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.

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/

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.

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.

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.

Not Another Christmas Hot Take

It’s that time of year again. A time for family, for good will to all, for shopping centres and supermarkets and, for Unilever executives everywhere, diving Scrooge McDuck style into massive money piles as Lynx shower sets fly off the shelves.

It’s telling how much we, as a society, lie to ourselves about Christmas when you really examine the small talk that gets passed around at this time of year.

 “Are you all set?”, “Are you ready?” or “The big day is only X days away now!” All of these Christmas staples- delivered by family, friends and colleagues with wide, bloodshot eyes and fixed grins- suggest a sort of holiday of anxiety. Like having to prepare for some kind of exam we all take at the end of the year, in which how much you love your friends and family is measured in how good a present you bought them.

This can be a very stressful time of year for many. For those who struggle all year round, the added pressure of providing enough gifts and loads of food can be overwhelming.

Understandably, people want to provide the perfect Christmas for their loved ones- but is the perfect Christmas one filled with culturally mandated expense? It hasn’t always been the case that this means buying lots of things for everyone. As far back as the 1800’s people have been complaining about the consumerism that has wormed its way in to every aspect of the holiday. In an edition of Ladies Home Journal in 1890 it was noted that:

“the Christmas of our youth is degenerating into a festival of the storekeepers.”

This rings true when thinking of the Christmas of today. As economies have become more and more global there has been a trend towards a more Americanised holiday period. Black Friday, once only an American consumerist tradition on the first Friday after Thanksgiving, has made its way to the UK and has extended to a whole week. The idea being that with people already in that festive mood they will be more willing to spend a bit more.

Is this really a good thing though? It’s estimated that if everyone in the world consumed on the same level as the average US citizen, we would need 4 whole planet Earths just to provide the resources. We also currently have around 12 million tons of plastic entering the oceans every year, forming giant patches of plastic waste that eventually breaks down into micro plastic, one of the biggest polluters on our planet.

A study conducted by Northwestern University in Illinois found that anyone placing great value on wealth, status or material possessions is more likely to suffer from depression and anti-social tendencies.

On average families in the UK spend around £500 more in December than in any other month. For many this is simply too much socially commanded expense and they turn to predatory loans companies, which they then spend most of the next year paying off, if they don’t simply fall into more debt. It’s widely accepted that debt is one of the major causes of mental health decline in the developed world. 

“So what? Christmas is cancelled then?”

This isn’t to suggest, of course, that we stop celebrating the holiday season. However, maybe we all should have a rethink about what really is important at this time of year. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the relentless pace of consumption overdrive that Christmas has come to represent and be burnt out as a result. What’s more, so all-consuming are our efforts to attain holiday excellence, as we are encouraged to “postcard-perfect” our lives and experiences, that we can often forget those around us who may be suffering this time of year.

 Luckily for many, there are and always will be people that reach out to support others around this time of year.

 Some people would have you believe that human beings are inherently selfish and although there are definitely people that are (looking at you Jeff Bezos/Mark Zuckerberg/ Sports Direct guy), as a species we have only flourished through mutual aid. In todays society this is usually more prevalent in the working classes- it’s happening around you all the time. In a recent post in a Facebook group for Kilmarnock, a father (we won’t be naming anyone) posted asking if anyone knew of any money lenders. He had been struggling financially, and just wanted his kids to be able to open something on Christmas morning like everyone else. A few people made recommendations, but for the most part the comments were filled with generous people offering to provide gifts for his kids or help out in any way that they could. Increasingly, this is not an uncommon sight as many people decide to try and provide some comfort to those more in need around the festive season.

As we seem to be facing a difficult future perhaps we should reconsider our relationship with pointless goods and stop allowing businesses to commodify happiness. This becomes more difficult as relentless marketing co-opts the language of community and sharing that the holiday is founded on to sell you more and more things, but truly nothing is more important than the friends and family that accompany us through life and maybe if we are a little kinder to each other and to the planet that sustains us, we can get to a place where we don’t rely on “stuff” to make us happy and can spread a little joy over the holidays.

With our “Bah Humbug!” moment out of the way, we’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope it’s a good one.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

The Election and Ayrshire.

The results from the general election are in, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than disappointed. England has turned almost completely blue, and while Scotland itself has turned away from its flirt with Toryism, its not turned to the left. We’re going to take a look at the results in Ayrshire, the UK as a whole and what this could mean for the future.

Unlike last time I won’t go through each of the four constituencies in Ayrshire as they all tell a similar story. The whole of Ayrshire is now represented in Westminster by the SNP, with the Tories coming in second and losing their seat in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. In every seat Labour lost a voting share of around 10 to 14 percent, and are no longer the second party in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. While this loss has largely been the SNP’s gain- their voting share went up by around 8 to 10 percent in each seat- we can’t know if this has been a shifting of party preference or tactical voting from Labour supporters hoping to keep the Tories out. It does at least look like Labour weren’t losing voters to the Tory party here. With former mining towns in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England turning blue, this might not be as absurd a fear as once thought. Indeed, Kensington- the constituency where the Grenfell tower fire happened- also voted Tory. At least we can take some solace in the fact that there’s no longer a Tory MP in Ayrshire.

 

Across Scotland the SNP made massive gains, even managing to unseat the standing Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A Lib Dem leader losing their seat is becoming something of a tradition now. The SNP are already pushing for these results as a mandate for a second referendum, and with protests in Glasgow the day after the election against Boris as PM there is clearly some visible groundswell behind this idea. My concern however, is two fold: firstly, that while the SNP have gained a sizeable share of the vote, some or even most of this could have been tactical voting by supporters of other, unionist parties that were worried about Brexit and Boris. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and now the SNP will have to position independence as a question of remaining in the UK or the EU. Will this be enough to convince the unionist remainers to still support the SNP? How many will go back to supporting the union when asked to put an X next to a Yes or No ballot?  My second concern for the SNP is that despite positioning themselves further to the right than in 2017, they didn’t manage to gain many Conservative voters, instead taking a big share of Labours voter base. The SNP may therefore see fit to move further to the left, as they could be able to secure these gains from the Labour electorate long term. However, my concern is that they might see this as a battle already won- the Labour party in Scotland is in the worst state it has been in living memory-and instead double down on trying to secure the sizable part of the Scottish vote that is to the right.

A protest in Glasgow against the election results.

As a whole the UK has been washed over with a tide of blue. As mentioned before, even mining towns in Yorkshire and Wales, once hit the hardest by Thatcher, are now Tory seats, and the language of the party’s supporters is already transforming into something resembling an English nationalist party, with figures like Tommy Robinson openly supporting the party and even joining its membership. The Tory party is taking on a more nationalistic, jingoist, Britain First rhetoric rather than the traditional and bland pro business and small c conserative slogans they tended to advocate for. With new found working class support the Tories find themselves in the unique position of competing with the Brexit Party for votes that were once securely Labour. What changes this might force the party through is uncertain, but with as big a personality as Boris in the PM chair the role of Prime Minister is increasingly taking on a more presidential shape and image.

While the mainland has had significant upsets Northern Ireland is not any less interesting, with the nation set to join Scotland as another country of the union in which separatist parties are gaining ground. For the first time in history Sinn Fein has won the seat of North Belfast, and in another first shock Unionist MPs are now outnumbered by Republicans. With the SNP in Scotland and the DUP losing in Northern Ireland, it seems the Tory victory in England and Wales might have come with the cost of a disunited United Kingdom.

 

Labours results have been nothing short of devastating. There are a myriad of factors contributing to this- I do not believe the blame lies solely at Corbyn’s feet, or with his socialist policies. He had been leader in 2017 with similar positions and saw an increase in voter share larger than Brown or Milliband, who were firmly to the right of Corbyn’s labour. Two factors were different this election, the first being Brexit. Labour conceded ground to the centrist, middle class part of their voter base to argue for a second referendum, and here we see their downfall. Corbyn himself had embraced the leave vote the day after the referendum but quickly took a party position of trying to reconcile the working class leaver and middle class remainers within the voter base and Labour found itself pulled apart by two opposing forces, resulting in hamstrung fence sitting about the biggest question of this election. Unable to reconcile these two diametrically opposed views Labour lost a big part of its voting share to the Tories. It’s clear that playing a middle ground, centrist position doesn’t work, evidenced doubly in how badly the Lib Dem’s fared, and that the centrist Labour defectors lost all of their seats.

Boris was mocked for constantly repeating “Get Brexit Done”, but this is what a large part of the electorate wanted to hear. Labour’s inability to provide a clear position was something the Tories could hammer into again and again.

The second major issue for Labour this elections was the media. Losing a lot of its subtlety the Murdock papers slammed Corbyn and McDonnel as if they were a red menace with Bolshivik loyalties and the BBC found itself ill equipped and unmotivated to counter these claims or give Labour a fair trial. We saw accusations of racism levelled at Corbyn, a man who had spent his life as an anti racist campaigner, at a time when the Tory government is supporting antisemetic governments like Hungary and Suadi Arabia, openly threatening traveler communities in its manifesto and has been caught deporting black citizens in the Windrush Scandal. This isn’t to say that The Labour Party doesn’t have a problem with antisemitism, or that Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the issue. But clearly the media have decided to hold Labour to a higher level of scrutiny, while the Conservative government have embraced racism and antisemitism as party policy.

Instead of holding to task the powers that be, various senior media figures were having daily meetings with the PM and trying to both sides issues on which the evidence clearly showed the Tories were in the wrong. It’s not a coincidence that Corbyn was the only leader this election whose approval rating went up the more people engaged with him or that Liverpool, a city that has banned Murdock propaganda, is the only city that remained firmly red. Boris meanwhile, found himself avoiding Andrew Neil and literally hiding from reporters in a fridge. You have to question the integrity of a media landscape where one man is acknowledged as the sole journalist that will hold leaders to task, and simply avoiding an interview with him means avoiding all significant scrutiny.

The years ahead for Labour will be difficult, and many within Scotland are already arguing that Scottish Labour should embrace independence, another issue which might split the party.

What does this mean for Ayrshire? The next few years are going to be difficult, Brexit looms over us all and Ayrshire stands to lose more than most. The SNP might have a mandate to pursue independence, or at least a second referendum, but there is no legal apparatus to push for this if the Prime Minister does not give his blessing – which Boris has repeatedly said he will not do. The rise of republicanism in Northern Ireland might not lead to separatism and a united Ireland, but could still lead to trouble in Ayrshire, as we have always been more involved in the politics of our Celtic brothers across the sea and have our own troubled history with sectarianism. Vital services might also be under threat soon, as the day after the election Damian Green, a Tory MP, openly said that the nation will need to move to an insurance based healthcare system. All the while climate change is creeping up on us, and the time we have left to do anything about it is slipping through our fingers. What stands before us is an era of uncertainty, unrest and austerity, one in which Ayrshire, while not at the centre of many of these issues stands to be one of the hardest hit regions in the UK, as it has been in the past by political and social turmoil.

In times like these communities need to come together and support one another. Join your union at work; if you don’t have one this is the time to make one. Talk to your neighbours, friends and family and be sure to support the vulnerable. If you are so inclined, go out and protest, make sure people know how you feel about what’s happening. Go to your local food bank to see what you can do to help out. With the Tories in power all we can expect for the most disenfranchised in our society is more of the same neglect and disdain. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to make it happen, together.

Voting History In Ayrshire

As there is a general election coming up, I thought I would take this time to look at how Ayrshire voted last time around; I’ll look at what those results meant for Ayrshire in 2017, and what they could mean for our vote in December.

Ayrshire is split into four different constituencies: North Ayrshire & Arran, Central Ayrshire, Kilmarnock & Loudoun and Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. We’ll take a look at each of these in turn and then consider what this shows for Ayrshire as a whole.

In North Ayrshire and Arran the SNP managed to hold on to their seat in 2017, but suffered a massive drop in their majority, from comfortably over 50 % of the votes to just under 40%. This is still a large share, but going from most of the votes being cast in your favour to a majority of constituents actually voting against your party can’t be a welcome change.

In what was initially a surprise- although one that will become ominously more common as we discuss the other seats in Ayrshire- 2017 saw the Conservative Party grow from just shy of 15% of the vote share to more than double that amount, going on to become the second largest party, overtaking Labour.

In Central Ayrshire we have a similar story. The SNP lost the voting majority while still retaining their seat. However, in 2017 the majority was far slimmer, with only 1267 votes between the SNP and the rising Conservative Party. Labour here again lost out, completing a downward trend from holding the seat in 2010, to second place in 2015 and third place in 2017.

In Kilmarnock & Loudoun there was some variation from the trend set by the two other seats discussed so far, namely that Labour managed to retain second place rather than trailing behind the Tories. However, the Conservatives again managed an incredible increase in votes, from around 12.5% in 2015 to more than double at over 26%. Again, in this constituency the SNP held their seat, but the pro union parties totalled a larger voter share when added together. On the other hand, the SNP managed to get their highest share of the vote, at over 42%, which meant their safest majority at over 6000 votes.

Finally we get to Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock, the largest upset among the four. This was the only seat the SNP didn’t manage to keep from 2015 and the only place in Ayrshire that elected a Tory. Yet again labour performed poorly and placed third. The victory for the Tories was only slightly tainted as they didn’t manage to get an overall majority of the votes, totalling just a tad over 40%, with a majority of over 2700 votes, not insignificant but not the biggest win either.

So what does this all mean? Labour have fallen very far from 2005 and 2010, when they won unambiguously in every Ayrshire seat, and have now dropped to third place almost everywhere. Meanwhile, the Tories appear on the up and up, even winning a seat in Ayrshire and biting at the heels of the SNP in every other seat, something that would have been ridiculous to suggest in 2010. Are the SNP on the way out after their incredible high in 2015? I don’t think so, at least not for a while. The SNP are resilient, having made a comeback from losing the independence vote by winning 56 out of 59 seats in Westminster, and managing to hold a majority in Scotland in 2017 despite the loss of 21 seats. One cause for concern for the SNP is that in every seat in Ayrshire more people voted for unionist parties, Labour and Conservative, than the pro-independence SNP. It’s hard to say if this trend will repeat itself this year. With Brexit looming ever closer and most of Scotland voting against it the SNP might stand to gain votes. The Conservatives are now the second largest party in Scotland, both in Westminster and Holyrood. It’s difficult to say if they can repeat this come December, but having sold themselves as the only viable opposition to the SNP, it’s possible that the SNP downturn might continue and we could have a Tory in every Ayrshire seat come the new year. Labour stand in a poor position. Corbyn managed to win a larger voter share than any other Labour leader since Tony Blair, but didn’t perform well in Scotland, remaining about as popular north of the Border as Milliband was. Labour do have an opportunity, however, if they manage to position themselves as a pro union party that will give voters a second say on Brexit. They could then take advantage of the current political climate and undercut both the SNP and the Tory party, but this would require a massive effort to deliver.

You may be wondering why the Lib Dems have not been mentioned in relation to these seats. That’s because in every single seat the Lib Dems went from having between 15% and 10% of the votes in 2015, to political irrelevance, not even topping 2% in any seat in 2017.

I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible while writing about past elections and I hope I managed that above, but if you are a long-time reader of the ACU you can probably guess which way we all lean. Rather than tell you what to vote out of any ideological reason I’m going to be a little cynical and encourage you to vote tactically.

Vote Labour no matter what seat you’re in.

If you’re worried that Labour won’t win, vote Labour- even if they lose, the next time the seat is contested Labour will stand a better chance of victory; If you think Labour will win, vote Labour so they will get a larger majority; If you want Brexit, vote Labour because they will get the deal done in 6 months; If you want to remain, vote Labour because you will get a second chance to beat the leave vote. If you want to remain part of the union, vote Labour in order to protect the NHS, the economy and worker rights, which are themselves the best arguments for the union; If you want independence, vote Labour because the Tories will not give Scotland a second referendum and you can vote SNP in the Scottish election.

Vote Labour.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Alex Begg & The Problem With Managers

It made the news recently that Ayr based weaving company Alex Begg & Co would be making fifteen shop floor workers redundant in an attempt to cut down costs, due to a “softening in demand and uncertainty over Brexit”. This seems like a weak excuse when comments made by the workers themselves are taken in to account. An insider who contacted the Ayrshire Post claimed that “We were really busy, but it has quietened down quite a bit in the last year and the company had to take out a bank overdraft. But all they seem to do is keep employing more and more management. Now they have decided to pay off the shop floor workers… There’s no management at all going, just the shop floor workers.” This is not uncommon in businesses facing troubling times. Those in the position to make decisions will never vote themselves out of a job, so they calculate how many of the workers below themselves they need to get rid of to keep the company in profit and salvage their own paycheck.

The insider went on to say “They’ve just spent around half a million pounds making new offices, new decking and new computers for office staff. And believe it or not they just spent thousands sending two managers on a team building jaunt to Las Vegas.” So, FIFTEEN of the people that create the products that Alex Begg & Co makes profit from will be out of work just in time for Christmas.

Top-heavy management structures are all too common within businesses, especially in manufacturing. It is believed that a hierarchy is needed, and productivity is only achieved through people telling other people what to do and how fast to do it. However this doesn’t have to be the case; more and more we’re seeing long lasting success in businesses that structure themselves differently. Self-Management (a flat system where workers set their own goals which are reviewed by their peers) and Worker Co-ops (businesses owned by the workers themselves, with decisions made democratically) are just two alternatives to hierarchical business structures which have their roots in Syndicalism (a highly misunderstood and feared term due to its associations with Anarchism), a system in which there are no managers and all workers take collective control of the running of the business. This may sound absurd to some, that workers can get on just fine managing themselves and for these businesses to remain viable, so let me explain…

Having a top-heavy company structure can be inefficient and costly. Having so many layers of approval slows down the system of work. Not only this but having so many managers can result in good ideas being twisted or killed outright by people that are looking out for their own personal interest. It’s a problem that gets worse the more layers you add. Concentrating decision-making power into the hands of individuals- who themselves are often so removed from the realities of production as to be ignorant of its requirements- increases the risk of harmful mistakes that affect the entire business, especially the higher up you go. Decisions that seem smart high up the chain of command often end up being unworkable on the ground and workers on the frontline of the business with experience and insight into the actual production of the products are ignored. Or worse, sacked right before Christmas so bosses can justify expensive new offices and “team building” excursions to Vegas. Having people in far away, incontestable places of power means that bad decisions can’t be challenged and become a huge risk to the business.

In contrast, a self-management structure means that nobody has a boss, employees have a less rigid role in the company and negotiate their responsibilities with their peers depending on what their skills are and what they can bring to the company. There are no job titles or promotions to fight over, knowledge is valued above arbitrary titles. The amount of money that workers earn is decided by peer review and there is no option to move production to other countries so that managers can pay foreign workers less money and gain more in profit. A good real-life example of this working is the Morning Star Company in California. This company processes and distributes tomatoes across a number of large factories and is highly profitable. It is believed that the Morning Star Company is the most efficient tomato processing company in the world and they have no management at all. The company’s vision as described on their website reads “We envision an organization of self-managing professionals who initiate communication and coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others. For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities which compliment and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. And for colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission.” Those that work at the Morning Star Company are trusted to do the jobs they are good at and are kept accountable through self-written milestone goals called “Personal Missions” and through review from their peers.

Businesses similar to this have been cropping up all over Scotland. The Worker cooperative sector has grown from 30 businesses in 2015 to 100 in 2018. In Glasgow alone, there has been an overall 17% increase in the co-op economy. For those businesses which have switched over from traditional management structures to worker co-ops, turnover has increased by 35%, and profits are up by 55%. In general worker owned businesses tend to be much more stable as they don’t run the risk of being undone by one bad managers decision.

There is no doubt that there are hardworking managers out there that do their best to contribute to the success of a business and steer away from abusing the power they are given. The point is that there is more than one way to structure a business and it seems that those companies that do move away from hierarchy and the politics of power tend to operate better in the long run.

So, perhaps if Alex Begg & Co wish to future-proof themselves and move forward with creative solutions to production, they should first fire the managers, and let the workers do what they do best.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Ayrshire Institutions: The Last Train Home

Getting the last train back from Glasgow after a big night out can be an adventure in itself; Whether you saunter on down the carriage with your blue lagoon in hand, or rush in covered in sweat because it’s a Saturday and you forgot the last train on a weekend is at quarter past 11 so you ran full pelt because you swore you would not be getting the vomit comet bus home at 3 in the morning EVER AGAIN. At the weekend, with carriages packed with all manner of inebriates, football fans to hen do’s, work nights out to gig-goers, the atmosphere can turn from camaraderie to hostility in an instant. That social pressure cooker environment has no doubt produced some memorable moments in your life, as it has in ours. In loving tribute, we’ve collected a few of these stories from our readers- some …… For those not familiar with the last train just assume these stories will be PG 13 at best. Think of this like tales of the unexpected or twilight zone, except you know what to expect and it will probably be more purile.

Our first story is a cautionary tale about being a little too straight-laced.
It begins with the all too familiar conundrum of a broken toilet door. As the out of order sign flashes incessantly, a group of frustrated passengers congregate outside, shifting awkwardly and muttering to themselves. Until a hero announces himself from among their ranks. “Ken you can jimmy the door open on these toilets, aye?”, he says. our story teller doesn’t see exactly what this enterprising gentleman did to open the door, but for the grunting and banging it sounded like he just broke it down. Now, I’m sure you respect private property as much as everyone else here at the ACU, but our story teller was desperate. With half an hour till his stop and his back teeth already floating, he did what everyone else in that carriage did- queued up and pissed in the sink (the toilet was really, genuinely out of order.)

Now you might be thinking all’s well, that ends well, and if this were a Shakespeare comedy you might be right. But it’s not, so you’re wrong. About ten minutes later, after everything has seemingly settled down, a young man comes up to the toilets, sighs, and- to no one in particular- says “Out of order, aye?” At this, half the carriage jumped in all at once, a smug chorus telling him exactly how to strong arm the door. Surprisingly, however, the young guy balked at the thought of joining this mob of relieved delinquents. “am no breaking into a broken toilet” he says, and sat himself down. It quickly became apparent that, much like everyone else a few moments ago, this boy was struggling, but after a while of moving around on his seat managed to get comfortable. The next five minutes went by uneventfully, and likely would have continued as such, had God been watching that night. As the train draws near Dalry, just passing the bridge that flies by over head, there’s a wee bump in the rail. An insignificant hiccup, under normal circumstances almost imperceptible, that is, unless you have a bladder full of vodka coke and a head full of misguided principles. Watch, as our story teller did: the bump approaches. The bump passes by. On the honourable young mans face, a thousand emotions all expressed at once. Relief, rising to panic, then to anger, and finally to acceptance as his integrity slowly pools around his feet. The train rumbles on. The out of order sign blinks mockingly. A choir of neds laughing. A harrowing scene.

The next stop on our journey drags us kicking and screaming through the unwanted details of a couples married life. Good advice for a happy marriage is not to go to bed angry, and much like the marriage bed, the last train home is not something you should climb aboard if you’re in the middle of an argument. Hash it out before you get on, because, by god, you won’t be the first couple to decide on divorce on the last train home. Three lads, one of them our story teller, were sitting down when a couple, already arguing walks on, sitting on the set of seats behind them. The theme of this argument, as is the case with a great many relationship woes, was jealousy. Now jealousy is a slow and insidious poison- it makes people act in ways they would never otherwise and hurt those they love the most. This couple, a pair of rockers in matching denim jackets that had been married for near 15 years(Mr and Mrs Rocker from this point onwards), were arguing because Mrs Rocker was jealous of two things: The first was that Mr Rocker had taken his previous wife on holiday to Turkey five times, but not once taken the current love of his life so much as down to Wales. Without knowing the full details of their relationship, this seemed a reasonable concern for Mrs Rocker to table. The second reason she was upset was that Mr Rocker had previously been willing to engage in something she had termed “experimental sex”, but was now beginning to bore her. The other passengers shift in their seats. Mr Rocker turns red as a stop sign. Visibly embarrassed, he attempts to rein in the situation by pleading with her, saying He’d take her to Marmaras tomorrow if she would only stop talking. But it wasn’t enough, Mrs Rocker had tasted blood. The poor guy was crucified. despite Mrs Rockers complaint that he was somewhat boring these days, apparently in his hay day he would engage in things we’re unable to describe due to decency’s sake, however rest assured the other pasengers were given a full, if unwelcome account. We don’t know how this particular story ends however, with our story teller having to get off at his stop before the drama was over. For our part, the ACU hope the couple managed to patch things up, go off on a nice trip abroad and do things to each other that would make your mother blush.

The last stop on this frankly arduous journey is a bit of a weird one. The last train is never a sober affair, and consequently full of red faced older gents who think their insistent patter is a gift. Imagine you and a few friends managed to bag a table seat, it’s a long way home and you’re thankful you won’t be standing the whole way. Things are grand but then one of these guys swaggers up, no big deal yous have a spare seat and he seems nice enough. Yous all get chatting and you can tell he’s had a few but so far he’s amicable enough and you share a few exaggerated polite laughs. Until the conversations takes a turn. Apparently his daughter is away on holiday with her boyfriend, just turned 16 and they are away celebrating. That’s lovely, you begin to say, before he bulldozes over your pleasantries with “she’ll be pumping away like a rabbit the now” with a massive grin on his face, laughing away like he just told the funniest joke in the world. The conversation stopped dead. No one else at the table laughed, no one else on the carriage laughed, and there was still twenty minutes to go before the the story teller’s stop, every minute of which was filled with this father, oblivious to the change in atmosphere, elaborating endlessly on how lewd a time he expected his daughter was having. Awkward.

On a characteristically more serious note, please remember to treat rail workers with decency and respect; the last train home is always a mess, and it’s them that have to clean up the booze, sick and whatever else we leave behind when we get off. They have to deal with the drunk patter and break up the fights. They make sure we get home safe, so spare a thought for them.