as to accuse Judi and Darryl of being the bombers themselves, but more on that later.

Throughout the 1980’s Judi Bari was a prolific activist and in 1988 was instrumental in starting a local group of the Industrial Workers of the World that would ally with the Earth First! group in protesting the cutting of old growth redwood trees. The idea was to bring environmentalists and timber workers together to oppose the increase of the rate of harvesting that was introduced by new management, as it was completely unsustainable in the long run.

Unfortunately, many timber workers felt antagonised by the activists and they were seen as threatening their livelihoods. Many protests would turn violent and Judi would be targeted as a problematic figure in the protesting and so suffered more than most. In 1989 a logging truck rammed her car while her children were inside, the driver of the truck is said to have left the truck and rushed over shouting “I didn’t see the children!” implying that it was no mere accident that he run into Judi’s car. She also regularly received death threats with one being sent on the lead up to the bombing stating it was her “last warning”.

Judi was a firm believer in non-violent protest so her chosen mode of demonstration was through music. She and Darryl would perform original protest songs that became quite controversial for their use of loaded language. For example, one song was named “Spike a Tree for Jesus”, tree spiking was a careless form of sabotage that included driving a long metal spike into a log so as to damage chainsaws or saws at lumber mills. While effective in sabotaging machinery it was also the cause of serious injury to timber workers. Such an incident happened on May 8th, 1987 at the Louisiana Pacific mill in Cloverdale, California. A large saw blade struck a spike in a log being milled causing shrapnel to fly off and one mill worker, George Alexander, nearly died as a result of the injuries he sustained. At the time, the Earth First! group still had “monkeywrenching” as its main strategy (monkeywrenching being sabotage) so they were blamed for the incident causing them to publicly disavow the practice of tree spiking.

In 1990 Judi was one of the main organisers of the Redwood Summer demonstrations that were supposed to take place to protest the careless logging practices. On May 22nd of that year she would meet with local loggers to agree on ground rules for nonviolence during these demonstrations. A couple of days later she left a house in Oakland that she had been staying at with Darryl Cherney on their way to more organising activities when a pipe bomb would explode in her car.

Both Judi and Darryl survived the incident, but Judi would come away from the explosion seriously injured. The first of many actions taken by the FBI that caused suspicion happened just after the bomb went off. They arrived on the scene at the same time as first responders, suggesting that they knew about the bomb beforehand. Judi herself is quoted as saying it was as if the investigators were “waiting around the corner with their fingers in their ears.” This would be explained later that there had been a tip to law enforcement that “some heavies” were transporting a bomb for sabotage. This, apparently, was the reason for their quick response and the fact that they targeted Judi immediately as a suspect.

Due to Earth First!’s previous known involvement in sabotage campaigns, when the Oakland Police and the FBI immediately accused Judi and Darryl of carrying the bomb to use in an act of terrorism the incident would make headlines all across the nation with the group being labelled as ‘radical’ and tying in potential bombing to their history of ‘monkeywrenching’. While still being treated at a local hospital Judi would be placed under arrest on the same day that the bomb went off. The FBI would exclusively focus on targeting Judi Bari as the main suspect, raiding her home, and pestering anyone they knew she had been in contact with. They claimed to have irrefutable evidence that Judi Bari was guilty and so ignored any evidence that pointed to Judi being the victim. Once it came time to present any of this evidence to a court the FBI did not produce any and the district attorney had no choice but to drop all charges against Judi and Darryl due to a lack of evidence.

There have been many theories as to who was responsible for the bombing. Although never thoroughly investigated by the FBI there was someone that claimed to be the bomber. Just five days after the bombing staff at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat received a letter signed by “The Lords Avenger” claiming responsibility. They went into great detail about the bomb in Judi’s car, as well as a second bomb that had been unsuccessful in blowing up the Cloverdale mill. It was concluded that it was indeed the bomb maker that had written the letter but due to the fact that how they described planting the bomb was implausible in light of evidence it was most likely a way to divert attention away from the actual bomber.

Judi Bari herself believed that the bomber was an acquaintance of hers that was suspected of being an FBI informant. It was revealed that earlier in 1990 the FBI had run a ‘bomb school’ in redwood country showing how to investigate car bombing that bore a striking resemblance to the bombing of Judi’s car. As well as this, Bari’s attorney handed over numerous death threats aimed at Bari to the FBI after the bombing but none of the threats were ever investigated.

Unfortunately, Judi Bari would not live long enough to see some semblance of justice carried out. While she and Darryl opened a civil lawsuit against the FBI when she was still alive, claiming that their first and fourth amendment rights had been violated, she would die due to breast cancer in her home on March 2nd, 1997. Darryl continued the fight and 5 years later in 2002 it was confirmed that their civil rights had indeed been violated. The verdict was that Darryl and Bari’s estate was to be paid a sum of $4.4 million and once the trials gag order was lifted on of the jury members was quoted as saying –

“Investigators were lying so much it was insulting… I’m surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them… They were evasive. They were arrogant. They were defensive.”

Although during the trial the theory that the FBI was involved in the bombing was dismissed; it was agreed that the case was restricted to investigative malpractice on the part of the FBI as instead of looking for the real terrorists they instead persecuted the victims simply on the basis of their political activism.

The memorial service held for Judi Bari was attended by around 1000 people. On her request they were all there to have a “party” and to celebrate her life and activism. One of her friends claims that before she died, she asked people to remember what legendary IWW organiser Joe Hill said just before he was executed in 1915: “Don’t mourn. Organize!”

Featured

James Connolly

This week was the 104th Anniversary of James Connolly’s death at the hands of the British State and I thought it would be worth looking into why this man is still seen as a hero to many in both the UK and Ireland, while others say his name with venom on their tongues.

 

There’s a lot that’s been said about James Connolly; that he was a hero of the international working class, that he was a radical thinker and reformer and a brave man that would put himself in the line of fire before any of the men under him. Yet others view him differently, believing him a traitor, a deserter, a failed rebel, and- worst of all- a Hibs fan. You’ll be hard pressed to find a neutral voice that speaks about the man these days.

 

Connolly’s story starts in Edinburgh, in 1868. Born in Cowgate to two Irish immigrants, James didn’t have an easy start to life. He was born into poverty, Cowgate at that time being little better than a slum (how things change) and only had formal education at the local Catholic School until the age of 11, when he left school to look for work. At the age of 14 James, like his older brother before him, signed up with the British Army, lying about his age in an attempt to escape the economic conditions he had been born into. 

 

For the next 6 years James served in the Royal Scots Regiment, spending most of his military career in Ireland. This wasn’t an easy time for folk in Ireland (When has it ever been when British troops were marching through it?), especially in the rural communities outside of the city, where the majority of the Irish population at the time lived. Rents were high, and by design of the British more and more Irish land fell into fewer and fewer hands. Most of these landlords were also absentees, not even living in the land that they taxed so heavily. This meant that the money taken out of these communities weren’t reinvested in the hamlets, most of the time this rent money left Ireland all together. By the time Connolly was serving in Ireland the people of the hamlets had had enough of being treated like a tax farm and the Land War had begun. 

 

The Land War was Connolly’s first introduction into Irish politics, and even as a young British soldier, he found himself arguing for the cause of the tenant farmers. This confrontation with the realities of British policy in Ireland might have served as a catalyst not only for his political development but also for his growing bitterness with the British Army. When it came out that his regiment would be redeployed to India, to do much of the same work that he did in Ireland, Connolly deserted, preferring this to acting as a lackey for British landlords. 

 

Though his time in the army was over Connolly left with two important lessons. First of all he learned that he was a good soldier, secondly that he fucking hated the British armed forces.  

 

When James returned to Edinburgh he brought with him his new wife Lillie and they soon tried to settle into a quiet life. James took up a job as a cobbler but patched it after a few months, as he had no talent for the job. It was about this time as well that he again followed in his older brother’s footsteps and became politically active, joining the Scottish Socialist Federation and like his brother before him, he eventually became the party secretary. The party would eventually merge and be absorbed into the Independent Labour Party. Connolly, however, headed back to Ireland, this time to take up a paid role within the Dublin Socialist Club rather than as part of an occupying army. Here he transformed the club into the Irish Socialist Republican Party turning the group from a couple of people meeting in pubs every so often to discuss politics over pints into Ireland’s first socialist party. This party would go on to run in elections, print its own paper and even represent Ireland at the Second International. While the party was never large and would eventually fall into political infighting, it marked an important stage in Irish politics and showcased Connolly’s skills as an organiser. 

 

Connolly would, through a mixture of frustration at his own party and economic need eventually leave Ireland again, this time for America. Here he joined the IWW and was most active in pushing his syndicalist ideology. Syndicalism is a brand of socialism that focuses on workplace democracy and autonomous organisations. Aiming to bring his ideology into action he worked with both the Irish and Italian American communities to agitate for better working conditions, making sure to bring in as many different communities in New York together as part of his internationalist ideology that hammered home the need for a united struggle, across ethnic and nationalist lines. To this end, he founded groups like the Irish Socialist Federation, which aimed to raise class consciousness in immigrant communities through education and material help.

 

After nearly 7 years in America, Connolly once again returned to Ireland, organising workplaces and- in what was now becoming a lifelong habit- founding yet another political organisation in the Irish Labour Party in 1912. In 1913, in response to the Dublin Lockout, James gathered other former officers and soldiers from the British army and formed the Irish Citizen Army. A small but well disciplined and regimented group of workers who tasked themselves with defending strikers from the Dublin Met. This hardened corps of radical workers eventually formed the nexus of a growing organisation that would expand its aims from simply the improvement of working conditions for Irish workers to an Independent Socialist Republic. Soon, this group would have their chance at this goal, as WW1 broke out and distracted the British Empire. 

 

James was adamantly against this war, arguing it was just imperialism being played out. He didn’t want the sons of England or son’s of Germany dying in a pointless war, and he certainly didn’t want sons of Ireland dying for England’s pointless war. Under a call of “Neither King nor Kaiser” James decided now was the time to organise for freedom. Along with nationalist groups like the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood, Connolly plotted a rebellion. In the ultimately doomed Easter Uprising Connolly’s organisational prowess came to the forefront again. As Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, he had a massive sway over the entire rising. Not only did he show genius in planning but he again and again put his life at risk to make sure his men were safe. With only 9 men in his garrison actually dying, his efforts were not for nothing. But despite these valiant efforts James himself was fatally wounded. Out of commission while getting treatment for his wound, he nevertheless remained the brains behind the uprising, organising patrols, reinforcements and resupplies even as doctors worked on him.

 

Eventually the writing was on the wall, and James, along with the other leaders of the rebellion agreed to a surrender. Unwilling to continue a doomed fight that would cost the lives of his men he would say his line “Don’t worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free”.

 

A few days later, on the 12th of May 1916 the British state executed Connolly by firing squad. So afraid of what he represented they would tie a dying man to a chair, shoot him and then bury him in an unmarked mass grave. This act would turn many who had been neutral on the issue against the British state, both in Ireland and the rest of the world. James Connolly never lived to see his life’s work, but eventually Dublin would be free from British rule, and the role James played as an organiser and his martyrdom were important steps on that long path to freedom.

 

How do we judge James’s impact? When we look at Connolly’s legacy do we look to Ireland today as a measure of the man? Nationalism, or at least national liberation, was a big part of the man’s outlook on the world. Considering he gave his life for this cause it’s fair to say it was something he held deeply. This is not to say his syndicalist, internationalist ideals meshed with this part of his politics easily. He flirted with Esperanto, a communal European language, and did believe in the need for a universal language. While he did support the reintroduction of the Irish language he viewed capitalism as a far more pressing threat to the Irish than the English language, after all, he said “You cannot teach starving men Gaelic”. Further still he painted Daniel O’Connell, widely held as a hero by nationalists not as a liberator of the Irish but instead an enemy of the working class. 

 

Ireland, at least part of it, stands independent, but you cannot argue that James achieved the syndicalist paradise he had envisaged all those years ago. After his death figures like Éamon de Valera rose to prominence, and left a much deeper impact on the Irish political landscape than Connolly would have liked. Courageous Syndicalism instead was replaced by cynical Conservatism, with the Republic being left to choose between two different cheeks of the same Tory arse in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A quote that always sticks with me from Connolly is “Nationalism without Socialism is only national recreancy. It would be a declaration that our oppressors had succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality, and no longer needed an army to force them upon us.”. Looking at Dublin’s transformation into a petty kingdom of landlord despots, it’s hard to imagine Connolly being happy with the state of Ireland today. 

 

James, I would argue, left a far deeper mark on the traditions of the European left. He stands as a rare figure broadly praised by all major branches of leftist tradition, somewhat like Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin, on greeting James’s son after his father’s death, said that he had held Connolly as head and shoulders above the rest of his contemporaries in the European socialist movement, and Glasgow’s own James McLean cited Connolly as an inspiration for his own trade unionist movement.

Featured

Why We Need To Keep The Lockdown

The U.K now, officially, has over 30,000 people dead as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This puts us 2nd in the entire world for death rate, only being beaten by the calamity that is the United States. It seems in spite of this the Tory government have seen fit to add to their already confusing message about the pandemic response by implying that they plan on announcing an easing of the lockdown restrictions.

This is the latest in a series of poor messaging and bad decisions by the Government, which began with the disastrous “Herd Immunity” strategy, that meant a slow reaction to the virus has ensured a scenario much worse than it needed to be. This is obvious to see when you compare the response even to other capitalist countries such as New Zealand. They had 1,144 confirmed cases of the virus and only 21 deaths. Compare this to the U.K’s 215,000 confirmed cases and 31,587 deaths as of the time of writing. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, had this to say –

“There were some countries who initially talked about herd immunity as a strategy. In New Zealand we never ever considered that as a possibility ever. Herd immunity would have meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying and I simply would not tolerate that, and I don’t think any New Zealander would.”

A far cry from Boris Johnsons message during an appearance on This Morning –

“One of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures. I think we need to strike a balance, I think it is very important, we’ve got a fantastic NHS, we will give them all the support that they need, we will make sure that they have all preparations, all the kit that they need for us to get through it.”

This one did not age particularly well. The NHS has struggled constantly for PPE and instead of doing everything they can to help, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has behaved terribly. Firstly he suggested that NHS staff were over using PPE and that it should be treated as a “precious resource” and more recently in the house of commons, when confronted by A&E Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan on the governments response he simply responded that she “might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.”

A real class act.

Another facet of the confusing messaging has been the actions of a lot of the mainstream media outlets. At the first hint of a slight relaxing of the lockdown measures many newspapers were running headlines that made it seem like the lockdown is being lifted entirely. Headlines such as –

The Daily Mail – ‘HURRAH! LOCKDOWN FREEDOM BECKONS

The Sun – ‘HAPPY MONDAY GO OUT AND EXERCISE ALL YOU LIKE’

It should go without saying that lifting the lockdown while so many people are still catching the virus is an awfully bad idea. Understandably people are frustrated and afraid for their financial future, but the answer is not to ease the lockdown. The failing here is on the Government and the lack of support for ordinary workers. Everything announced has been about protecting business owners and landlords in the hopes that they will pass on some good will to the people that they employ or rent from them.

Here in Scotland, where the message has been a clear deviation from England in that the lockdown has been extended another 3 weeks, there has been no talk of easing it until we are out of the woods. It was announced that there will be “a £5,000,000 fund to offer interest free loans to landlords whose tenants are having difficulty paying rent during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.” The idea being that they will not evict tenants if they can cover the rent with this loan. As we have seen so far in this crisis, many landlords simply do not care about the people that rent from them, as many stories have come out of landlords evicting tenants that no longer have the ability to pay rent.

The government has now announced a change in slogan from “Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS” to “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”. A decision rejected by both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments as it yet again muddy’s the waters and causes confusion, evidenced in all the footage shown on VE day of people having street parties in clear violation of the lockdown order. It is clear that the government has handled the pandemic terribly and are directly responsible for many unnecessary deaths. With social media replete with calls for warlike unity in a time of crisis, we would do well to remember those responsible for the scale of this disaster. They should absolutely be held to account for their actions.

Featured

Audrey and the Dutch Resistance

Audrey Hepburn. The name alone conjures up images of elegance and the romance of old Hollywood. Being one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award there is no question why Audrey is so tied to the golden age of American Cinema.

But before she was a world famous actress Audrey lived another, altogether quite different life providing support for the Dutch resistance during The Second World War.

In 1939, when Audrey was just 10 years old, Britain declared war on Germany and soon Hepburn and her mother were fleeing to the Netherlands from their native Belgium. Hoping that this war would play out like the Great War before it, where the Dutch managed to maintain their neutrality, Audrey and her mother set up shop in Arnhem. This plan to avoid the war would unfortunately fall apart, as the Nazis invaded the Netherlands less than a year later.

By all accounts, this occupation was brutal. Audrey herself said that “had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves”, going on to say that the only thing that kept them motivated was the belief that the war was constantly just a few weeks from ending.

Audrey’s family, being privileged Dutch aristocrats were not spared from Nazi cruelty; her half brother was be deported to a Berlin work camp and in 1942 her uncle would be assassinated by the Germans for his support of the nascent resistance movement. This would prove to be a pivotal moment for Audrey and her mother, and both fought desperately against giving in to nihilism, leading them to take up their uncles cause and support the resistance from that moment on.

This was a surprising change of heart for Audrey’s mother especially, who had previously openly supported fascism; she wrote columns in support of Mosley’s Union of Fascists in paper “The Black Shirt”, joined the far right movement and even personally met with Hitler. This was all done alongside Audrey’s father, who had abandoned the family years before the war. He had also been an avid supporter of the far right ideology, but for him there would be no redemption or renunciation. He spent the entire war in prison for his support of the Third Reich. 

 

Audrey eventually fell in with Dr. Visser ’t Hooft, a charismatic and intelligent leader of the local resistance. Taking the young rebel under his wing, he later described her as his star pupil. It was under the doctor’s encouragement and urging that Audrey, who had studied ballet in England, would have her strange entrance into the performing arts. In an attempt to raise morale and funds for the resistance, Audrey set up the “Black Evenings”, secret dance shows and charity evenings. These were highly illegal and if caught, the audience, performers and organisers would all likely be facing down a Nazi rifle squad. To hide the events they were often performed in basements, with blacked out windows, thus the name, and audiences weren’t allowed to cheer or clap. Audrey said later in life say “the best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance”.

This is an image that stuck with me after reading on the subject: a young girl with barely enough food in her belly to keep the pangs of hunger away, dancing her heart out to a silent audience, hidden away from the prying eyes of the evil occupying force. A young girl that, during peacetime, should have been in school instead literally pushed onto centre stage through grief and loss to put on performances in an attempt to keep the flicker of hope alive.

These funds were sorely needed by the resistance, who had been carrying out various anti German acts, one of the most famous being the bombing of a public records office by Willem Arondeus, who hoped to protect Dutch Jews by making it much harder for the Nazis to track them down. Among their other activities was an underground railroad for escaping Dutch Jews, dissidents and captured allied airmen. Audrey would play a part here too; the resistance made use of young members to pass around messages and supplies as children and teenagers could get around without provoking the notice of the occupiers. In 1944, Audrey- playing the part of messenger for the resistance- supplied food to downed airmen hiding in the Dutch woods under cover of night. 

 

In that same year, Nazis would subject the Netherlands to their worst cruelty yet: aiming to punish the Dutch for helping the allies, the Germans cut off food supplies to the already impoverished and starving country. The Dutch Winter of Hunger had begun. Starvation swept the nation and millions were affected, Audrey among them. At this time she was just a teenager and the lack of food severely affected her development throughout the rest of her life. The young girl who danced for silent audiences would never grow up to be the ballerina she had dreamed of being when she had started to dance all those years ago in England. 

As we know, Audrey still found success, albeit as an actress instead of a dancer. Her acting career brought her the chance to meet a fellow survivor of the occupation, Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. Otto met with Audrey hoping to convince her to play Anne in a film about the Dutch girl’s life. He had been inspired by the role Audrey had played during those long years of struggle, although ultimately Audrey turned down the offer. She said she had felt connected to the young girl after reading her diaries, saying that “it’s a little bit as if this had happened to my sister”. She wouldn’t be able to give Anne the performance she deserved, feeling she would be overcome with grief. 

Outside of her incredible acting career, Audrey became a UNICEF ambassador, travelling the world even as she suffered from cancer. Peace was important to her, in the way that it often is for survivors of war.

On the evening of 20 January 1993, in her home in Switzerland, Audrey Hepburn passed away peacefully in her sleep. 

I find it strange, especially so after researching more on the topic of her life, that Audrey Hepburn- so emblematic of the glamour of the movies- inspires me more by the story of her own life than by any story she starred in on the silver screen. Audrey is rightfully remembered as one of the greatest actors to have ever lived, but I think we should also remember her as the young girl, who refused to give into fear, dancing to a silent audience.

Featured

Corruption, Bribery and Sports Entertainment

As an outside spectator it can be baffling to look at what is happening in the United States in regards to the Covid-19 outbreak; there has been corruption and incompetence at every turn. From senators selling stocks ahead of the virus hitting while at the same time reassuring citizens that this won’t be a big deal, to Trump predictably making more and more outlandish claims at briefings, that are then eaten up by his cult of followers, as though he were an embattled messianic figure protesting against the lockdown measures that have been put in place to save their lives. The stories that come out of the states have been so ridiculous and unbelievable that many of them are talked about at the time and then forgotten.  Encapsulating the corruption at the heart of U.S governance, exposing their system as nothing more than an oligarchy, has been the news of the WWE’s involvement in the state of Florida.

On the 3rd of April Florida became one of the last few states to issue a stay-at-home order to protect people from the pandemic. Many argued this came far too late, especially when people were still allowed to travel to the state for their spring break holidays even after the first cases had been reported in the U.S. Originally when the lock down was instated the sport of Professional Wrestling, quite rightly, did not make the list of “Essential Media”. This was reserved for news outlets and radio, anything that could help inform people on the latest news and developments with the virus.

Not long after, Ron DeSantis the Republican governor of Florida decided to change his mind and deemed the WWE an “essential business”. A strange decision, but one that he defended in a press briefing; here is his rambling explanation word for word –

“I think people are chomping at the bit. I mean, if you think about it, we’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, people are watching, we’re watching, like, reruns from the early 2000’s, watching Tom Brady do the Super Bowl then, which is neat because he’s gonna be in Tampa and I think they have a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. But I think people, to be able to have some light at the tunnel, see that things may get back on a better course – I think from just a psychological perspective I think is a good thing.”

He really sounds like someone that has his priorities right. God forbid you get bored of the telly while avoiding a horrible respiratory disease.

The legitimacy of this decision has been brought into question, not only for its obvious stupidity, but because it came after a Super-Pac chaired by Vince McMahon’s wife Linda that supports Donald Trump pledged to spend $18.5 million in the state of Florida. Amongst the decision, that I’m sure had nothing to do with the very generous donation from the Trump supporting Super-PAC, it was also revealed that a member of staff at WWE had also tested positive for the virus. Anywhere else this would be enough to close the business and send all staff into self-isolation but not at WWE. The show, it would seem, must go on.

If the political ties between Trump and the McMahons weren’t obvious enough, Trump then named Vince McMahon as one of a number of business leaders now part of a group that would advise Trump on how to relax social distancing measures and get the economy back up and running. Really think about that. The government of the United States is taking advice on when to relax social distancing measures from business owners. The people that stand to make the most money for the least amount of risk to themselves if the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

So, the WWE is declared essential and the employees are then compelled to travel and flout social distancing rules so as to still earn their wages. What next?

On the 15th of April WWE announced that as part of necessary cost reductions due to the coronavirus they will be firing a lot of talent and furloughing a large proportion of their behind the scenes crew. This was announced at the same time they made the following statement –

“WWE has substantial financial resources, both available cash and debt capacity, which currently total more than $0.5 billion, to manage the challenges ahead. The fundamentals of the Company’s business remain strong… Management continues to believe the Company is well positioned to take full advantage of the changing media landscape and increasing value of live sports rights over the longer term.”

To understand the extent to which this is a slimy decision on behalf of the WWE management you first need to understand that for years WWE has been signing as much talent as they can to contracts to keep them from working at other companies. Now that they might take a slight hit to their profit margins- and despite they’re huge wealth reserves- they have decided to fire these wrestlers at a time when there is nowhere else for them to go for work, all while the staff that they did keep on have to risk their lives to produce a televised product.

The chain of events here definitely tells a story. One of corporate greed, bribery and downright apathy to the well being of employees. One story amongst many that paint the Trump administration as even more incompetent and spiteful than before. A true oligarchy that has constantly put profits ahead of the well being of its people and has just enough fascist characteristics that Trump has built a cult of personality around himself with followers that will do whatever he says. With Trump now suggesting that perhaps we should inject people with disinfectant we can only hope that at least some of his acolytes may begin to question his judgement.

Featured

Scotland and the Black Death

Recently we’ve focused a lot on Covid-19 and the ramifications it’s already having for our society but this week I thought we would take a step back from the ongoing pandemic and instead focus on something a bit lighter – the Black Death

Our story starts in 1348, when the Black Death first arrived in England. 1348, simply put, was not a great time to live in Britain. The Second War of Scottish independence had already been  raging for over a decade, and England had been embroiled in the Hundred Years’ War for nearly as long. On top of this, the common people of the towns and villages were also suffering under high taxes, little food and failed harvests. Life was pretty bleak, but it was about to get a lot worse. 

It was Bristol that would be first hit. A vibrant trading port that had until that time remained untouched by war or famine; instead it was the third horseman of the apocalypse, pestilence, that would leave its mark here. Before the plague Bristol was the second largest city in England, taking silver place only to London, but when the plague hit, Henry Knighton, a monk who recorded the history of the plague described the city as being devastated, saying “almost the whole strength of the town perished” and transforming, almost over night from a city full of life and joy and trade, to a city of corpses where the few survivors didn’t have the strength or numbers to bury the deceased. This, unfortunately, was only a taste of things to come for the rest of the Isles. 

By 1349 London would follow in Bristol’s grim footsteps, and alongside the Back Death, Pneumonic Plague would also ravage the city. This outbreak would take thousands upon thousands of lives, the plague would also break up Parliament and take the lives of at least three Archbishops of Canterbury greatly weakening the English Kingdom’s feudal management.

All this chaos was not unnoticed in the court of King David the Second of Scotland, and many argued the plague was God’s wrath on the English for… well being English. It’s not hard to see how the calamity could be seen to have had a hand of the divine, wherever the plague went it left biblical destruction. Further still, the Scottish nobility argued that because Scotland had remained untouched, this showed that God had picked a side in the war, the Scottish side. It was decided that rather than lay back and watch the southern kingdom burn Scotland would take an active hand in the chaos, and push its advantage to win the war. After all, god had clearly decreed the end times for England, it was their Christian duty to see his will acted. 

The Scots at this point were resurgent, they had already pushed Edward the Third’s armies out of Perth and Fife, and now a great host assembled to invade England itself. When news of this approaching army reached Durham the plague stricken town burst into riots. This incursion, however, was ultimately doomed and the Scots were routed in battle, soon the Scottish army was in full retreat back home. To add to the misery of defeat, among the fleeing soldiers and levies the plague lurked and soon Scotland would be hit with the same divine wrath that the English had suffered. 

Though Scotland was less vulnerable than England, lacking the centralised population centres that England had developed in the centuries prior, the pestilence still took a dire toll. Exact numbers aren’t recorded but what is known is that cities like Edinburgh were devastated, losing nearly half of their population. By the end of the outbreak some estimate almost half the population of the Island would succumb to the disease.

So, you might be asking, why have I chosen to bring to attention this particular part of history? Well I think it conveys a very important message. Even if you think God is telling you to invade England, please, please stay in doors, save lives.  

Featured

Keir Starmer: King of The Ashes

As of April, the Labour party now has a new leader in Sir Keir Starmer and a new Shadow Cabinet appointed by him. Starmer won the leadership contest with 56% of the vote on a wave of sentiments such as “electability”, “moderate” and “sensible” and has been a staunch Remainer in the Brexit debate. Starmer was instrumental in his role as Shadow Brexit secretary in tempering Labour’s position on Brexit and forcing Corbyn to support a second referendum going into the 2019 general election. This, for many, was the death knell for Labour as they alienated millions of working-class voters that voted for Brexit and pushed them towards the Conservatives, leaving the UK in a strange place with the Conservative party now having a larger working class base of support, at least in England.

The appointment of Sir Keir Starmer, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, has also alienated the members of the Labour party that still believed in Labour as a left-wing party that would push for meaningful, socialist changes to society. He has been compared to Tony Blair and many believe he will steer the party back towards a “New Labour” way of working that operates more in the mythical centre of the political spectrum and tries to strike a balance between the left and right wings of the party. Something that has been applauded by members of the Conservative party such as the architect of austerity himself, George Osborne, who tweeted –

“Keir Starmer’s reshuffle is impressive – the Marxist nutters are out; moderate left are in. When this crisis is eventually over, and politics is resumed, the Tories are going to find that the 5 years when there was no opposition and no alternative has come to an abrupt end”

A bold statement but one that has very little meaning coming from someone that should be a political enemy of the Labour movement, especially when you look at the people that Starmer has appointed to his Shadow Cabinet. At a time where the Conservative government have clearly, seriously mishandled the Covid-19 crisis amid false scientific claims of the validity of “herd immunity”, a failure to provide clarity and protections for the people most at risk and a wilful dismissal of a report in 2016 that predicted what would happen in a pandemic situation; new Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy claimed in an interview that “this wasn’t a foreseeable crisis” despite the fact that the Government had foresaw a crisis like this happening four years ago. A statement that Starmer would be proud of as he himself stated that now is “not the time” to ask if the Government has been too slow in responding to this crisis. A strong opposition indeed.

To anyone who denounces criticism of the government in a time like this as trying to politicise a tragedy I would like to say this to you specifically – Whether you like it or not, everything is political. It was a political choice to suppress the 2016 report on pandemic response from the public. It was a political choice to not heed the warning of countries like China and Italy when it came to the lax response to the pandemic. These political choices have caused a lot of unnecessary strain, suffering, deaths and the government must be held accountable for that.

As to the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, we have Ian Murray who failed in his bid for the Deputy Leader position but is being kept on as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He claimed to have been “honoured” by an endorsement from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and has been a vocal critic of Corbyn and his policies.

Appointed as Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding is Jess Phillips; a person that has been caught out bragging about telling MP Diane Abbot to “fuck off” during a parliamentary meeting, a claim that turned out to be a complete lie, and has a worrying track record of supporting transphobic groups and diminishing the rights of sex workers. Oh and Jess was also was one of Corbyn’s loudest critics and was quoted in an interview with the Guardian as saying to Corbyn “The day that… you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front”.

In at the position of Shadow Exchequer Secretary is Wes Streeting, a man that doxxed a person on twitter over a doctored picture and has taken every opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn over the claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour party but who also told a campaigner against anti-Semitism to “fuck off” when he pointed out he was defending proven anti-Semite Ali Milani. He also seems very comfortable working with his colleague Rachel Reeves who has also been awarded a place in the Shadow Cabinet; a woman that has admitted her admiration for the first ever sitting woman MP Nancy Astor, a known anti-Semite and avid supporter of Adolf Hitler. Another example of a worrying trend in British politics where people like to pretend the first female MP was a Nazi sympathiser and brush over the Irish Socialist Constance Markievicz. British politics is grim, but maybe Labour shouldn’t be the party working to erase Socialism from British politics and fawning over fash?  

You may be wondering why I have made an effort to point out that Starmers new Shadow Cabinet seems to be propped up by the people in the party that were the most critical of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It has recently been announced that the internal report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” will not be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the advice of the Party’s lawyers as they fear it could harm the Party. This story was broken by Sky News who claimed to have seen the 860 – page report and stated that it “concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to a ‘litany of mistakes’ that hindered the effective handling of the issue”. A polite way of describing many of Keir’s supporters and shadow cabinet as fifth columnists.

The report has since been leaked online and is very damning for those involved.Through thorough examination of more than 10,000 emails and thousands of WhatsApp messages it was discovered that a faction inside the Labour party that were doing everything they could to make sure Corbyn lost the election in 2017. This included deliberately mishandling work, sabotaging anyone they believed to be a ‘trot’ (a Trot being anyone to the left of Brown) and lying to manipulate outcomes that they wanted. There is a lot in the report but some of the worst revelations from the WhatsApp messages include –

  • Conversations which show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
  • A discussion about how to prevent Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
  • Constant references to Corbyn – supporting staff as “trots”
  • Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
  • A discussion in which a member of the group said they “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”

One of the more damning paragraphs that show the level to which members of this group were trying to sabotage Corbyn is the following about Emilie Oldknow who is now the COO of the Unison trade union. It states –

‘WhatsApp discussions among senior Labour HQ staff show that LOTO (Leader of The Opposition) was unhappy with the NCC panel’s decision to suspend Ken Livingston for another year rather than expel him. Emilie Oldknow wrote that “Karie has been telling Shadow Cabinet members that I’ve orchestrated the Ken situation so… Tom got his people on the panel to make a soft decision, all in order to embarrass JC and create a crisis.”

Sir Keir Starmer claims that he wants a more moderate party that bridges the left-wing/right-wing divide so as to win back the trust of voters. This reconciliation is as convincing as Keir pishing into my ear and telling me it’s raining. What we really see is a group of moderates that never liked how popular the policies of Jeremy Corbyn were and did everything in their power to purge the party of the further left leaning people involved. Forcing Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit, purposely sabotaging the Party and colluding to bully members they believed to be too far left and then accusing Corbyn of losing two elections all by himself because he was so unpopular and had bad ideas. It is the same type of Neo-Liberal machinations that were set on Bernie Sanders over in America and it makes it clear that whether here in the UK or over in the US there will never really be an opportunity to have any real choice in government. Neither in the UK or the US is there a party structure that can make a home for the Left. They all wear different colours but campaign for slight variations of the same formula. Keir Starmer is being hailed as the electable saviour for the Labour Party, but I would argue the Labour Party is now so far removed from where it was supposed to be that he now has nothing worth saving.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the legend of the Labour Party Tony Benn. “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”

He said this in response to the push for Labour to adopt more right-wing ideas in the 80s. A task completed by Tony Blair and now furthered by the ghoulish machinations of the right leaning members of the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer has been propelled to leadership of a Party that his supporters have eroded from the inside. Keir is not the saviour of the Labour party, but it’s undertaker.

Featured

Pandemic Perspective: Community Response in Vietnam

As the coronavirus pandemic affects nations across the globe, we should continue to consider the circumstances which have helped or hindered countries in handling the situation. With this in mind, friend of the ACU Ian sheds light on Vietnam’s response measures.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when you mention Vietnam and they will probably respond with one of two words: war, or communism. Vietnam’s civil war began in 1955 between the communist led North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam. The USA provided support to the South Vietnamese from the beginning. This was part of US efforts to curb the spread of communism worldwide, efforts that would eventually lead to a ground invasion of Vietnam in March 1963, which didn’t end until 1973 when all US personnel were withdrawn from the country. 2 years after this withdrawal the North Vietnamese and their southern Việt Minh allies captured Sai Gon in the south, bringing an end to the 20 year conflict known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước (“Anti-American Resistance War for National Salvation”).

North and South Vietnamese governments finally united in 1976 forming the modern Socialist Republic of Vietnam and this new united government was immediately faced with the task of rebuilding the country after a devastating war in which an estimated 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed. The war itself was over, but with countless people wounded or suffering from the effects of America’s use of poisonous chemicals such as Agent Orange, the aftershock would be felt for many years afterwards. Other damage from the war included villages and arable land being littered with mines and unexploded bombs, an economy in ruins and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts were made even more difficult by a trade embargo imposed on Vietnam by the USA in an attempt to economically isolate the fledgling nation that had so valiantly fought for its independence. This embargo lasted for 19 years.

Despite all of the challenges the nation has faced, Vietnam has persevered and in recent years has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2010, Vietnam’s GDP growth has been at least 5% per year, and in 2017 it peaked at 6.8%. With such rapid economic growth, the country grew from one of the poorest countries to a comfortably middle-income one. Whereas its GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343).

Vietnam has experienced almost miraculous success in the face of adversity, and this article will address another situation in which the country has been incredibly successful – the 2020 world coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve all seen by now that with few exceptions, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded at an alarming rate, particularly among western countries. The U.S government, much like the UK, has been strongly criticised for its lack of coherent nationwide response measures, with many commenting that eventual implementation of response measures have been too little, too late. As a result of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional handling of the pandemic, federal scientists have predicted that the U.S is likely to see millions of people infected, with a sobering prediction of over 100,000 deaths.

By contrast, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, according to the government’s figures, is staggeringly low.

So far the South East Asian nation has reported just 245 cases of the disease, with 95 recoveries and, almost unbelievably, zero recorded deaths. They have only 2.99% of the number of cases it’s neighbour China has, and 0.072% of the cases of the nation with the highest recorded cases (the USA). The mortality rate of 0% is incredible compared to countries (Spain and the U.K) which are experiencing rates of over 10% and in addition to this, on April 4th Vietnam reported no new cases of the virus for the first time in over a month.

Vietnam’s first case was recorded on January 23rd when a Chinese national from Wuhan who had travelled to Ha Noi to visit his son tested positive for COVID-19. Since then Vietnam has averaged only 3.6 new cases per day – in complete contrast with the USA’s 4,432. I have no doubt that by now you must be wondering how it’s possible that Vietnam, a country which shares such strong ideological ties, a 1444km land border, and counts China as its largest trading partner, can possibly have been so successful in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite being so closely associated country from which the virus emanated.

How exactly has Vietnam managed to keep its numbers so low?

On January 24th, one day after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Health Vũ Đức Đam held an emergency meeting with the World Health Organisation and the Steering Committee for Emerging Disease Prevention. At this meeting the Deputy Prime minister ordered the activation of the Covid-19 Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. He also declared that the government had many measures prepared to prevent the proliferation of the new coronavirus threat. The government made good on these declarations and wasted no time implementing these emergency measures.

Authorities immediately started to pursue a strategy of identification, isolation and testing. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected individuals were found, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19, with those testing negative being released. These measures were originally considered to be drastic by WHO recommendations, however they proved to be extremely successful, with the WHO praising Vietnam for “doing a good job in monitoring and quarantining those suspected of contracting the virus and in treating infected patients, ever since the nation detected the first infection cases”.

On January 24th the Civil Aviation Authority announced a ban on flights both to and from Wuhan, China. A week later this ban was extended to include all flights to and from China. Vietnam also stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals from epidemic stricken areas in order to reduce the chance of other outbreaks.

In the first week of February and just over two weeks after the first recorded Covid-19 case educational authorities throughout the country announced the closure of schools and universities. On February 14th these closures were extended until February 23rd. This has been extended until the present and at present a date for them to re-open has yet to be announced.

On Thursday 13th of February, provincial authorities in Vinh Phuc Province quarantined Son Loi Commune after seven people tested positive for the virus, including a 3 month old child. A total of 311 people were quarantined, with a total of 10 eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Provincial authorities established disease checkpoints, distributed free face masks, established mobile food shops and provided a daily monetary food allowance for those in quarantine.

As of Tuesday 25th of February there had been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam, and just over a month after the first case the Deputy Prime Minister announced in an online meeting that “With all modesty and eagerness to learn, Vietnam has so far controlled the Covid-19 epidemic well”. Vietnam went through a period of 20 days without seeing any new infections until March 6th, when an Englishman returning to the country tested positive. This was the start of a second wave of infections, which Vietnam had hoped to prevent with its use of targeted travel bans. By this point however the epidemic was turning into a pandemic, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent new arrivals carrying the illness coming into the nation as the virus has already spread over most of the globe.

On the 18th of March Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners trying to enter the country. Those with visa exemption status were required to submit documentation proving they had tested negative for COVID-19. People arriving from the U.S., European countries, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also required to stay in quarantine camps for 14 days. These precautions again proved justified when it was found that of the 68 new COVID-19 patients, 59 had returned from abroad.

By March 27th, the number of cases increased to 163. In response to this the Prime Minister rolled out new measures to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and control. These measures include: cancellation of events attended by more than 20 people, and the banning of gatherings of more than 10 people in public places. Religious ceremonies and cultural, sporting and entertainment events were suspended. All non-essential businesses and services were also ordered to close. Four days later on March 31st the government announced yet further measures to limit the spread of the virus. They demanded the implementation of social distancing throughout the entire country. Public gatherings of more than 2 people are banned, with citizens being required to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres in social interactions. Everyone is requested to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary, such as trips for food, medicine, emergency care or for working at essential businesses, factories, and services that have been allowed to continue operating.

“Households are advised to keep a distance from households, villages from villages, communes from communes, districts from districts, and provinces from provinces,” according to the directive.

In addition to these measures, the Ministry of Health (Bộ Y tế) has been sending regular texts to everyone in the country with updates on the situation, advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and with messages of encouragement to help fight the pandemic. To give you an idea of the content, here is the first message, sent on February 4th.

For those of us not fluent in Vietnamese, Google Translate provides this:

Another Ministry of Health text(translated using Google), also sent on February 4th, reads:

In Vietnam we see a national government treating the virus seriously from the very first case, coordinating with the WHO and designing a quarantine that would provide support, both financial and material, to those affected.

Although an extensive array of measures have been employed, Vietnam’s success in fighting coronavirus lies not only in the government’s response, but in the communist nation’s culture. Simply put, Vietnam is a collectivistic society which manifests in a close long-term commitment to the “member” group, such as a family, extended family or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and informs most other societal rules and norms. Such a society fosters strong relationships, where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group, whether it’s your family or your neighbourhood. The coronavirus crisis seems to have reignited the collectivism that still exists at the heart of Vietnamese society, which seemed to be diminishing as a result of Westernisation and the rise of Neoliberal individualism that follows on the coattails of Westernisation. Vietnamese citizens from all walks of life have united and are determined to beat the disease. Put simply, Vietnamese people have a greater tendency to care not only about their own health, but the health of the wider community.

In addition to being collectivist, Vietnamese society also prides itself on its pragmatism. In pragmatic societies, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions and a strong propensity to persevere to achieve desired results. Vietnam’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been criticised by several Western media outlets as being “aggressive” or even “authoritarian” but despite this criticism, the pragmatism of Vietnamese society has contributed to Vietnam’s citizens ability to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles so swiftly to cooperate with the governments’ directives, and has certainly been a major factor in what has been an incredible effort from government employees and officials, healthcare workers and ordinary citizens in combating a potentially devastating pandemic.

I would like to end the article by sharing a personal anecdote which I believe reflects the pride that the Vietnamese people feel for their nations’ collective effort in inhibiting the spread of COVID-19. At the end of my online class on April 4th, one of my students, 12 year old Justin (his chosen name), asked me not to leave the class yet- he had some good news he wanted to share with me. He then told me that various media outlets had reported that Vietnam had recorded zero new cases of coronavirus. I said that was incredible news and I asked how he felt about this. He said, “I’m very happy for everyone in Vietnam that we can stop coronavirus together”. I believe his attitude is reflective of the majority of vietnamese in this difficult time, and is one of many factors which has led to Vietnam being so triumphant in its approach to the fight against the disease which is currently ravaging nations across the globe. Vietnam is a nation where people take pride in their community, a nation born from a long 20 year struggle, and despite the onslaught of westernisation and neoliberal individualism, has managed to preserve and stoke the communal fire in this time of crisis.

Featured

Coronavirus And The Neoliberal Agenda

Not gonna lie, it’s been a pretty bad few weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated rapidly, and we’ve all watched as world leaders and scientists frantically scramble to get a foothold on the management of this global crisis. From the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, to Europe being declared the epicentre of the pandemic by The WHO, the response by governments world-wide has been varied in both strategy and (with some speculation) effectiveness. While China and South Korea continue to report fewer cases day by day as their focussed efforts take effect, European countries have been seemingly paralyzed into inaction, with much less drastic measures being taken, often much later than health experts are recommending. 

But what exactly are the actions that countries like China and South Korea have taken in response to this crisis, and why are we in Europe- and particularly the UK- not following their example?

In this article we won’t recap the details of how COVID-19 developed, or speculate on how it may develop, or tell you to wash your hands again (seriously though, do it); we’re looking instead at the varied response strategies by governments and what they tell us about the western hegemony, which for the last forty-odd years has been characterised by its own disease of the soul- neoliberalism.

The term neoliberalism refers to a set of economic principles which- to varying degrees in different countries- serve as the fundamental characteristics of a capitalist economy; the freer the market, the freer the people; governments should not interfere with markets; a free market is the best mechanism for the distribution of resources; public life should largely mimic the private sector, and often should subsidise its operations- i.e. markets are better equipped to deal with the operation and functioning of everyday life, including travel, infrastructure and healthcare. Under neoliberalism, all of the above are privatised. Under neoliberalism, the market is God.

In the UK, the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant ideology is most associated with the Thatcher era of British politics, which was characterised by the deregulation and privatisation of industry on a massive scale, widening economic disparity and the hollowing out of the public sphere as a result of major tax reductions. While Labour opposed these policies, by the time Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power in 1997 this battle was largely conceded, and little has been done to reverse the havoc wreaked ever since.

In fact, so thoroughly has the ideology of neoliberalism taken root in our society that its callous machinations, for many, appear simply as the result of unavoidable material shortcomings and a Wheel of Fortune without prejudice: there just isn’t enough to go around and that’s life.

The truth of the matter is that scarcity is often artificial, and is a political choice. Economic saving in the short term comes at the expense of improving lives in the long term; conscious efforts are made to “balance the books” instead of preparing for an eventual crisis, which works well enough when things are ticking along as normal- but there is always, always a coming crisis. Around every ten years our global economic system collapses in on itself and neoliberalism is left trying to maintain an economic system that booms and busts like clockwork, all the while imposing a social system where people are left to fend for themselves whenever the music stops.

The UK’s approach to Covid is a stunning and shocking example of this policy put into practice. Despite being able to look into our own future by simply watching events unfolding in the rest of Europe and Asia, we have instead frittered away precious time hand-wringing over tax-avoiding multinationals going under and delaying lockdown measures. The UK lockdown- such that it is- began on the 23rd of March, a full two weeks after Italy went into full lockdown following their failed partial lockdown strategy which had begun on the 21st February. The lockdown in Wuhan had come on 23rd January, and at the end of that month the first two cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK. Warnings by nations ahead of us in the outbreak cycle continued to fall on deaf ears.

While it might seem that this inaction is only the result of some misplaced sense of British exceptionalism (and no doubt these delusions were at play), the truth of it is that modelling and data gathering about an eventual pandemic has been underway a lot longer than the Covid-19 outbreak. In 2016 the government carried out “Exercise Cygnus”- essentially a practice run to see how the UK would cope if a flu epidemic hit- and the results were terrifying. Within the NHS, local authorities and every government department taking part in the drill, massive service failures were found to exist. The exercise showed that the NHS was already stretched to breaking point, and would not be able to properly supply protective gear to its staff, never mind dealing with any surge in service use. 

What is the neoliberal answer to such a report? Suppression. The report, until very recently did not see the light of day. Deeming its contents “too terrifying” for the general public, the government instead chose informed inaction. When actually hit with this nightmare scenario- of which the government wilfully and knowingly left the UK underprepared- the official government policy was to seek out “Herd immunity”, where the disease would “burn through the population all in one go”, as the PM had put it, and infect 60% of the population. A policy that would have left hundreds of thousands dead, even with low fatality estimates of 1.5%.

Neoliberalism is the pursuit of profit over people, and hundred of thousands dead is acceptable collateral to people so committed in preserving the status quo that they would rather you die than risk business interests being put down the priority list. 

Why is it then that China and South Korea have coped better? At the start of this China and South Korea were respectively the first and second worst hit nations by this pandemic. South Korea, for its part, didn’t even enforce a lock down; instead they made testing easy, accessible and available on a massive scale. Anyone who tested positive had their contacts traced, were asked what venues they had gone to and who they met. Anyone they had met was tested as well and anywhere they went was closed for two weeks and sanitised. Testing was also made quick and simple, with tests in the hospital quickly being replaced and moved to drive ins and single person booths. An app was also released nationwide that let people volunteer information about where they had visited if they tested positive for Covid-19, this let people make informed decisions about where to go, and what venues to keep open, limiting the impact this had on day to day life in South Korea. 

In China the policy instead embraced self isolation, social distancing and a focus on hand and respiratory hygiene. Transport services were limited, schools were moved online and local services such as food delivery services were supported. The Chinese government, supported by the World Health Organisation also made an effort to provide education on infection prevention and controls, and is looking into ways to integrate these practices into day to day life, with a long term aim of preventing something like this happening again. The Chinese government also took a very direct role in encouraging people to focus on their own health in the coming days, and to put it in the words of Dr Gauden Galea, the WHO representative to China “Staying healthy over the next phase of COVID-19 is everybody’s business.” 

One difficulty however in discussing China’s response to the outbreak is that, funnily enough, there isn’t one Chinese response. Despite often being accused of authoritarianism and over centralisation, the Chinese government’s approach has been one of deferring to local authorities on policy; the more stringent lockdown in Wuhan has been in contrast to the response in Shanghai or Chengdu, where the local authorities have focused on the availability of health education and hygiene products. The WHO have also provided a big support to people in China, with their educational materials on social media, according to their own numbers, reaching 1 billion people. 

In summary, the response in South Korea has been one of an active government making testing available, as well as helping people coordinate around the pandemic without requiring a complete lockdown and China has instead focused on deferring local responses, supported by social distancing, moving services online when able, making education on the matter easily available and taking advice from international organisations like the WHO. The UK’s response was ignoring reports of service failures and until very recently, inaction.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had praise heaped upon him across the media and public discourse for lending just a shred of credibility to the Tories despite their cruel ineptitude, and for producing a budget which, at least in theory, will support the vast swathes of people now finding themselves in precarious economic circumstances, although there remains questions about whether these measures go far enough. With increased spending and support being announced and with the crisis itself being such an overwhelming situation, it can be tempting to absolve leaders of past actions and instead focus on the positive steps being taken in the here and now. But we would all do well to remember that these are the same people who, through their negligence have cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives, and have left us without the social infrastructure to deal with the present crisis as a consequence of years of austerity. 

This new found generosity will not last. Dominic Cummings deflecting questions around NHS pay rises is evidence enough for any who need it that this sudden change in values is on a strictly temporary basis, unless we demand manifest change.

(Collaboration by Ryan Wilson and Alex Osbourne)

Featured

Pandemic Perspective: The Cuban Healthcare Effort

It has been interesting to see how the different governing bodies across the world have responded to the outbreak of a global pandemic. Some have handled it better than others, and despite what your government has been telling you, the worst responses have come from some of the most “developed” countries in the world. So concerned with maintaining capital that measures have been slow and relaxed, and when compared to more socialised countries such as Cuba and Vietnam it really highlights some of the glaring issues with the structure of countries like the U.S and the U.K regardless of some of the helpful policies that have been introduced.

If the only information you have about Cuba has come from a mainstream western media perspective, it wouldn’t be surprising if you thought of them as a country ruined by a brutal communist dictator in Fidel Castro, a nation that can’t look after its people. Western reporting on Cuba has been very selective since the success of the revolution on January 1st 1959. Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew the President (Dictator) Fulgencio Batista, a man backed by the United States, who had turned Cuba in to a police state, stripping the people of all of their rights and causing the death of around 20,000 Cubans over the course of 7 years. A higher percentage of the Cuban population than what was lost by the United States in both World Wars.

There has also been a lot of criticism of the new government in Cuba. They have shown a propensity for violence in maintaining control and within the country the people that oppose them call themselves ‘Dissidents’, advocating for capitalist systems to return to the country and pointing to the governments own restriction on civil liberties. Many outside news sources do point to facts but very rarely give any context (such as Cuba being constantly under attack by a large aggressive power in the United States, who has shown it will go to extreme lengths to overthrow unfriendly regimes.) They also give Dissidents more of a voice than they seem to hold with average Cuban civilians. This is evident in one of the many U.S cables released by Wikileaks that stated “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organisations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans.” This seems evident in this really interesting article from Al Jazeera reporter Ed Augustin written just after the death of Castro, he writes, “Even Cubans who hate the Castros joke that the first thing the Ladies in White (Dissident human rights protesters) do after their weekly protest is go to the shopping mall to spend the money they’ve been sent from Miami.”

Indeed coverage of Cuba has always been through a political lens but lets bring it back to the modern day, the pandemic we face, and lets simply look at the facts of the situation. You may be wondering why Cuba seems so well equipped to help with this global outbreak. It all started after a bad outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981 on the island. In spite of the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States they were still able to send doctors out to other countries to do medical research and soon started developing in the biotech industry. More specifically they began producing Interferons. Interferons are ‘signalling’ proteins released by cells in response to infection to warn other cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses. Through the years a lot of research has been done on these proteins and they have been shown to drastically reduce the effects of viruses and even attack tumours in mice.

So after successfully minimising the dengue outbreak and decades of top quality research and practice, the Cuban medical sector is most likely the best equipped in the world to deal with a pandemic. They have not only looked after their own people but have a policy of wanting to unite the people of the world, especially in the face of this crisis. They have been working closely with China and Italy has been one of the first countries to accept their help in trying to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the small Caribbean nation have offered many more countries aid in battling the virus. They even allowed a British cruise ship to dock on their shores after the U.S refused it sanctuary. There was no Cubans on board and allowing the ship to dock put the Cuban people at risk but they acted selflessly in an effort to help those that need it. They continue to be world leaders in battling the spread of the virus and now have doctors in many countries along with China and Russia to do whatever they can to help the world.

It is clear that the capital obsessed super powers of this world are trying to downplay the severity of the virus and, in the case of America, are even trying to convince their workers to put themselves at risk for the sake of the man made construct known as the “economy”. We should instead look to countries such as Cuba that have been a guiding light in dark times, to show us that as the human race we are capable of denying the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality of capitalist society and should put more importance on the value of every life over the unrealistic necessity of capitalism of constant economic growth and profit motives of the few that own the means of production.

Featured

Covid-19

You would have to be living under a rock to not have noticed the impacts Covid-19 is already having on daily life. Businesses are closing, vital services are tightening up and we are being advised to avoid social contact as much as possible. Across Scotland, at the time of writing, the total number of positive cases for the illness are 416 and the total fatalities have now unfortunately hit 10 With both figures likely to rise. We thought this would be a good time to look at Covid-19, its impacts and what you can do during the crisis. 

Covid-19 is an illness caused by the Coronavirus that attacks your lungs and airways and is spread by bodily fluids. The symptoms include dry coughing fits, a high fever and shortness of breath. The virus causes these symptoms by turning our own immune systems against us, aggravating our immune cells to the point that they do damage to our bodies. By damaging the lung tissue and making the body vulnerable to other infections, particularly bacterial illness, Covid-19 can put people at risk of pneumonia or even losing their lives. People with underlying vulnerabilities are especially at risk, like those with a compromised immune system or pre-existing lung damage who are less able to fight against the illness.

Luckily there are still things that can be done. At the moment there isn’t much in the way of treatment for the viral infection itself but we can treat the symptoms that make the condition life threatening. If you are fit and healthy and catch the bug the symptoms can range from next to no symptoms to a particularly bad flu. (Although in some of the worst areas hit, like Italy, younger people are starting to become much more ill) The question then turns to what we can do for people who might suffer worse than ourselves if we catch the virus, that’s where social distancing comes in. By cutting out unneeded exposure we limit the chance that someone we care about might catch the illness and go through worse than we might. 

Social distancing is being taken up by most of Ayrshire already, even before the government ordered the closure of pubs and restaurants most people had decided to stay in last weekend, with reports of record low turnout. Schools have also been closed, and public transport has reduced running times. On top of this hospital visiting hours have been reduced and some churches across Ayrshire have even closed services in order to limit people’s chance of exposure. 

All of this is of course having an impact; businesses are struggling and people are struggling just the same. Less work means less pay and even with the government’s recent announcement that they will cover some worker’s pay for unto 80% of lost wages people have already been laid off. Luckily the government has revised their Covid-19 response plan from an internationally condemned approach of herd immunity, which even in the best case scenario would have killed hundreds of thousands, to one of taking an active role in stemming the crisis.

While the government revises its plans what can we do in the meantime? The best advice is to try and self isolate and avoid unneeded social contact. If you can, work from home. Try and only go for your messages once a week, and try not to panic buy. Ask yourself if you really need 18 boxes of baby wipes and 14 boxes of hand sanitizer. On top of this try and help the vulnerable as much as possible, there has been a massive effort to set up mutual aid groups across Scotland, if you can help please click this link to find where your local group is located and help if you can. 

It’s not nice and it can be difficult but try and limit exposure to your vulnerable family, this might mean dropping off shopping to them once a week and it might leave you a bit empty but even if you feel fine that doesn’t mean you can’t spread the illness. With people testing positive showing as asymptomatic this is always something to keep in mind.

Here at ACU we will continue to provide regular content that will hopefully be of interest in these strange times. As new developments and advice becomes available we will do what we can to share useful information on our social media.

Stay safe, be sensible, and we can all get through this.

Below is a couple of links to sites you may want to check to stay updated on the situation.

https://www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/coronavirus/Coronavirus.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Featured

Memoirs of a Scottish Prisoner in WW1: Part 2

In Part 1 of this article we uploaded the first half of the memoirs of Corporal Gordon R. Johnston from Tillicoultry in which he described his dramatic plane crash behind enemy lines and the trials he had started to face as a prisoner in the German run P.O.W camps in WW1. Below he continues his story. Enjoy.

In May 1917 Dulmen camp was broken up, the N.C.Os being sent to Minden and the privates to another camp. This place was very good (as prisoners’ camps go in Germany). The only work we had to do being the usual camp fatigues, keeping the place clean, etc. We were allowed to have games and play football in the meadow outside the camp twice a week. There was also a Theatre and a prisoners Brass Band, and a two or three hours walk on a Sunday.

It was this camp that I started learning French properly and, another thing that helped to pass the time, was cooking our grub. As a rule, there were from two to six chaps – what we term in army slang “mucking in together”; one usually did the cooking, the others either washing up or drawing the packets for our “school.” I will now give you an outline of the packet system in this camp and, as most camps are run on the same principle, it can be taken as a general rule.

When a packet wagon arrives at the station, about 5 Kilometres away, word is sent up to the camp and 20 or 30 men are assigned to go down and unload it, and bring the packets back in a cart. When the packets arrive they are checked and a list of the names of the owners was put up. The packets were opened by the Germans, and all the loose articles were put into our soup basins – or bags that we had made for this purpose. We were not allowed one scrap of paper out of the packet, not even the tea wrappers. All the tins were kept by the Germans until we required them; then they were opened and the contents put into our basins or bags. This was a great nuisance as the ‘tin department’ was only open at certain hours of the day and, if we were on fatigue duty, we got no tinned stuff that day. Then all cigarettes were cut up and the cigarette papers confiscated. This was about the worst blow for the ‘boys’ in Germany because, out of 50 or 100 cigs, there would be only a handful of tobacco to show for them.

All biscuits were broken, and the butter, etc cut into two or three pieces. The bread from Copenhagen & Berne was cut in two to see if there was any contraband inside and, in the summertime, bread cut in half did not keep so well – especially when four men were “mucking in” and received 12 or 16 loaves at a time. The empty meat tins were boiled by the Germans, and the fat strained off and sent somewhere; the tins were sent to an iron foundry – I can assure you that nothing is wasted in Germany.

I got quite adept at cooking and could make anything from pancakes to pies. I found that the camp menu was much the same in every camp I was in, and can be listed as follows:-

Monday

  • Breakfast – Hot Water or Coffee
  • Dinner – One basin of soup
  • Tea – Hot Water or Coffee and one ration of black bread (daily allowance 1 loaf of about 5lbs between 12 men.)

Tuesday

  • Breakfast – Hot Water or Coffee
  • Dinner – One basin of Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage)
  • Tea – Hot Water or Coffee and bread ration

Wednesday

  • Breakfast – Hot Water or Coffee
  • Dinner – Three potatoes
  • Tea – the usual, and so on for the rest of the week…

Just a word or two about the coffee – I don’t know what it was made of, but some chaps who have seen it made, say it is burned acorns ground down. There is never sugar or milk in it, so you can judge how it tastes. The soup is 90% water with the remainder vegetables of some sort. The bread is almost black, has a sour taste, and is made from mainly sawdust and potato flour. Anytime I was compelled to eat the stuff it gave me awful indigestion – and you know I don’t have what you might term a weak stomach!

I can tell you that we used to grumble about the packets – and not without just cause at times – but if it had not been for these packets, very few of our chaps would have ever returned from Germany. It is only in the case of necessity that we touched German food at all – we always gave it to the Russians or Rumanians, and it was that extra stuff that kept the poor beggars alive.

I had been in Minden for a couple of months when about 40 of us were transferred to another camp, Soltan, where we were joined by another 60 N.C.Os. The whole lot of us had either tried to escape at one time or another, or had been troublesome to the German authorities in various camps – so we had been sent here to keep us out of mischief. After staying in Soltan for a week, we were sent to Heestenmoor and it was here that I had my first real taste of POW life. I had very little to complain of in my previous camps regarding the treatment by the Germans.

We stepped off the train at a railway siding and were marched across the moor for 5 kilometres, carrying all our belongings. The Germans do not supply us with anything so we have to be very careful with our private stuff, and take it all with us when we move from one place to another.

Our new camp, at first sight, was a small desolate hole, covering about an acre of ground and just about big enough to make a chicken run for about 100 fowls. We were put into an empty barrack room were we were searched, baggage as well. All our cooking utensils – and I might say they are the most important things for a POW – were taken from us; also cardboard boxes, cigarettes, money and all our tinned stuffs.

There were over 100 N.C.Os here who had been working behind the lines for some months and were not yet in receipt of packets. It would have made you weep to see the state they were in. I met a sergeant from my regiment who was absolutely skin and bone. He had been taken in April (1917) and had been forced to work behind the lines. The French civilians used to try and smuggle them food while working there, but if they were caught the Germans used to beat them with their rifles. This chap also told me how to they used to make soup out of nettles and dock leaves – anything to try and satisfy the pangs of hunger.

He and I started “mucking in” and just at that time the R.F.C. packets were something scandalous, so you can guess my issue didn’t go very far between the two of us. I used to be so hungry that I thought that it would take years of good feeding to make me feel satisfied again. When in this state you always talk about the good feeds you have had, and what you intend having when you get back home – which of course makes a chap feel the hunger all the more.

Well, to continue, we arrived on a Friday and with the exception of the usual roll-call parades, we were left alone until Monday – then the fun began!

The German officer in charge of the camp told us we had to go out and work – so, of course we refused. He called out the guard and gave them orders to use their rifles if we still refused. We refused, and the Germans waded into us. The officer drew his sword and shouted “I will show you Englishmen who is in charge of this camp!” and then made a dash for us. Two rifles were broken in the scrap, and several of us were put in the arrest house, and, I can tell you, it was no joke.

The cell was in total darkness and you were only allowed the German ration of bread and water. Every 5th day the small shutter is opened to allow light to come in, and you also got a basin of soup. Well, after being strafed for some time, we decided to go out and work. This entailed one party cutting the turf off the moor and getting it ready for cultivation; another party digging up roots of trees which had burned down at some time or another.

You know the old saying ‘You may lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.’ This applied to us; they did not have enough sentries to watch us all, so we took advantage and either broke or buried the tools. At first they used to try and make us hurry, but we soon got the sentries to our way of thinking. Taking the German soldiers individually, they are not too bad – it is fear of their superiors that make them what they are.

We had lots of petty punishments in this camp, such as standing on parade for two or three hours at a time, having the packets stopped for a few weeks, barrack room searches, and also we had to clean the latrines – a job normally done by the Russians in other camps. We were not allowed any games, and the walk round the compound was only 200 yards so, after walking round for about half an hour, you got quite giddy. We were sleeping on bare boards with two thin rags for blankets; and it was not for a couple of months after we arrived that we received a canvas sack which we were allowed to fill with straw for a mattress. As there were plenty of fleas among the straw, we were not much better off.

The only benefit we ever had from the Germans was a hot water spray bath, every Saturday. The usual washing arrangements in this camp were pumps out in the open and, during winter, washing our clothes outside was cold work, I can tell you. And the only place to dry the clothes was on the barbed wire surrounding the camp. In most other camps there were proper wash houses.

Some days there would be searches, when we would have to stand out in the cold from 8.00am to 7.00pm. During that time we had only three small potatoes for dinner. We had nothing else to eat all day and were not allowed to enter the barrack room for our own grub. The cooking arrangements in this camp were just awful. We had to bring in sticks when we came from work, and make ourselves fires on the ground. Just before meal times it was just for all the world like a gypsy camp but of course on windy and rainy days, we had to go without cooked food.

In the potato season we were put on digging them up and, although the sentries searched us when we came in, we could always manage to fetch in enough for a good feed – which goes to prove ‘necessity is the mother of invention’! I reckon we POWs would make the finest smugglers in the world. We had no issue of coal during the winter. There was a stove in each barrack room and we burned the wood that we had brought in during the summer but, for days at a time, we had no fire at all owing to the shortage of wood.

The Dutch Ambassador visited the camp twice during my stay and, due to his influence, a good many improvements were carried out – but I can assure you that there was still plenty of room for improvement.

You may think that I have had a rough time, but it was nothing compared to the private soldiers who were compelled to do all sorts of work. I know men who have deliberately broken their arm, and smashed their hand with a rock, so as to get away from the coal mines and back into camp again. Others have come back from the salt mines absolutely covered in sores. I was talking to a chap from the Scots Guards, who had been warned by the Germans to go on a working party, but told me that they would have thrown him down the shaft before he entered a pit. A few weeks later, I was told that he had been killed. The Germans had pushed him down a shaft because he refused to work.

For any misbehaviour, the men are sometimes kept down the mine for a week at a time. The Dutch Ambassador who is the British Prisoners representative in Germany knows as well as we do that such atrocities are carried out, but the trouble is proving them. The Germans are too cunning to leave any evidence about it. If the Ambassador asks permission to visit a mine, he is certainly taken there but, everything and everybody who is likely to cause trouble, is put out of the way. The Ambassador may know that everything is not as it should be, but still he cannot get the evidence.

Before we were allowed to cross the frontier we had to sign a paper to the effect that we had no claim on Germany whatever. I know of a Frenchman at Dulmen camp, who was crippled in a coal mine through ill treatment and the Germans told him that if he signed the paper to the effect that this was caused by an accident then he would be exchanged to Switzerland – but he would not sign.

I expect that you have heard about the food riots in Germany, and how the soldiers turned the machine guns on the people. I have spoken to chaps who saw it done.

I could carry on for hours yet, but I think I have written quite sufficient to show what kind of people we are fighting against. The country is in an awful state, with women and prisoners doing practically all the work. At Aachen where we stayed for a couple of days, the children and even the soldiers were asking us for food. They only received enough food to keep body and soul together: you at home really don’t know what war is.

Another time , we stopped at a fairly large station for a few hours, so we went into the station restaurant and had dinner. We all had a few tins of meat and white bread, which we had saved up for the journey to Holland. You should have seen the people stare when we out our stuff on the table. Every day there are stories in the German newspapers such as “Owing to our U boat warfare, England is starving.” and yet here were allied prisoners with more meat than most Germans had seen for months; but what flabbergasted them most was when we brought out our tea and asked the barmaid to let us have some boiling water to make it. All foodstuffs in Germany are rationed, so you folks at home are fortunate in having unlimited supply of bread and potatoes: even here in Holland, these articles are rationed.

After being in Germany for about two years my feelings can be better imagined than described, when I knew I was crossing the frontier into freedom. Hoping never to be in the same predicament again.

Your loving son,

Gordon.

We hope you found that interesting. For more historical articles click here.

Featured

Memoirs of a Scottish Prisoner in WW1: Part 1

In this special two-part post we would like to share the written memoirs of Corporal Gordon R. Johnston of the Royal Air Force from Tillicoultry. These letters were originally addressed to his parents who were concerned for his well being on his return home. Passed down in his family, some of which would emigrate to Australia, these letters have found their way back to Scotland to his remaining family in Kilwinning. Shared here on the site not only as a testament to the resiliency of people when faced with horrible circumstances, but as a candid reminder of the brutality of war and the unnecessary suffering it brings.

Dear Parents,

I promised to give you a short sketch of my life in Germany, so I will now try and fulfil my promise. I don’t like looking back on those days, but, here goes.

I left the aerodrome (somewhere in France) on a dual controlled machine with Lt. Jowett as Pilot, with the intention of taking photographs over the German lines. While flying at 6,000 feet between Bapaume and Cambrai, I sighted two “Fockers” making towards us. Being much faster machines than ours, they were soon within firing distance. I opened fire simultaneously with the enemy, and had the satisfaction of seeing one of them catch fire and dash to the ground. The other machine swooped down on us and Lt. Jowett was hit in the head, killing him instantly.

My machine started banking over to the right, so I left off firing to try and bring it under control again, but I was not long in finding out that the rudder controls had been shot away, leaving the machine practically useless. We came down from 6,000 ft. in five or six big spirals. When we hit the ground I was thrown out of the machine and landed about 20 yards away. When I recovered my senses, there were about 200 Germans surrounding me; I felt myself all over and was relieved to see that nothing was broken. Except for extensive bruising, I was alright. I went over to the wreckage and assisted the Germans in getting my officer out; shortly afterwards, a red cross car came along and took Lt. Jowett away – the doctor confirming that he was dead.

I was searched, then taken to a dugout and interviewed by a German officer who tried to get all sorts of information out of me. Then I was taken to a small place outside Cambrai where I slept for the night on some straw in a German guard room. The following morning I was taken by train to St. Quentin where I was put in a civil prison. I stayed there for four days; I was in a small stone cell; not allowed to go outside; I thought I would go mad. I put in a complaint to the officer in charge and was allowed out into the prison yard for 2 hours on the 4th day of my imprisonment.

The food here was very good but, as i found out later, half of it was subscribed by the French civil population of the town for P.O.Ws. Up to then I had had no ill-treatment from the Germans; but it was while I was being marched to the station at about 9pm that I saw the first brutality. The group of about 300 prisoners that I was in was made up of all nationalities so, of course, we drew some attention. There was a civilian curfew of 8pm – with blinds drawn across the windows, etc. Well, one lady had pulled the curtains aside to have a look at us, and a big Prussian – one of our guards – rushed up with fixed bayonet and rammed it through the window into the woman’s breast.

All this time, the Germans had taken me for an officer as I still had on my leather flying coat and, so when we got in the train, I was put with some British and French Officers who treated me just like and equal although they knew I was only a Corporal. In the early morning we travelled through the once lovely Louvain district, but which is now severely knocked about. We crossed the Rhine at Cologne and then through the large manufacturing district of Germany (Dusseldorf etc.) We arrived in Gutterslow which is an Officers’ camp at 8pm by which time I was completely fed up, having been on the train for two days and now feeling the full effects of my fall from the machine. So I was glad to stretch myself properly and try to work off the stiffness in my body. At the camp I had a cold bath which was very acceptable.

After three days I was sent to Dulmen which is a camp for N.C.Os and men, a fairly large camp which, seen from a distance, looks like a wooden city. I was very lucky landing in Dulmen, one of the best camps in Germany. Three chaps who had been captured at Mons in 1914 asked me to “muck in” with them until my own packets came through from England; so they kept me from starvation by sharing their home parcels. All the boys were very nice and, of course, I had to give them the news about how the Somme Offensive was going on, and how “Blighty” looked. etc. Being the only ‘flying man’ in camp, I was the authority on aeronautical subjects.

N.C.Os in Germany are not supposed to work, according to an agreement between the two Governments, and in this camp we did nothing but, as I will tell you later, everywhere in Germany is not the same. Morning roll-call is at 7am and working parties of Privates start work at 7.30am. Dinner from 12.00 to 1.00pm and Tea at 5.00pm when they finish work for the day, then another roll-call at 6.00pm. Lights out at 9.00pm winter and 10.00pm summer. Of course, this is only camp routine; where men are working on farms, coal-mines, salt-mines, munitions factories, etc., it is usually work from daylight until dark. Sunday is usually a day off in camp, when there is a church service.

Then we had a theatre run by the prisoners, where I saw some very good turns. We had a good hall which was built by the Y.M.C.A but the only drawback was that, if there was any trouble in camp, the Commandant usually stopped the gaff for a month or so. He gave out the order one night that the theatre would be stopped if any more prisoners escaped. The following morning three chaps escaped so, when he realised that this method was no good, he had to give up strafing us by this method. (Gott strafe England = “may God punish England”)

I had a try for the frontier from here; and was away for three days before being caught. It is only a distance of about 50 kilometres but the frontier is so well guarded at this point, that you have to be very lucky to get across. It will be much easier now than in 1916, as every available man is now on the firing line, and only wounded men are doing frontier patrol now. There was snow on the ground when I tried, so I can assure you that it was not a picnic.

If you remember we had very cold weather at the beginning of 1917; well, during the first four months of the year there were about 2,000 Russians died of starvation in Dulmen. From our compound we could look into the mortuary, and there were naked bodies – piled one on top of the other, just like frozen sheep. During the very cold snap we had, I have seen at least 20 Russians carried across in one day. I once saw a Russian burial party taking some coffins to the cemetery. While passing a cart laden with turnips, one of the turnips fell from the cart – without more ado the Russians dropped the coffins and made a dash for the turnip, and then ensued a free fight.

It was also a common occurrence to see them diving into swill-tubs and eating anything from fish heads to potato peelings and, I have been told, in 1914 – before the packets started coming – the British soldiers were in little better state. Nowadays, the Germans make the excuse that they do not have the food to give us but, whether they had it or not, the prisoners would not have it – because in 1914, before the blockade took effect, the prisoners were starving just the same.

Part 2 will be with you this coming Wednesday, in which Corporal Johnston further explains the conditions and how life was in the other camps he was moved to. Stay tuned!

Featured

Cat Calling it Out

On International Women’s Day we thought we would take a look at the struggles still faced by working women today. Sexism within the workplace is still something faced by many workers across Scotland, with a wage gap that is getting larger rather than smaller and a government report released in 2018 showing that around one in five workers had experience d sexism in the workplace, with around one in twenty experiencing unwanted physical contact. Sexism and harassment in the workplace is unfortunately still alive and well. 

One group that is taking a stand against this, especially within precarious work, is Better than Zero with their Cat Calling it Out Campaign. Better than Zero, you might remember from an earlier article, is a group that fights for workers right in and around Scotland, especially focusing on workers stuck on zero hour contacts that are being denied their rights. 

We had a chance to ask Morgan (@morganwotwu), someone from our own Ayrshire that’s involved in both Better than Zero and the Cat Calling it Out Campaign a few questions.

Better than Zero has been championing workers rights in Glasgow for a few years now, fighting against unfair work conditions and underpayment of wages, why has this campaign focused specifically on harassment in the workplace, are people in precarious work more vulnerable to sexism within the workplace? 

I do think that sexual harassment is more prevalent in precarious workplaces, there is less of a likelihood that workers will be a member of a trade union, or have the skills and knowledge in workplace organising to organise around this. Especially with zero hours contracts, many women are scared to come forward in the fear that once they complain, they don’t receive any other shifts, essentially leaving them unemployed. For a lot of people, it’s easier just to deal with it.

I think the campaign was needed, especially with the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns gaining prominence in Hollywood. People are starting to have more conversations about sexual harassment and assault and I think that a campaign focusing on these issues in precarious workplaces is crucial.   

How did the campaign get started, what were some of the biggest roadblocks early on?

The campaign started through hearing women’s experiences of sexual harassment in precarious work environments and we tried to organise around the issue. One of the biggest roadblocks I found personally was finding women who felt able to come forward about their experiences. Without the stories, the people, and the want for this to change, there isn’t much that we can really do.

What’s been your own involvement in the campaign? 

I was involved in the campaign from the first meeting where we planned the campaign, and was involved in leafleting precarious workers around the issue and trying to spread the work. The first big action we did was in Cineworld in Silverburn, where we were leafleting the public and staff on Cineworld’s failure to combat sexual harassment. It took place on the opening weekend of the new Spiderman movie, and I think that we raised a lot of awareness on the issue. I ended up being pulled into a quiet part of the complex by a male manager who tried to explain to me what he thought of the situation, however a couple of comrades came and found me so that I wasn’t alone.

What have been the biggest successes of the campaign to date? 

I think the campaign did really well in spreading the word about sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s a highly prevalent issue and many women don’t feel like they can come forward. I would say my favourite thing we did for the campaign was speaking at an event out on by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Myself and another Better Than Zero activist spoke on the campaign, our personal experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and how the issue affects many young workers. It was strange to hear that some workplace reps hadn’t even realised that this was an issue. However, a lot of the women were not surprised to hear this was still happening in today’s world, I think they were just surprised about how forward these men actually are. We got a lot of really positive feedback from the session, and to be honest I think it was really worthwhile.

In 2018 the Scottish Gov released a report saying the wage gap was increasing in recent years, and other studies have shown that women are far more likely to be in zero hours work than men, as well as significantly more likely to experience harassment in the workplace. Do you think the working conditions women face in modern Scotland are getting better or worse? Is the government doing enough?

I think that for as long as we live under this system – where businesses are allowed to essentially do what they want, things won’t get much better. There is only so much that any government – especially a centrist or right wing government – can really do. Neoliberalism promotes business and the individualism in society, the ‘every man for himself’ attitude under capitalism is the biggest problem. What we need is a complete transformation of society, of the workplace and how women are treated under capitalism. For as long as women are seen as the primary caregivers and the ones who hold sole responsibility of raising children and doing unpaid domestic labour – we’ll still see that women are more likely to be paid less for the work that they do. Women’s labour has always been taken for granted under the system, but I also think that women don’t understand just how extraordinary we actually are. 

If a reader is experiencing harassment in the workplace, and doesn’t have a union at work what’s the best way to reach out to Better than Zero?

The best way to contact Better Than Zero would be through our social media accounts. They have links to the email address and phone number for the campaign, but you could also send a quick message to the Facebook page. 


 

Featured

What to do if You’re Being Discriminated Against at Work

When it comes to earning a wage to put food on the table, many people are willing to put up with behaviour they normally wouldn’t. With the cost of living increasing more and more and the minimum wage consistently being below the accepted living wage, a lot of people struggle to make their payslip last the month never mind putting some away for a rainy day. This means that a lot of workers are willing to put up with bullying and discrimination at work in fear that speaking out might lead to them losing their job.

It is important that every worker knows their rights and the laws surrounding wage labour. You do not belong to someone because they pay you a wage to do a job. Below is a list of some of the routes to take if you believe you are being discriminated against

Be Firm

Legally employers have a duty of care to their employees. If you make it clear that someone’s behaviour (either colleague or manager) is making you uncomfortable or angry, firstly, they may not realise how their behaviour is affecting you and could stop when asked. Secondly, it is the legal obligation of your employer to deal with bullying issues. When it comes to any type of harassment there is a list of “Protected Characteristics” that are legally guarded. These are –

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Don’t Suffer in Silence

If a colleague is harassing you tell a senior member of staff, every workplace should have a policy on harassment and the issue should be resolved. If it is a manager or your employer that is bullying you discuss it with your colleagues. Find out if they are being mistreated as well. It is infinitely more difficult for an employer to get away with treating their employees poorly if they are a united front that can threaten legal action.

REMEMBER – You do not need to be the one being mistreated for you to raise the issue or raise a formal grievance. If you see a colleague being discriminated against, support them and report the bully. Most workplaces have a grievance procedure but if yours doesn’t you can still raise one. Submit a grievance letter to your line manager or HR and keep a copy for yourself. Always include what the grievance is, any evidence you might have and what you would like done about it.

If unsure, citizens advice is a good resource for helping you with the process.

Join a Union!

Too many people these days don’t know their rights when it comes to joining a union. It is illegal for your employer to fire you or treat you unfavourably over union membership. It is also illegal for an employer to refuse to employ you for being a member of a union (Although some still try and get away with this through blacklists. A topic for an entirely different article.) Not only this but under section 145A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 it is illegal for an employer to offer a worker an inducement not to join a union or not take part in union activities. Being a part of a union is the best way to ensure you are treated with respect at work. If you face any of the issues raised above, speaking to a union rep, even if you are not a member, is a good place to start in getting things sorted out.

Please don’t ever suffer through poor treatment. I’ve worked in toxic, bullying environments. In places where you would be told from management that you are replaceable and if you joined a union you would be replaced, and I wish I had known these things then. You deserve dignity and respect in your workplace and there is plenty of people out there willing to fight in your corner to ensure that is what you get.

Never underestimate your worth.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Featured

University Strikes: Staff and Students against Management

Across the country, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, universities are being hit by a 14-day strike, with staff at over 74 universities taking part and thousands joining in support, both workers and students. Universities state they will attempt to keep services unaffected by the industrial action but this statement is looking increasingly hollow as classes are cancelled, and with many students actively supporting the strikers, the universities are increasingly looking like the weaker side. 

The University and College Union, the group that organised this wave of industrial action are taking issue with the way in which treatment of staff is continuing to deteriorate. Increasingly, consultation has set into the industry, with an increase in zero-hour contracts, an unresolved gender pay gap and worsening contract terms. The straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of staff appears to have been changes to pension schemes meaning staff were paying more without the University increasing payments into the pot in kind. 

This will be the third time that uni staff have gone on strike, the last time happening just before Christmas and negotiations are still not landing at a reasonable result. During this time however support from students, according to the BBC is around 47% among students Keeping in mind this might be the third time some of these students have gone through a strike nearly one in two students still supporting the strike is both surprising and good news for staff. The strikes have also got the support from some politicians, notably including Labour leader candidate Rebecca long Bailey and Labour education shadow secretary Angela Rayner. Support from other parties is a bit quieter, not surprising since in previous strikes in Scotland SNP cuts were directly called out as a reason for industrial action, with Staff and union members warning as early as September last year about SNP policy making strike action more, not less likely. 

Support in Glasgow’s institutes remains high, and many students continuing to join staff at picket lines. The reasons behind the Scottish strikes are a little different than the strikes taking place elsewhere in the UK; as mentioned earlier, the cuts to education in Scotland were a driving cause, as was a reduction in real wages, with union representatives saying that some lecturers have had a reduction in pay of 20% over the last decade. 

One interesting form of protest that has emerged during these strikes is that staff are simply following their contracts to the letter without carrying out any of the additional duties they were doing outside of the role they were hired for. The effectiveness of this strategy is shocking, and cuts to the heart of the issue of casualisation in education. The fact that these institutes are crawling to a halt simply because people are only doing what they are paid to do exemplifies how much of a burden is being pushed on to staff without compensation. By forcing employees to burn the wick at both ends without even fairly compensating them for the additional work they are relied upon for, it was only a matter of time before workers took to defending their livelihoods against a deal that is tightening the screws on them. 

Although students continue to show their support, this has not been without consequences. Some universities have dealt students suspensions and expulsions for supporting staff, aiming to drive a wedge between teachers and students. This policy has put people’s educations at risk and at Stirling University, students that supported the strikes earlier last year were threatened with homelessness as they would be banned from university accommodation. The fact that university management is treating the support for staff with such an iron fist, threatening teenagers with homelessness is deeply chilling. The idea that universities are a place that young people can grow, learn but also develop a voice is not lining up with the reality, where you can now be kicked out on the streets for piping up. 

As the strike continues it’s important we all pay attention to what is going on: our centres of education are putting the squeeze on educators and support staff, and at the same time dealing out draconian punishments to dissenters. If you’re able I would ask you to support the strike in any way you can, or else the next generation will be taught about the world from underpaid, overworked educators and reminded constantly to keep their mouths shut.

Featured

Connecting Communities: Syria to North Ayrshire

As first reported in the Ardrossan Herald, it looks like North Ayrshire is set to welcome 30 more refugees from Syria. Council leader Joe Cullinane tweeted the Herald article stating:

My cabinet will agree our extended commitment this coming Tuesday meaning we will have resettled 230 Syrians by March 2021. Thank you to the North Ayrshire communities who have welcomed them with love, care and kindness!

This means that 6 more families will be settled here in North Ayrshire as part of a nationwide programme that is open to refugees that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determines to be in the most immediate need for resettlement because of their vulnerability.

In the article, Mr Cullinane also thanks the teams that have worked to support these families in their transition to life here in Scotland and praises the people of Ayrshire after receiving feedback that the communities the refugees have moved in to have, by in large, accepted their new neighbours and made them feel welcome.

Of course we don’t live in a perfect world and he goes on the address the inevitable naysayers:

I said last August, and I repeat today, that I know there will be a vocal minority on social media who oppose our humanitarian efforts but I also know that the majority will welcome our new families with love, care and kindness over the coming months and for that I am eternally grateful.

It’s heartening to hear that these people who have lived through horrors most of us have the privilege of avoiding are being welcomed and cared for in their new home.

The civil war in Syria has been going on now for almost 9 years and since December last year, 800,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes to the province of Idlib. The people of this region have suffered greatly with regular Russian bombardment and the rule of extremists who have claimed the province since the start of the war. Regime forces are pushing in to the region and with the Turkish government not wanting to take in any more refugees, the people are stuck between the two forces.

Some of the most tragic news to come from the region in recent weeks has been from the Atmeh refugee camp. The temperatures in the area have been dipping as low as -7 degrees and without fuel or fire children have started to freeze to death. After living in a damp and cold tent for weeks after fleeing their home due to shelling by regime forces, mother of 4 Samia Mahmoud al-Sattouf woke up on Tuesday morning to find that her 7 month old son Abdul Wahab had frozen to death during the night as the family slept.

This is only one of many similar stories to come from the region. It is a terrible humanitarian crisis and these people deserve all the help that can be provided to them. To read of the horrors that these innocent people face while knowing that many of them face prejudice when they make it to other countries in search for safety and stability is deeply saddening.

Everyone here at ACU wishes nothing but the best to the all the families that find themselves resident in our wee community, and long may they feel welcome here, as all refugees are.

If you want to find out how you can help and support resettlement efforts in Scotland visit https://www.scottishactionforrefugees.org

Featured

The Battle of Largs

While the storms are battering our windows and the sea is churning I’m reminded of another fury that emerged out of the west and hit our Ayrshire shores- the last great invasion of Scotland by the Norse.

In 13th century Scotland Ayrshire was divided between the rising Kingdom of Scotland, and the Viking descended and now Christian Kingdom of Norway. The Norse had had a presence in the West of Scotland since about the 800’s, first as raiders, then as settlers and lords, and Scotland for its own part was a relatively new idea. The kingdom emerged out of the uniting of the Kingdoms of Pictland and Alba, born out of murder, intrigue and even a few massacres. The Scots, a people formed out of this union, made up of Picts, Gaels, and immigrants from what would become Ireland and England began to form an identity and define what it meant to be Scottish, and that identity had begun to take shape as a people that were fiercely proud and proudly fierce.

At the turn of the millennium, the Welsh-speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde was overrun, and Ayrshire was for the first time considered part of Scotland. However, Scotland was still far from what it looks like today. Centuries of bloodshed and intrigue followed, with the Scots of the central belt, again and again, subduing Highland Clans and then going onto push the Anglosaxon kingdom of Northumbria further and further south. It was in this turbulent era that Alexander The Second took the throne.

The son of a king who had lost and then won independence from the English crown, Alexander the Second was keen on ending any dispute with the English and would go onto sign the Treaty of York, which would define the English border to this day. This is not to say that growing up under English overlordship had humbled the Scottish King. In fact, Alexander now saw everything north of that border as Scottish, and that included the Norse settlement on the mainland and the Western Isles. Alexander began a campaign to claim these lands for the Scots, first by pushing north into Caithness, leaving behind a trail of corpses, before forging west, where he attempted to buy over the lands with bribes and purchases. When gold failed he turned to steel and began preparing an invasion. He would never see this come to fruition as he died suddenly while trying to win over nobles to his cause, instead it would be his son, Alexander the Third that would take over his plans to unite Scotland. 

The Norse were not, however, a spent force. The age of Vikings had long passed but the converts to Christianity had managed to keep their pagan fury despite their newfound faith. Scotland represented something important to the Norse, as this was the first place in Britain they had settled, the island of Iona one of the first places they had raided. So long as the kingdom of the Isle stood the era of the Norsemen was not over, even if Harold Hardrader had failed in England, even if the Danelaw was now gone, and Cnut’s empire was now history the Norse still had a presence in Britain. When Alexander the Third took up his father’s mantle and started pushing into Norse controlled lands and raiding villages under Norse protection, King Haakon the Old brought together a great fleet and set sail for Scotland. Wintering in the Orkneys and then Arran the stage was now set, in the year 1263 for a confrontation between the ageing but still fierce Norse, refusing to let go the past and the upstart, brutal Scots, determined to take what they saw as rightfully theirs.

Haakon the Old, leading the invasion fleet himself, was met with tempestuous and stormy seas as he attempted to cross the sea from Arran to the mainland, battering his fleet and forcing some of his ships to shore earlier than intended just outside the town of Largs. These poor crews were harried and harassed by Scottish archers, and Haakon ordered the rest of the fleet to land, and support these men. After seeing this the Scots disappeared into the hills, while the Norwegians landed and set up camp for the night on the shores of Ayrshire. 

A few days later the main Scottish force arrived from Ayr, led by the Steward of Scotland, confusingly also called Alexander. His men in gleaming armour and supported by hundreds of knights, Alexander marched his troops north along the coast, coming across a small Norwegian Warband held upon a hill. When faced with the larger Scottish army, the Norwegians attempted to move back to join the main invasion force on Largs beach, but the Scots managed to reach them first, turning what was an orderly withdrawal into a panicked flight.

On the beach themselves, seeing their countrymen fleeing, fear set in and some men made for the boats, others used the ships that had come ashore in the storm as a makeshift battlement, and fought to the bitter end.  It was during the retreat that the Norwegians suffered the worst of it. Afterwards, on the next morning, the Norse would return to the beach to bury their dead and burn the ships that had run ashore. After this, they sailed back to Orkney, where the Old king would pass away after a sudden illness. 

In the coming years, the Scottish and Norwegian kingdom would sign a treaty, giving the Isle of Man and the Hebrides to Scotland, while leaving the Orkneys and Shetlands in Norse control. Alexander the Third would spend this time punishing the lords of the realm that hadn’t supported him or his father’s war effort. 

This battle, while not a massive confrontation with thousands and thousands of men, did one important thing in helping to solidify Scottish identity: it defined what Scotland was. After the battle the question was settled, the isles were Scottish, Ayrshire was Scottish, the borders were Scottish, the highlands were Scottish. In the coming years after Alexander the third’s death, Scotland would again fall under the overlordship of England, and this budding identity, the brewing nationhood no doubt seeded the zeitgeist that the Scottish resistance would crystallize around. I think it’s worth remembering that on a stormy day like today, on a beach here in Ayrshire, What Scotland meant was defined.

Featured

The Ayrshire Boy that Won the Royal Rumble

If you are in any way familiar with the world of ‘sports entertainment’, you’ll probably have heard of the Royal Rumble. One of the ‘Big 4’ pay-per-views held by WWE, along with Summer Slam, Survivor Series and of course, Wrestlemania. Originally proposed by wrestling legend Pat Patterson, the first Royal Rumble took place in 1988 (and was won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan). The rules of the match are simple; it usually involves 30 superstars who all draw a number for the match. Number 1 and number 2 start the match in the ring with the rest of the entrants coming to the ring at 2 minute intervals (sometimes less) in order of the numbers they have drawn. A superstar is eliminated from the match when they are thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the floor on the outside.


In it’s modern iteration, the last wrestler standing at the end of the match secures themselves an opportunity at winning a title in the main event at Wrestlemania. To this day no wrestler from the United Kingdom has ever become the WWE champion, but many think the wrestler that won the mens royal rumble this past weekend might just be the first.

Andrew McLean Galloway, who currently wrestles in WWE as Drew McIntyre was born right here in Ayr. He has been wrestling since 2003 and started off on the British Independent scene. He began training at the age of 15 at the Frontier Wrestling Alliance Academy and made his debut in the inaugural show of the British Championship Wrestling promotion in Glasgow. He soon developed his first character and went by the name ‘Thee’ Drew Galloway, a cocky, self absorbed heel (bad guy). He would find continued success wrestling for different promotions and even became the first Heavyweight Champion of the now insanely popular Scottish promotion Insane Championship Wrestling, a promotion that Galloway would become synonymous with both before joining WWE and after he initially left. (On a side note if you’re looking for a good night out you could do worse than one of the many shows run by ICW. Support your local indies!)

Drew McIntyre as he’s known in WWE


Galloway first signed to WWE at the end of 2007 where he would change his in-ring name to ‘Drew McIntyre’ and when he eventually moved on to the main roster properly in 2009 he would be heralded by Vince McMahon himself as the ‘Chosen One’, hand picked by Vince himself the be a future world champion. He would go on to have various feuds with the likes of Matt Hardy, R-Truth and Kane and won the company’s intercontinental title early on in his main roster career. He performed through various storylines and eventually became part of a group called 3MB (Three Man Band). At this point it was becoming increasingly obvious that he was never going to be put in the main event spot at that point in his career and after some middling feuds he would be released from his contract in 2014.


This alone would have been enough to make anyone give up hope but Galloway had different plans. The month after he was released from WWE he appeared again for the Glasgow based Insane Championship Wrestling promotion for the first time in 7 years. Back to wrestling as Drew Galloway; by November of the same year he had once again become the Heavyweight Champion. This marked the beginning of a very successful run in the European, Australian and American independent wrestling scenes where he would defend the ICW championship against all comers. Some of the biggest promotions he would wrestle for included Evolve, PWG, TNA, AAA and ICW.


After all of this he would eventually re-sign with WWE in 2017, returning to his WWE name ‘Drew McIntyre’ he wrestled first in the NXT development brand. All of the new experience he had from his run on the independent circuit made him more exciting to watch in the ring and with his new skills and menacing demeanor he quickly ascended to the top of the NXT brand and won the top title there before moving back to the main roster where he currently works.

Mens Royal Rumble 2020 winner


So after all Galloway has been through in his wrestling career, he seems to have come full circle. Vince McMahon only has wrestlers win the Royal Rumble match if he has complete faith in them to go on to carry the company forward. The ‘Scottish Psychopath’ as he’s been billed recently has certainly proven himself worthy of this trust and looks set to possibly be the first ever Scottish WWE champion in the company’s long history.
In saying this Vince McMahon seems to change his mind every 10 minutes and WWE has had a bit of a history of disappointing its fans when it comes to anything to do with Brock Lesnar.

We’ll have to wait and see but here’s to hoping that the big man from Ayr can vanquish the beast and finally fulfill his ‘Chosen One’ prophecy.

Featured

Chris and Colin Weir, Ayrshire’s Lotto Winners

What would you do if you won the lotto? Me? I would like to say I would be responsible but I’d more than likely buy my mum a nice wee house and then spend the next years of my life having Buckfast and steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s right, I do dream big. When Chris and Colin Weir from Largs won £161 million- at the time the largest payout for anyone in the UK-instead of living a life of hedonism and tonic wine, they decided to put their money to good use by providing funding for the Yes campaign during the run up to the independence vote. They ended up contributing around 4/5ths of the yes campaigns funding and played a significant role as some of the campaigns biggest financial backers.

The couple ended up in total donating nearly £3 million to the yes campaign, making them the top donors, followed up by Dan Macdonald, a developer involved with the Yes Scotland campaign and Mark Shaw, the director of the campaign, who each donated around £50 thousand. 

When this hit the press it wasn’t taken well by the better together campaign, with claims that the couple had been harassed for money and others who said that the small number of donors donating vast amounts showed that the campaign itself wasn’t that popular with the average person in Scotland. The Weirs themselves said that they had been lifelong supporters of Scottish Independence, there had been no bullying or pressure and that while the campaign did get its funding from a few large donations they believed that Scotland wanted to have a debate about independence- funding would give Scotland the opportunity to be well informed.  

The Better Together campaigns finances were a bit murkier, with Tory party financiers, bankers and even, according to the Guardian, individuals linked to the intelligence services being top donors. 

Sadly, for the Weirs and the rest of us, the No vote won and we have yet to see an independent Scotland. While they spent millions funding the campaign which ultimately lost the battle, they did contribute greatly towards making the debate more substantive than a one-sided shouting match. When up against long-standing institutions like the government, the Tory party and the media- including the BBC- there is no doubt that the funding given by the Weirs helped level the playing field and made the referendum far fairer than it otherwise might have been.

Outside of the referendum, the couple’s charitable ventures didn’t stop. They had been known to support their local football teams in Largs, as well as setting up a charitable commission called the Weir Charitable Trust in 2013. The trust is still active today and has put funding into Scottish sports and culture, as well as supporting things like the Gareloch Riding for the Disabled Association, which aims at making carriage driving more inclusive,  and the Kelso Heritage Society, a project that aims to promote local heritage in Kelso. 

Sadly In April 2019, the couple announced they were splitting up, however stating they were remaining amicable, and on December 27th Colin Weir, after a short illness, passed away. His funeral cortege passed by the Partick Thistle grounds one last time, a team he had become the largest stakeholder of earlier this year through his group Three Black Cats. Respects were paid at Partick Burgh Hall, which was open to all. At the service it was said that Colin would be remembered as “A Scottish patriot, philanthropist and Jags man to the end”. 

What would you do if you won the lottery? After reading through everything the Weirs have done, and Chris continues to do, I do hope I would be a little like them. Promoting culture and sports across Scotland, working to make political debate fairer and more equal, even if I couldn’t find myself supporting Partick Thistle.

Featured

The World is on Fire and You’re Being Lied To

So… the planet is on fire. We’ve finally come to the point where the effects of climate change are glaringly obvious in a real, physical sense, but for some reason we still see fit to argue about it instead of actually trying to do something to fix it.

What chance do we have?

We have elected politicians who are only concerned with holding on to power for the next few years and as a result aren’t interested in actually dealing with the problem. It’s like setting fire to your kitchen and then going for a lie down in your bed upstairs, while saying something like:

 “It’s not really a problem, I’ll deal with it later, maybe when the fire climbs the stairs. We have more important things to worry about right now. Like keeping those damn neighbours off our grass!”

And outside of the cluster fuck that is capitalist politics we have right wing trolls so obsessed with “owning the libs” that they are doubling down on outright denying that climate change is real and are even trying to bring violence to people by spreading false rumours that environmental activists are actually setting fires around the world, as if in some idiotic attempt to accelerate the very cataclysm which- in reality– they are trying to prevent. I guess so that they can have the pleasure of saying “I told you so” on twitter as the world turns to ash around them? Is that what these trolls think? I don’t know but the constant lies being spread have muddied the waters and have ordinary people talking about the wrong things.

The latest misinformation campaign launched online has been the concerted effort by trolls and bots to misrepresent New South Wales crime stats, making it seem as though the wildfires- that have killed around 25 people, countless animals and destroyed more than 2000 homes- were in fact started by arsonists. This comes from a report by the New South Wales police force titled ‘Police take action against more than 180 people so far during 2019/2020 bushfire season’. Admittedly, it sounds bad, and if you never read past the headline this would be a very worrying statistic. However, as is often the case with warped stats from the right, actually reading the source material gives an altogether different impression than the one being peddled. On reading the New South Wales crime report, it becomes clear that only 24 people were arrested for deliberately starting bushfires. Still unacceptable, but not enough to engulf a large portion of the continent in flames and all reported incidents were responded to and dealt with by emergency services. The rest of the people arrested were simply violating the rules of the fire ban or for carelessly discarding cigarettes. A spokesperson for police in the state of Victoria said in an interview:

 “Police are aware of a number of posts circulating in relation to the current bushfire situation, however currently there is no intelligence to indicate that the fires in east Gippsland and north-east Victoria have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour.”

Misrepresenting stats and using them to argue against the validity of climate change is careless and dangerous. This has been Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Prolonged droughts and bushfire seasons have meant that things like lightning strikes are enough to set off large fires. The wildfires have been so widespread that they are creating their own weather systems which is causing more likelihood of adverse weather, causing even more fires.

The point I’m trying to make is simply this: be careful about who and what you believe online. Even as you read this article, I implore you to look for yourself and make sure that you keep yourself right. Don’t let people manipulate you. Don’t trust YouTube documentaries. And don’t let anyone convince you that climate change isn’t a real and present threat. Around the world huge areas of land are either on fire or flooding. People lose their lives every year in abnormal, horrific weather events. Just because things aren’t happening to you here doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist.

Make up your own mind, don’t let anyone else make it up for you.

Check out the link below to see the police report for yourself

https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/news_article?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGZWJpenByZC5wb2xpY2UubnN3Lmdvdi5hdSUyRm1lZGlhJTJGODIyNjQuaHRtbCZhbGw9MQ%3D%3D