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.

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

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.”’

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..

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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/