5 Scottish Ghouls to look out for this Halloween


The history of everyone’s favourite Autumn celebration is indelibly linked with Scotland’s own history. Naming the holiday ‘Halloween’ was originally coined in Scotland in the 16th century as a derivation of ‘All Hallows Eve’, a tradition that had it’s roots in the Gaelic fire festival known as Samhain (pronounced “Sow-win”) that would mark the ending of the harvest season and the ushering in of the dark half of the year. The Gaelic people believed that the barriers between the physical and spiritual worlds would break down during this time, allowing for interactions between the people of our world and the other. Great fires would be lit to keep back evil spirits and people would take fire from these bonfires back to their homes to keep hearth fires lit for the full 3 days of the festival.

The tradition of ‘Trick or Treating’ as well is derived from the Irish and Scottish tradition of ‘Guising’. Children would dress up as evil spirits in the hope that being in disguise would save them from harm from any wandering evil spirits that would mistake them as one of their own. After performing songs or tricks ‘Guisers’ were given gifts.

You might be wondering about the kinds of malicious entities that people of Scotland used to fear. Scotland has a rich mythical history and the people had many monsters to watch out for that have mostly been forgotten in the modern age. So! we aim to remedy this… If you find yourself out ‘guising’ this Halloween here is a list of Scottish monsters that you might want to keep an eye out for!


The Kelpies

Beware of Horses grazing at the waters edge

These terrifying aquatic spirits haunt rivers and lochs and normally take on the appearance of a horse (Although they can also take the form of a beautiful young woman). They draw in their victims by emitting a sound like a woman screaming. If you decide to ignore all of these quite obvious warning signs and touch the Kelpie you will become stuck and the water horse will dive in to the water with you attached and drown you.

Particularly fond of children there is an old Scottish legend of a night in which a Kelpie had gathered 9 children and was going for it’s 10th victim but the young boy touched its nose and when the horse dove for the water he managed to cut off his finger and survived. It’s said that this monsters only weakness is its bridle and if you can break that you will take control of the beast.


Bean Nighe

Another reason to avoid the rivers

The name ‘Bean Nighe’ means ‘washerwoman’ in Scots Gaelic. Another water based beastie, the Bean Nighe is said to haunt streams where she washes blood from the clothing of those about to die. She is normally described as appearing as an old hag with webbed feet, one nostril and one long tooth. Our neighbours over on the Isles of Mull and Tiree have the colourful description of Bean Nighe as having breasts so long that she throws them over her shoulders to drape down her back. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth that is now doomed to wash the clothes of the almost-dead until the day that they would have otherwise died.

The Bean Nighe isn’t likely to do anything more to you than give you a hefty fright but it is said that if you sneak up on her as she sings and grab her before she can run away she will tell you the name of the person that is supposed to die. She might even grant you three wishes if you’re lucky.

Still, please don’t go around grabbing women that are near rivers. That’s a good way to get arrested.


The Red Cap

Curious fashion choices

Is that wee Brian down the street there dressed up like a garden gnome? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a Red Cap Goblin looking for its next victim!… OK, if you’re trick or treating and see a small person with a red cap it’s probably safer to assume they aren’t a malevolent goblin hell bent on murder, but you never know!

These wee buggers are also known as Powries or Dunters and are a type of Dwarf, Goblin or Fairie that generally are said to hang around down at the borders. They inhabit ruined castles and are said to murder anyone who strays in to their homes and dye their hats with the blood of these victims. Strangely enough it’s also said that they need to kill regularly because if the blood in their caps dry out then they die. With dwindling interest in Museums and Heritage sites I’d say it’s probably a safe bet that these wee guys are probably done for…


Baobhan Sith

What lovely hooves you have

If you find yourself alone this Halloween and desiring a lady companion, be very careful if a beautiful woman in a green dress suddenly turns up out of nowhere with an interest in you. Especially if this woman has hooves instead of feet!

Normally victimising hunters in the Highlands, but also appearing to desperate men, it is said that the Baobhan Sith appears as a beautiful young woman that wears a long green dress but has deer hooves instead of feet. She is in fact a vampire, and one that has a strange and gruesome way of killing her prey. She dances with her chosen victim until they are exhausted, at which point her nails turn in to talons. Preferring to use brute force over the finesse we usually associate with vampires who drink from a persons neck; the Baobhan Sith would slit open the man’s chest and proceed to drain them completely of blood.


Bag Snatchers

Also known as “Wee Dafties”

These elusive creatures can sometimes be found roaming the streets on the night of Halloween in large groups looking for anyone much smaller than them. Once they have picked a victim they will approach from behind so as not to be seen and grab the bag containing all of the child’s hard earned treats gathered over the night.

Although just as despicable as the other ghouls on this list these are much easier to deal with. It is recommended that you walk the streets either with your parents or in groups. Bag Snatchers become easily frightened and generally wont approach unless you are on your own.


Can you think of any other Ghastly Ghouls that haunt Scotland? Lets discuss it over on our facebook page!

Stay safe out there.

Postal Strike

The Communication Worker’s Union, which represents over 110,000 workers within the postal service, voted on whether or not to go on strike. This passed with an incredible majority, with 97% voting yes. With a turnout of around 76% this makes it the most powerful democratic mandate in recent British history. To put that in context, the last time a general election drew a turnout percentage that high was in 1992, before my lifetime.

This strike will be the first of its kind in nearly 10 years, and with numbers like these it’s clear to see that there is a lot of passion behind the vote and a motivated union membership. The strikes come after the CWU said an agreement reached with the Royal Mail to raise pay, reform pensions and reduce weekly working hours from 39 to 35 per week by 2022 was being disregarded, and that management were trying to get out of holding up their end of the bargain. Worse still, there are worries that new CEO Rico Back- who has a reputation for treating workers poorly- will try and turn the tide of reforms back even further.

These concerns are troubling for anyone who works within the postal service, but could also mean a reduced quality of service for those who rely on the Royal Mail as standards are dropped to push for profits. The majority of parcels across the country are delivered via the Royal Mail service, with rural post offices representing vital community hubs. Further privatisation and selling off of assets could cut older or vulnerable people off from the rest of the world as well as hurt the economy. The general secretary of the CWU, Dave Ward, has said that they will “fight the board’s asset stirpping plans” and build the postal service into something that “supports local communities and [in] growing the economy.”

While this is a national vote, Ayrshire is playing a key role: with a ballot turnout higher than the national average, as well as holding gate meetings and demonstrations before the ballot papers even arrived, the Kilmarnock office is a centre of activity and planning. Tam Dewar, the CWU divisional representative for Scotland and Northern Ireland, gave us the following statement:

“Royal Mail Group and Communications Workers Union concluded a groundbreaking agreement in 2017. This tied the Board of the newly privatised Royal Mail to grow rather than contract as a business, to maintain the separate functions as a Group, protected terms and conditions in the face of ‘gig economy’ terms – zero hours contracts with no annual leave or sick pay and no pension entitlements – and agreed a strategy to negotiate changes required through automation, a changing workload and increased consumer demand for next day parcel delivery.

This agreement, “The Four Pillars” was groundbreaking since the privatisations of the past had resulted in asset stripping, wage cutting and job slashing in pursuit of the bottom dollar. And important aspect was an agreed shorter working week to 35 hours as full time employment. Many commentators questioned what RM got in return but the main benefit was a good stood of industrial stability and agreed Agenda for reform.

Within a year of the Agreement being signed RMG gave the CEO Moyà Green a golden parachute of several millions and hefty pension to leave the Board, quickly followed by the Chief Operating Manager and Department heads who had signed the deal. A new CEO was recruited through a £6m buy out from an RMG subsidiary GLS. This was a European based parcels business operated by German National Rico Back, a Swiss based multi millionaire who made his money through atrocious working practised described by a German TV documentary as “verging in slavery”. Mr Back made it plain that he had no international of honouring the 4 Pillars Agreement.

Following reports from throughout the UK that relationships had broken down the CWU notified the RMG Board of our intent to ballot 110,000 members pending a period of external mediation.
The strength of our small Trades Union lies in the fact that we have workplace Reps elected in every Delivery Office. This grass roots organisation of how we communicate in a two way conversation with the National Leadership. Kilmarnock Delivery Office is a case in point. Over 100 Postal delivery workers organised by two elected Reps. While most Offices would have one gate meeting over the 7 week ballot period Kilmarnock held a weekly gate meeting as part of meal relief. In many communities like Kilmarnock a job with Royal Mail provides secure employment with a pension in retirement, sick pay and benefits and annual leave pay. This is especially true in small and remote communities throughout Ayrshire. These terms and conditions were won through the efforts of past generations and this generation has been called upon to defend them and we will.

Our Union is organised from Lands End to Orkney including Northern Ireland. We are organised from the bottom up so no Area is forgotten but there are more Postal Delivery Workers in London than in the whole of Scotland. I hold the post which coordinates Union activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland and have a voice equal to any other part of the UK.
Rural and small town communities like Ayrshire enjoy a six day delivery of one price goes anywhere Postal delivery service. This is at threat both from the Board of Royal Mail Group who want to cut service to maximise profit and from the Postal Regulator Ofcom whose main remit is to encourage competition rather than quality of service. The Isle of Man service has just reduced deliveries to five days and our suspicion is that Ofcom plan a similar attack.
CWU members deliver to every address in the UK. Our golden rule is ‘Never Cross a Picket Line” in respect of the fact that any group of workers going on strike a losing pay must have a genuine grievance. In return many other Trades Unions repay that respect through support at times like these.

Our Union does not want to strike, we want our employer to honour the Agreement made, if not the picket line calls.”

We at the ACU wish the postal workers and the CWU the best of luck in the coming months, and would also encourage our readers to show their support. We would also like to remind anyone upset by the disrupted service not to direct their anger to the hardworking and burned out workers, but the people that have put them in this position, namely Royal Mail Group, who have demonstrated they have no qualms with reneging on a previously established agreement. If we continue to allow private entities to do this, it won’t be long until you face a similar situation with your own employer. Maybe you already have. As this and previous strike action demonstrates, without strong unions we’re at the mercy of empty corporate promises and platitudes.

Theatre On The Borderline

by Ryan Wilson

Last week the Daily Record reported that work is underway to reopen the Borderline Theatre in Ayr. With development spearheaded by Kelly Craig and Ross Hunter, along with Chris Taylor of Hipshot Youth Theatre group, the historic theatre is set to reopen after a decade of closure.

The Borderline Theatre first opened in 1974 and quickly developed a reputation for entertaining and accessible productions, often with an emphasis on community theatre and engagement. Throughout the years, The Borderline Theatre played host to an abundance of Scottish stars, including Billy Connolly, Elaine C Smith, Alan Cummings and Robbie Coltrane. Many productions found widespread acclaim, touring national theatre circuits and garnering numerous awards. The theatre supported emerging talent- commissioning renowned Scottish playwright Liz Lochhead’s first play Shanghaied in 1988- and collaborated with the likes of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in producing Douglas Maxwell’s Our Bad Magnet in 2001.

In 2006 however, the Scottish Arts Council removed regular funding for the Borderline theatre. The theatre, while still producing acclaimed works, operated on a shoe-string budget but was nevertheless forced to close its doors in 2009. The Borderline Theatre Company- the production company who founded the theatre in the converted Darlington Church on Main Street – now operate out of the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr.

It isn’t altogether surprising that this once renowned theatre would close amidst cashflow problems; with widespread austerity and cutbacks, arts funding is often the first thing to go from government budgets, and with the undeniable pull of the city for emerging talent- with its bigger stages and status as cultural hub- inevitably, smaller art spaces and projects bear the brunt of the damage. While theatres standing empty with windows boarded up is a sorry sight for residents of these towns, the effects this can have on communities is more widespread: School trips to the theatre suddenly become more expensive or stop altogether; youth drama projects stop teaching young people new skills and building their confidence; small businesses can no longer advertise their services to local patrons; new and emerging talent aren’t given a space to develop their skills, and are often forced away from the local area to the highly competitive arts scenes in the city; most importantly, without the communal spirit of the likes of the local theatre, communities become more insular and atomised. Opportunities to tell our own stories and celebrate our own talents are missed. Without local arts, whole areas become nothing more than commuter towns, towns with pubs and beds and factories and little else. Local arts in any form unites people around a common interest and provides a platform of communication and entertainment away from the isolation of the living room.

Across the board, from musicians and actors to painters and filmmakers, artists are facing difficulty in pursuing and developing projects, never mind bringing them to an audience. In a world of personalised Spotify playlists and Netflix recommended feeds, it can be difficult to coax people out of the comfort of their homes to take a chance on something they might not enjoy or be accustomed to. For arts venues it’s increasingly important to promote and provide for diverse works; venues fare better when the space is adaptable to a wider variety of artistic pursuits and interests.

The team behind the Borderline Theatre reopening are well aware of this and have outlined plans to use the space for community theatre, as well as film screenings, live music events, and arts classes. Of the development of the project, Kelly said, “The town is crying out for a venue like this to be revived. Ayr is full of students and there is a desperate need for a live music venue and community theatre space.” This would present a fantastic opportunity for UWS and Ayr College students- campuses with significant numbers of performance and arts students- to bring their work out of the classroom and into the community, and the same would be true of local artists or groups from a wide range of artistic backgrounds.

While the benefits of theatre and arts for communities is undeniable, and the Borderline Theatre renovation is a welcome and worthy venture for Kelly Craig and Ross Hunter, its unclear how feasible it will be to maintain the project long term amidst a tumultuous arts funding climate; The larger Gaiety Theatre in Ayr had its own regular funding cut in 2018 and was forced to scale back its operations. With government funding cuts to the arts, it falls to us, the residents of these communities to support the arts and entertainment we want to see, whether that be through fundraising, volunteering services or simply buying tickets.

If Ayrshire is to continue to have its own artistic voice and identity, then it’s important for us to show our support for innovative and restorative projects like the reopening of the Borderline Theatre.

If you would like to support the project, you can contact Ross Hunter at: hello@theirisayr.com

The Ayrshire Boy Who Tried to Kill Hitler.

Small as it may be, Saltcoats has its share of heroes and history. Everyone knows that the town got its name from the salt harvesting industry which formed it. Some might know it was once home to Colin Hay of Men At Work fame (however he did quickly relocate to a Land Down Under). Perhaps fewer people know that it was the only place in Scotland where the Italian ice cream shops didn’t get their windows tanned in amidst the anti-Italian sentiment that swept through the country during WW2. Interestingly enough, it’s got another claim to fame, being the birthplace of one of the men that tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

That man was Otto Kiep, born in Saltcoats in 1886 while his parents were on holiday there. The family were already well respected within Glasgow society, with Otto’s dad working within the Imperial Consulate at the turn of the 20th century. Otto’s cousin would even go onto serve in the British Army. Otto however eventually returned to Germany to study law and take up a job within the German civil service after World War 1.

Otto Kiep (7 July 1886 – 26 August 1944)

Despite inadvertently being part of the Nazi government, Otto was not happy serving under Hitler or following the Nazi party line, once losing his job because he attended a dinner in New York in honour of Albert Einstein. Celebrating an openly socialist, anti-Nazi Jewish German academic was not something a member of the German administration at that time was meant to be doing. Otto recovered from losing his position however and returned to a government role, secretly joining the “Soft Circle”, a German resistance organisation that would work from within the German government and attempt to bring down the Nazis. Their meetings would discuss the on-going war and occupation of Europe as well as organising aid to Jews and political dissidents across Nazi Europe. This group included Germans from all across the political spectrum (at least the parts that weren’t already apprehended) and all walks of life that were opposed to Hitler.

Unfortunately Otto- along with most of the Soft Circle- was later betrayed by a Gestapo informant. For nearly a year Otto was held in prison where he faced abuse and torture.

Otto was, however, also part of another group of German resistance, the far more militant Kreisau Circle. Composed mostly of military men, this group had a more focused idea on how to topple the Nazis and kill Hitler. While there were many plans, the most notable- especially in regards to Otto- was the July 20th incident, where a member of the Kreisau Circle placed a bomb in Hitler’s bunker. The bomb unfortunately failed to kill the Fuhrer, and Otto, despite being in jail at the time of the attempt on Hitler’s life, would soon be killed for his involvement with the group. Around 4000 others would face the same fate in the aftermath.

From this point onwards we know the rest of the story. Hitler would be dead less than a year after Otto, and the Soviets would go on to occupy Berlin, ending the war in Europe.  We do have to ask ourselves how would history have been different if Otto hadn’t been caught along with the rest of the Soft Circle, and if the attempt on Hitler had succeeded? Would the war have ended sooner? Would more lives have been saved?

Today Otto is remembered by the German Resistance Memorial Centre for his opposition to the Nazis, and I think with him being an Ayrshire boy, at least by birth, he should be remembered by us as well.

Connecting Communities: Poland to Ayrshire

One thing that seemed to have been made clear by the EU referendum was that in general Scotland has a more open and relaxed attitude when it comes to immigration. The reality, however, is something a bit more jarring. The frequency of xenophobic attacks are on the rise and it seems the lies about immigrants being lavished with tax payer money and given houses and cars for nothing (yes this is an actual claim that I have heard made before) are never ending, with more and more poor people in this country being convinced that their problems stem from poor people from other countries.

Scotland and Poland have always had a strong connection. Ever since Polish divisions were stationed here during the Second World war there has always been some kind of Polish community present in Scotland. There is even a 50m x 40m 3D outdoor scale model of Scotland on the grounds of Barony castle that was built there by a Polish WW2 veteran as well as a small group of Polish workers and exchange students. A testament to the country that had provided Jan Tomasik with his wife and a career as a hotelier in the years after the war.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions of some of the Polish people in our community and find out what life is like for people who came here with the hopes of a better life.

JamesSo what made you decide to leave Poland? What brought you to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I left Poland in 2007. In June that year I finished college and decided to study at Jagiellonian University (in Kraków). At the time I was basically a single parent, my partner at the time had been recruited for a job in Kilmarnock from a Polish work agency. I must add, at the time in Poland the economic situation was very bad. Most people, including my family, lived on the edge of poverty and there was no welfare system. In few words, it was hard. My partner suggested that I joined him along with my son and that’s how we came to be in Ayrshire.

Monika – I left Poland 10 years ago, for economic reasons mostly, but I always wanted to live in the UK. At the time, as a single mother in Poland I struggled to support myself and my daughter, even though I worked full time and had family helping with childcare, etc. My dad was already living in Ayrshire so I chose to come and stay with him.

Magdalena – The economic situation in Poland, difficulties in finding a job and a lack of prospects for the future is why I decided to leave. My husbands parents had been living in Ayrshire already so we decided to join them.

James – Has life been any easier for you since you moved to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I thought living in Scotland would be a dream come true but it was really hard in the beginning. For some reason Polish people were seen only as cheap labour. We would be hired to do work that people here didn’t want to do and in general we’d be paid less to do it. Despite this I still earned more than a bookkeeper in Poland by washing dishes in a restaurant so in a way life was better! I had to go to college again in Ayrshire to gain some qualifications and learn new skills and now I have a better job.

Monika – Life is easier in Scotland for us. As a single mother I’m able to support us and even save a little, which I wasn’t able to do in Poland.

Magdalena – A little bit yes, but it’s not as good as we expected it to be.

James – Has it been easy to make friends here or do you tend to gravitate more towards other Polish people?

Ewelina – Scottish people are very friendly (most of them!) and open. In my opinion it is easy to make friends here as long as you’re fair and treat people how you would like to be treated, with respect and understanding. I’ve got roughly the same amount of Polish and Scottish friends, I like them all!

Monika – I have family here who I spend most of my time with and a few friends/ colleagues that are both Polish and Scottish. Language is not a barrier for me though, so I think it’s a little easier for me.

Magdalena – Due to the hobby that I have (Dog training) I’ve met quite a few people and made friends with a couple but generally we just keep to ourselves. I only have a few Polish friends but I’m not looking for more.

James – Have you encountered any prejudice during your time here?

Ewelina – Unfortunately yes. Usually in my places of work with random people who would ask me questions like “why don’t you want to go back home?” or say things like “your country must be empty as so many of you left!”. Also my children were bullied for being Polish so we had to change schools. Now we don’t have problems. I know that behind behaviour like that are parents who live in a world of illusions. They believe any lies they are told.

Monika – I have… In real day to day life not very often and nothing major. Just people expressing their opinions on immigration but it’s mostly on TV, online or in the papers. My daughter has witnessed incidents on the playground at school where Polish or Muslim kids were bullied for being foreign.

Magdalena – Luckily, No

James – Has Brexit affected how you view this country?

Ewelina – “BREXIT” that big scary word that everyone wants to run from! Yes, I’m scared, distracted and just tired. I have everything here, family, friends, my job… Life! It doesn’t seem fair that you can just come and tell people “OK! It was nice having you here but now is your time to leave.” It’s unfair. I’ve paid for permission to live and work in Scotland, paid all of my taxes and now if I’m denied settlement status I have to go! Just like that. It is sad that the British/ Polish people have been deceived in this way. Now everyone will be affected.

Monika – It has. I felt at home here and now I don’t. It changed everything. Before the referendum we never even considered going back to Poland. Home was Scotland, but now it’s more than a possibility. My daughter considered herself Scottish – now she wants to go back to Poland. We’re tired of it all, this governments rhetoric on immigration most of all. They aren’t giving us any assurances and we don’t trust anything that they say. The settled status is a sham. When we came here 10 years ago I had to pay (a lot) for my right to work. A year later they scrapped it. Now they want us to register again. And the scheme doesn’t guarantee anything because the Home Office can revoke your settled status at any moment – that’s if you even get it in the first place. They’re not exactly known for their competence either. How can anyone live like that? And what would a no deal Brexit mean for us? Do we just become illegal overnight? It’s been so stressful, but it’s not as easy as just packing our suitcases and leaving. We’ve built our lives here. We have responsibilities, friends and family.

Magdalena – Yes as it’s a lot of uncertainty now. We don’t know what to expect and how our life will be afterwards.

I would like to thank Ewelina, Monika and Magdalena for the insights they have provided and I hope that whether leave or remain, we can take note of the chaos this situation has caused in the lives of fellow working people who have brought more to this country than they are given credit for, in spite of what some would have you believe when they talk about the “dangers” of immigration.

The Drug Crisis in Ayrshire

Ayrshire has always been an area affected by poverty and unemployment. These issues, combined with strained social services meant that a drug crisis in the area was almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, as the drug trade has boomed, organised crime has moved in, with police reporting there are now four serious and well organised groups profiting off the back of Ayrshire’s drug habit. Among the numerous measures the police have taken in response, some give cause for concern.

The police recently presented a report to South Ayrshire council stating that they had, over the previous year, put more funding into combating the rise of drug related crime, highlighting their tactic of targeting suppliers to strangle the gang’s income, as well as preventing these drugs from reaching buyers. This increase in funding has already shown results, with an increase in the number of drug apprehensions in Ayrshire compared to the same period last year.

New blood has been introduced with the appointment of Mark Hargreaves, taking over the role of Divisional Commander. Nicknamed the “Hammer of the drug dealers of Ayrshire” by the Daily Record- a title that’s a mouthful but invokes the right feeling of the man- Mark is a veteran of the police force of nearly twenty years and before moving to Ayrshire worked in the East End of Glasgow, as well as Pollock and Govan.  

Mark appears to be a man well suited to taking on the drug trade in Ayrshire, both in experience and in attitude. When appointed to the role he specifically called out drug use as a poison in communities, arguing that the presence of drugs in an area leads to an increase in more serious violent crimes.

One facet of this new anti drug trade strategy that is being implemented across Ayrshire is an increased emphasis on coordinating with the community and local businesses. This includes Taxi Marshals, street pastors and even pubs. One such incident resulted in three individuals being caught with drugs in their possession while out in Ayr in early September.

And therein lies the problem. The new spotlight on the drug problem across Ayrshire appears to target drug dealers, the people and gangs that profit from the trade and users together. Tactics like this have a history of falling apart, where the drug user is seen as a criminal rather than a victim. Instead, in areas like Portugal, where drug users are given treatment rather than jail time, far lower rates of drug use and drug related deaths are reported. Treating drug users like criminals leads to higher drug user rates and drug related deaths.

There are doubts surrounding whether or not the drug problem is getting worse in Ayrshire, or if we have simply been an area with historic issues. Ian Cavana, Counsellor for South Ayrshire, has in the past raised concerns over the narrative of increasing drug related issues in the area, instead suggested police are getting better at detecting these issues. Either way the rampancy of drug related issues is not a problem unique to Ayrshire, despite the 82 deaths reported last year; Scotland as a whole tops the charts in drug related deaths across the EU, and not by a small margin. We have nearly double the rates of Estonia, who placed second, and around three times the rate of the UK average; We also have one of the highest rates of drug use in the EU. With around 1.6% of the population estimated to be active drug users the reason behind Scotland’s depressing accolade is clear.

Benzos(like Valium and Xanax) are relatively new in terms of recreational use yet are now topping all other drugs as the leading reason for drug user deaths, with North and East Ayrshire ranking third and fourth respectively in areas of Scotland where Benzos make up the highest proportion of deaths, more so than all other drugs combined.

With new drugs entering into our community and claiming lives, what else is being done to cut off the impact of drugs in our area? The NHS offers services to help users quit drug addictions and groups like Addaction are now active in Ayrshire, trying to close any gaps in rehabilitation services. The question however, remains: Just how much enthusiasm and support do these services really receive from the powers that be?

In a recent East Ayrshire Council meeting Councillor Tom Cook said that a number of constituents had stated they find the presence of people picking up methadone from town centre pharmacies “off-putting”, with many saying “they don’t come in to the town centre because of that.” It was then suggested that the distribution of this treatment should be moved to pharmacies outside the town centre, which would further stigmatise and ghettoise sufferers of addiction, widening the gap between physical and social rehabilitation. While South Ayrshire has an incredibly high rate of supporting people to access alcohol and drug recovery services, constantly topping the Scottish Government’s target, the language of finding people recovering from addiction as “off-putting” speaks to the ongoing need to collectively undo decades of denigrating and dehumanising disinformation propagated by media and governments. This being considered by the council gives me doubts about the faith these institutions have in rehabilitation’s importance in fighting Ayrshire’s drug crisis.

While policies that seek to help users are showing to be successful abroad, is a policy of tarring drug dealers and drug users with the same brush really going to be the policy that helps our community?

Photo by Jonathan Gonzalez on Unsplash

What Went Wrong?

A lot can and has been said about living in Ayrshire. In our own articles we have pointed out a struggling population with some of the highest rates of unemployment, mental health issues and drug related incidences.

Ayrshire is just one county in a country in which these issues are seemingly becoming better managed. There was a time when Ayrshire boasted important shipbuilding harbours such as Irvine with its Ayrshire Dockyard Company and Troon with the Ailsa Shipbuilding Yard. Some of the most important trade from Ireland and the Americas would pass through this county first. Sunny Saltcoats used to be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country!

So, what happened?

Where did it all go wrong?

It seems the biggest problem with Ayrshire is the same problem with a lot of smaller counties in the country; it’s a place where industry used to be. The biggest industry that used to be in Ayrshire was the coal mining. Even today, mentioned within ear shot of the right people, talking about the miners strike that started Friday March 9th, 1984 will warrant a response of bitterness and anger. The dispute would last around a year and the result was a community all but torn apart. The miners argued that the government were going to cause mass unemployment by destroying an industry that the area so relied upon and some accused Thatcher of doing it to spite the communities that didn’t support her. The government would claim that it was simply a dying industry that was running at a loss, so it needed to be stopped.

The plan proposed by the National Coal Board that would cause the miners’ union president Arthur Scargill to call for a national strike meant the closure of 20 pits. This would mean the loss of around 20,000 jobs with the next steps being to open ‘super pits’ that would produce more coal with less workers. The only pits that would benefit from this plan would be one in Yorkshire and one in Nottinghamshire.

The ensuing strike would see the best and worst of the community come out. Hunterston power station became a large target for picketing with men being driven there in buses. Although the strike would start out peacefully enough as it went on there started to be some ugly fighting. Strikers would clash with the police as well as ‘scab’ workers (workers that crossed the picket line). Thatcher was well prepared for a response like this and had stockpiled coal from Australia, South Africa and Poland ensuring that the dispute would be a long and arduous one.

The men on strike were accused in the papers of bringing the communities to the brink by being so stubborn and preventing coal supplies going to those in need. In response strikers would go into the hills themselves to dig coal for the more vulnerable members of the community. In spite of the struggle many people would give their last in solidarity with the strikers.

As the strike dragged on through the year it slowly became evident that it couldn’t last. The support from Strathclyde council, although welcome, couldn’t sustain them. The pressure of trying to live on only £15 a week was too much for a lot of families. It all came to an end March 5th, 1985 almost a year since the strike began. Then came the job losses.

Everywhere in Ayrshire there are sad reminders of the industry of the past. Open pit mining has even continued in the area but suffers from similar job loss issues to this day.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow but there was right and wrong on both sides of the picket line in ‘84. Coal mining really was a finite industry and couldn’t sustain itself long term, however the worry that a lot of the coal miners went on strike for was also true. They could see that if Ayrshire lost its biggest industry it would lose its sense of pride and see years of hardship and unemployment. This prediction has come true. The Ayrshire of today is not completely devoid of all industry, the booming electronics industry has a foothold in the area and there is hope yet for the tourism sector. The problem is that nothing has ever filled the hole left by the closure of all the industry that used to be in the area.

Any images used are the sole property of the copywright owner

Worker Ownership in North Ayrshire

Joe Cullinane from North Ayrshire recently announced his plans to introduce a scheme to increase worker owned businesses in the area as part of a community wealth building strategy.  In this article we’ll take a look into what worker ownership means and why this could be good for North Ayrshire.

Worker ownership can mean a lot of different things; it can be a business where every employee gets a vote on decisions the enterprise makes, or it can be a business were the management is elected by employees to make these decisions. The structure is variable, but the basic principle is that every worker gets a say in how the business is run. This turns the workers into worker-owners.

The basic central idea is that people doing the job generally know the job the best- if given the chance to make choices in their work the people at the coal face will know the best course forward. We’ve all had managers that knew nothing about how the workplace actually runs, leaving you to try your best to cover for their (ahem) “hands-off” management style. Worker ownership avoids this awkward and annoying occurrence by making it so that management is more accountable to the workers, and not the other way around.

On top of this worker co-ops have a proven record of success; a taxi company in Texas was able to compete with and then drive out of Austin companies  like Uber and Lyft, at a time when taxi companies structured like more traditional businesses are struggling to keep their head’s above water. This isn’t a one off example either, a study by former professor of Economics at the University of Leeds Virginie Pérotin showed that worker co-ops were able to compete with traditional firms and that many are in fact more productive. This is largely because workers tend to be more motivated when they have a say in how their labour is used. Professor Richard Wolff, an american economist suggests that a combination of the fact that co-ops are more productive and its workers are more motivated is why these organisations stay in business at a far higher rate in their first year compared to more traditional business.

This system is not only beneficial for the businesses themselves. The Emilia Romagna region of Italy has taken the concept of worker run businesses to heart, with nearly two thirds of its population members of a co-op, producing about a third of the region’s GDP. The north of Italy has always been a very economically strong place and the fact that co-ops can and have taken such a large claim to the local economy speaks to the strengths of co-ops.

Italy has another interesting policy in support of co-ops, namely that instead of taking their regular unemployment benefit, people can choose to take a sum of money up front and use this as start up capital towards a co-op. So rather than being unemployed and on the dole, you and a few friends can come together and start your own business. This helps keep unemployment low and means that instead of layoffs leading to mass unemployment, it leads to the nurturing of enterprise.

At the time of writing we don’t know that much about Joe’s own plan to introduce worker co-ops to Ayrshire, but what we do know is that it would likely be a lot less radical than the policy in Italy. Joe specifically spoke out about introducing co-ops to Ayrshire at a meeting discussing family business succession. Family run businesses form a large part of the local economy, unfortunately these don’t tend to last forever- eventually someone in the family decides they want to do something different with their lives and this, along with other factors, leads to many of these businesses not surviving past the second generation. Joe’s plan would give the workers a chance at running these businesses and could prevent them losing their jobs. While the specific details are not available at the time of writing, the policy is being worked on by the Community Wealth Building commission in North Ayrshire.

It’s no secret that North Ayrshire and Ayrshire as a whole have a long running issue with unemployment and an economy that lags behind the rest of Scotland, plans like this to revitalise the area are more than welcome in my opinion, and I will be watching for the CWBC’s final draft of the policy keenly. Looking at studies by Professor Wolff and Pérotin, as well as a working example in Italy my only worry is that this policy may not be radical enough.

Photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash

The Radical Rabbie Burns

Quite possibly the most famous man from Ayrshire is Robert Burns. Born in 1759, the Bards presence can still be seen all over Ayrshire. Guaranteed if Robert Burns sat down somewhere somebody has put a plaque there to commemorate it. As well as being a cultural torch for the area, Burns has also been a great tourism tool for Ayrshire and Scotland as a whole. Interest in the poet brings millions of tourists to Scotland every year and the Scottish Government even funded a study at the University of Glasgow into the exact economic value of Robert Burns to Scotland and the potential for this global icon to further support regional growth.

As with most things that are examined and displayed with a capitalist mind set, the general representation of Robert Burns over the years has been heavily sterilised and romanticised. It would be interesting to ask the man what he thought about todays world.

It may come as a surprise to some- or not at all to others- but Robert Burns was far from a supporter of the established system and in fact was politically radical for his time, to such an extent that he even earned attention from the police.

Robert Burns was born into a family of tenant farmers. This meant that his family rented the land from a landlord who would take a share of either their crop or money. Most tenant farmers at the time were all but owned by their landlords and lived a life of poverty and hard labour. In his early life Burns would work long hours on his family’s farm and this no doubt contributed to his poor health later in life, eventually leading to his death in 1796 aged only 37. His hard drinking is often blamed for his poor health, but this vice simply added to already existing health issues, most likely gained from the horrid agricultural work he had to endure in early life.

Burns never quite climbed out of poverty which meant that he was never a full-time poet. He always had another job in addition to his writing and his financial hardships were a clear influence on his works. In his writing Burns addresses the environment, enlightenment, government tyranny and a person’s right to freedom.

In regards to his love of nature and his thoughts on blood sports such as fox hunting, Burns would write in a letter in 1789: “Indeed there is something in all that multiform business of destroying for our sport individuals in the animal creation that do not injure us materially, that I could never reconcile to my ideas of native virtue and eternal right.”

Burns involvement in what was known as the Scottish Enlightenment regularly brought him trouble from the state. His outspoken support of both the French and American revolutions drew the attention of the authorities and anti-radical groups such as the Dumfries Local Natives (who would attack Burns and other radicals) and he was regularly accused of disloyalty to the king. The French revolution in particular seemed to inspire Burns, who would include the Tennis Court Oath of the French Revolutionaries in one of his most famous poems ‘Scots Wha Hae’ (1793): “Let us do or die!”. His support didn’t stop on the page either; Burns purchased four cannons from an impounded smuggling ship named the ‘Rosamond’ and sent them with a letter of support to the Legislative Assembly in France.

The Tory Pitt government would embark on a crusade of repression wherein popular radical voices were silenced, usually with sentences of transportation to penal colonies such as Australia. They also passed the Seditious Meetings Act and Treasonable and Seditious Practices Act, meaning that it became treasonable to bring the king into contempt, and any gathering of more than 50 people had to be authorised by a magistrate, ensuring that free speech was entirely suppressed. By the end of 1792, 3 years before the so-called “gagging acts” mentioned above were passed, Burns was already being investigated and observed by the elaborate spy network set up by the government. Fear of being arrested forced him to write under a pseudonym, and he started to employ a writing technique of ironic assent in his poems, on the surface appearing to support things he was in fact criticising. One of his most iconic songs ‘A Man’s a Man For A’ That’, written in 1795,  attacks the aristocracy and champions the worth of the common, working man.

Burns didn’t solely concern himself with the freedom of his fellow workers in Britain. Although he was criticised for perhaps being slow to acknowledge the issue of slavery, as the years went on and he became more aware of the atrocities of the slave trade, Burns became a staunch abolitionist. In 1792 he would write ‘The Slave’s Lament’, proving his pro abolitionist stance, for which Burns was recognised on the international level by some of the greats of the abolition movement, including former slave and author Frederick Douglass. Douglass visited Burn’s birthplace in April 1846 and in writing of his travels to Alloway confessed to being a great admirer of Burns as someone who “broke loose from the moorings of society” and was “filled with contempt for the hollow pretensions set up by the shallow-brained aristocracy.” 150 years later, African American poet and writer Maya Angelou also visited his birthplace and is quoted as saying “He was the first white man I read who seemed to understand that a human being was a human being and that we are more alike than unalike.”

Burns was not perfect, he never did escape his vices and he was definitely influenced by the wider societal status quo in how he regarded women- by all accounts he was a loving man but certainly held traditional and patriarchal views when it came to relationships. In the modern interpretation of Burns a lot of facets of his life and character are disregarded and this is a real shame. Especially in todays political climate it should be remembered that Ayrshire’s favourite son was a great advocate for freedom, enlightenment and a fair and just society.

Universal Basic Income: Why It’s a Bad Idea

Recently there has been talk of trialing a Universal Basic Income programme in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and, more importantly, North Ayrshire. I’m going to look into what UBI is, why people think it’s a good idea- and why it would be one of the worst economic disasters to happen to Scotland since the Darien venture.

Universal Basic income is actually an older argument than you might think, with similar ideas being suggested as far back as the 1500’s. UBI is the idea that to relieve the effects of poverty we should, instead of building complicated support structures and organisations aimed at helping the poorest, just give everyone a set allowance on top of any wages they get. Sounds smart enough, and- I say this without a hint of irony- one of the best cures for being poor is money. This would give people at the bottom of society a safety net to rely on, to build up from and make sure their needs are met. Everyone else would get a little extra cash in their pocket to make the world a better place, a chance to patch the 9 to 5 and do what you really want to do, maybe start a business or go back to school.

The important part would be that this money isn’t means tested, so Barry who works at the cafe 20 hours a week and Davey who runs an international business would get the exact same UBI at the end of the month, even if Davey is bringing home twenty times Barry’s wage. This is for two main reasons; if everyone is getting the same UBI, everyone has the same jumping off point. What you make of yourself after that would be, theoretically, up to you. Another more subtle reason everyone would get UBI is that unlike Job Seekers or Universal Credit, everyone would be invested in UBI. Whether you’re working 40 hours a week or 4 you are not going to argue against an extra 5K a year.

This all seems like a really radical idea to be discussing, a complete change in the way our society works and something that seems more Starfleet than Department of Work and Pensions. The fact that this is being discussed seriously or at all seems to many a sign of a dawning utopia. But what pressures are driving this conversation into the spotlight?

Basically put, the world is changing, and for working class people its not changing for the better. Automation is set to take more and more jobs, and not just manual work like manufacturing, there are AI’s currently on the market that can replace middle managers, design buildings and direct air traffic control. When people really start losing jobs over automation it’s not going to be just you and me in the breadline, it’s going to be architects and maybe even your gaffer.

Another reason that we might need UBI in the future is something that politicians are even more uncomfortable discussing than mass unemployment: wealth disparity. In the UK, the difference between the folk at the top and the folk at the bottom is astronomical, and set to keep growing. Unfortunately for the wealthy however, they need the folk at the bottom to have enough money to buy things, or at least pay rent. Without some money moving about, the economy will come to a stand still and everything collapses.

These are issues that certainly need addressing rapidly, but is UBI the answer, and who is making the case for its implementation?

Interestingly, it’s not easy to split proponents into left or right wing. While it was Labour councillor Matt Kerr that argued for UBI in Glasgow City Council and Labour Councillor Joe Cullinane that argued for it’s trial in our own North Ayrshire, it’s not just Labour that are pushing for it. People from across Scotland’s parties have shown an interest in the scheme. Even Nicola Sturgeon has in the past expressed support for UBI. While the Scottish Conservatives in parliament have criticised the SNP and Labour for supporting UBI, there has been support from individual Conservative Councillors.

Joe Cullinane, in a facebook post, stated that on top of applying to the Scottish Government for the £250000 grant to research the practicalities of UBI, North Ayrshire had raised an additional £200000 to support the study. Joe argued that “If we are not bold, and offer an alternative to Tory welfare policies such as their Tax Credit Rape Clause and disability cuts, then we will be letting down families and children”.

But it’s not only Joe Cullinane- who sees UBI as a means of reducing poverty-who is making the case, and this conversation is not confined to the UK alone. Andrew Yang, a contender for the Democrat presidential nomination, argues a system like UBI is the only way to make sure the average person can benefit from automation, and not be left behind as the economy continues to change the makeup of the economic workforce.

It seems clear then that Universal Basic Income is something of a solution to impending and irreversible societal change, and one with an increasingly broad appeal at that. But before we rush headlong into a brave new world where everyone gets free money, let’s stop for a moment to consider a few things.

Because UBI, when examined more closely, has some serious and glaring flaws. In almost every model, UBI would not be an addition to the safety net of the welfare state, it would be a replacement, effectively kicking the chair out from under millions of working class families who are likely to find themselves worse off. While some on the left argue that this would not be the case, that UBI would be a supplement the current system, those on the more moderate centre and right wing like Andrew Yang are blunt in the reasons behind their support of UBI. The welfare state is expensive, and from their point of view, it does not work.

Without a proper welfare state it would not just be Job Seekers and Universal Credit that would be confined to the history books; Child Benefit, Working Tax Credits, Housing Benefit  and maybe even the NHS would be for the scrapheap. Instead of a structure around us that’s there when we need support, we would get our monthly pocket money and be told to fend for ourselves. Governments would be more readily able to shirk their responsibilities to their citizens, and the most vulnerable among us would undoubtedly suffer the most.

I use the word ‘citizens’ deliberately since citizenship rights will likely be the foundation of UBI. this would definitionally exclude non-British workers and migrant communities, and if mass privatisation follows, services like the NHS and local councils would likely disappear, and these workers and communities would suffer more than most as a result.

If this wasn’t enough, UBI will lead to staggering levels of inflation. That £500 you get at the end of the month might not be worth £500 at the end of the year when every business realises everyone has a bit more spending money. Prices for food, utilities and luxuries would go up, and worse still, what would happen to your rent? Say you’re not lucky enough to live in a council or housing association home where there are checks and balances to stop rent going sky high, what’s gonna happen to your rent when the landlord knows for a fact you have exactly £500 more in your pocket a month? Rent prices are going to go up. After UBI replaces every other support system we have in place there won’t be much recourse, we’ll be left with expensive food, high rent and maybe not even healthcare, all for the low price of £500 a month.

While the benefits of UBI seem enticing on the face of it, before you just ask yourself, do you trust your landlord to not put up your rent?

Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash