International Day of Solidarity With the People of Palestine

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

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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

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

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

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

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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

Jewish Voices for Peace

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

Celtic Supporters

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

Scotland Qualify for Euro 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dungavel: Scotland’s Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Shetland Want Independence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by ella peebles on Unsplash

In Respect of Stuart Christie: A True Anarchist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scots Wha Hae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Ownership On The Isle of Eigg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy right?

Scottish Tory Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scottish Utopia Myth

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

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

THE PAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESENT

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

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

Comments section of a Glasgow Times article about BLM protests

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

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

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

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

Photo by Donald Edgar on Unsplash