Thursday, 24 July 2014

And now the Commonwealth Games from Scotchland

It is nothing short of bizarre to have the Commonwealth Games taking place in Glasgow but television coverage broadcast into our homes reports it from an English perspective.

What the Games have confirmed is that there is no such thing as BBC Scotland: it is actually the BBC IN Scotland, and the BBC is very much an English broadcaster.

The opening ceremony of the Games from Scotland’s largest city was introduced by former England footballer Gary Lineker and Hazel Irvine.  At least Ms Irvine is a Scot, but her presence was clearly a token attempt by BBC bosses to have a ‘Scotch’ person on the show.  Hazel Irvine lives in London and has not been employed by a Scottish-based broadcaster for more than 20 years.  Is there really no-one in the whole of Scotland who is capable of reading an autocue?

On the first day of competition, Hazel Irvine’s contribution included introducing a feature called ‘weegie words’, with suggestions such as ‘gallus’, ’scunner’ and ‘glaikit’ because of course the ‘Scotch’ talk funny , don’t they?  The supposedly fun element of the programme provided English explanations of the words’ meanings, which actually gave the game away: the BBC is broadcasting from Scotland but to an English audience.  Scots know what the words mean, so the item was pitched at people not from Scotland, people who would think the words were strange and funny.

Recently, Scots had to watch the football World Cup presented almost entirely through an English prism.  The ubiquitous Gary Lineker was the main anchor for the BBC while ITV had someone who appeared to be an overgrown schoolboy and who looked as if he was going to burst into tears when England flopped in their three games.  Scotland’s sole contributor to ITV’s proceedings was national team manager Gordon Strachan, while the BBC had the now-retired Alan Hansen.  One Scot on each channel: there were as many pundits from France, Italy, Uruguay and the Netherlands than from Scotland. 

At the World Cup all commentators and match-summarisers were English (yes, I know ITV’s Andy Townsend played for the Republic of Ireland, but he was born in Maidstone, Kent and couldn’t hide his support for England during games).  Likewise, sports covered in the early days of the Commonwealth Games – cycling, swimming, triathlon - have had English commentators and reporters, meaning Scotland has received an English perspective on events and results.

There is actually a very serious point to the above observations: I don’t have anything against English broadcasters and presenters, but Scotland produces some excellent talent in the creative industries, both in front of the camera and behind it.  Those young Scottish-based producers, camera-operators, sound engineers, reporters, presenters and associated professions are denied opportunities because the BBC views Scotland as merely a branch office.

Even when the story is in Scotland – such as the Commonwealth Games – BBC staff are brought up from London, including ‘Scottish’ presenters.

The same has happened in politics, with the BBC bringing Scots James Naughtie and Sarah Smith from London to present coverage on the Independence Referendum, completely ignoring talented people already in place at BBC headquarters in Glasgow.

The message is unmistakable: Scots aren’t up to broadcasting on major events – even when the events are actually taking place in Scotland – and only Scots who have experience of working in London should be allowed to share a studio with ‘real’ broadcasters, like Gary Lineker.

Other nations competing at the Commonwealth Games will take the broadcast-feed provided by the BBC but they will report on the event from the perspective of their own nation and its athletes.  They will have their own editors putting together programmes, their own presenters fronting them and their own reporters providing news from Glasgow.  Scotland has to make-do with whatever an English broadcaster sees fit to tell us and show us.

In other areas of broadcasting, such as drama, stories located in Scotland and featuring Scottish actors, speaking in Scots dialects, are few and far between.  It has even been noted that many young Scots have begun to speak with ‘th’ pronounced as ‘ff’, such as the name Smith pronounced as Smiff, a result of Eastenders and other London-based dramas being broadcast into our homes virtually every night of the week.

America, also, has significantly impacted on Scotland, altering our language: how many teenagers recently attended their school prom rather than an end of year party?  How many Scots take medication rather than medicine?  How many of us go to the local store rather than the shop?  How many have ordered fries with their burger?

In an increasingly globalised world there will inevitably be cross-over in terms of language and culture, but with so few Scots on our televisions, so few people on the telly who speak like us, so few programmes made by Scots, presented by Scots, offering a Scottish perspective, the danger is that our own language and culture will be eroded beyond repair. 

The fact a major sporting event in Scotland is being broadcast to Scottish homes by presenters speaking with English accents and giving us an English perspective on what has taken place, should be a real wake-up call.

Scots are perfectly capable of producing quality broadcasting – in front of the camera and behind it – and we could desperately do with the additional jobs in the creative industries that would be generated if we made our own programmes here in Scotland: news, sport, drama – all from a Scottish perspective, reflecting Scottish culture and speaking just like us.  It’s the sort of thing normal independent countries take for granted.            

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The big EU fib

The British Unionist campaign to prevent Scotland re-establishing itself as a normal independent country is based on a big lie – the assertion that we are ‘Better Together’, which actually means governed by and from a parliament in London – so we shouldn’t be too surprised when the organisation gleefully tells another big fib that seeks to demean the standing of Scotland and the abilities of the Scottish people.

The Better Together campaign, which it has been revealed is primarily funded by London-based millionaires and supporters of the Conservative Party, issued a press statement last Tuesday, July 15th, in which it stated that the new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had “indicated that a separate Scotland would face a difficult journey to join the EU”, quoting Mr Juncker as saying there would be “no new [EU] enlargement in the next five years”.

Better Together’s statement was seized-on by the British Unionist media – that’s every daily newspaper sold in Scotland (but owned by mainly London-based companies) – all of which carried banner headlines on front-page stories claiming Juncker’s comments had completely destroyed the SNP’s argument that an independent Scotland would be able to renegotiate membership of the European Union within the 18-months between September’s Independence Referendum and the proposed date of ‘Independence Day’ in March 2016.

There is something particularly distasteful about Scots who have such a loathing of their own country and its people that they glory in anything that appears to damage Scotland’s right to be even just a normal nation.

However, within hours of the anti-independence stories appearing in the British media, Mr Juncker’s office issued a statement saying the spin applied by Better Together and repeated by newspapers and broadcasters was wrong.  So desperate had the British Unionists been to attack Scotland’s rights as a nation and the abilities of the Scots to govern their own country, they had completely misrepresented what had been said by the President of the European Commission.

In the statement issued from Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker’s official spokesperson referred to the comment about no new EU enlargement for five years, saying, “At no point is Scotland mentioned, as this is an entirely separate issue.  Mr Juncker has made his position on this clear on many an occasion: this is an internal matter of the UK and he will respect the result of the Scottish referendum.”

There is no equivocation in Juncker’s comment, no scope for misunderstanding – he had not been speaking about Scotland when he referred to a moratorium on EU expansion for five years: yet the ‘news story’ misrepresenting his views was still posted on the Better Together website as of last night (July 18), three full days since the European Commissioner issued a statement making clear the British Unionist interpretation was completely wrong.

Personally, I would not have a problem with an independent Scotland operating outside of the European Union, as Norway currently does.  However, every opinion poll on the subject indicates Scots want to remain members of the EU.  The people of Scotland have been citizens of the European Union since 1973, enjoying the rights and responsibilities associated with membership.  Within the Articles that govern the European Union there is no mechanism for expelling a member state, or part of a member state, nor is there any way of removing EU citizenship from people who currently hold it.  If an independent Scotland wants to remain a member of the European Union, then that position would be accommodated by the EU: to believe otherwise is to argue that the other nations would somehow seek to punish Scots for embracing the self-determination provided by independence (the same status enjoyed by every other EU member).  It would also require the European Union to initiate completely new legislation allowing the expulsion of a country and its people, in order that it could kick-out Scotland, the nation that currently has the EU’s largest oil reserves and fishing grounds.

In reality, the only threat to Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union would emerge if we reject independence in September’s referendum.  With polls showing the Tories are likely to win the May 2015 UK Election, there would be a UK-wide referendum on membership of the European Union by 2017 at the latest.  You only need to look at the European Election results in England last month – a resounding win for UKIP, which favours EU withdrawal – to see that Scotland could be taken out of the European Union as a result of votes cast in England, and whether we like it or not.  The only way of safeguarding our current EU membership is to re-take our independence and establish ourselves as an equal partner with the other normal independent nations.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s comment about no further EU expansion for the next five years related to so-called accession states, countries that are not currently members of the EU but which wish to join.  Scotland is already a member of the EU, as part of the UK, and Scots are citizens of the European Union.  When Scotland retakes its independence, the current member state – the United Kingdom – will no longer exist.  This would mean that both Scotland and whatever England, Wales and Northern Ireland want to call themselves would renegotiate their membership from within the EU.

As we get closer to the Independence Referendum the British Unionist scare-stories and outright lies are getter bigger and more extreme.  For Scots, though, the thing to bear in mind is that independence is simply being a normal country.  Those of us who support an independent Scotland have faith in our fellow Scots: we know we can run our country better than London-based politicians. 

Independence isn’t about Alex Salmond or the SNP, it’s about us, the people of Scotland: it’s about us taking control of our country, control of our future: building a better, fairer country: governing ourselves at home and representing ourselves in Europe and on the world stage.  Independence is simply re-establishing ourselves as a normal nation.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The oppressed have become the oppressors

This article originally appeared in on June 5th 2010. Sadly, four years later, nothing has changed and Israel has once again embarked on a military invasion of Gaza, murdering innocent Palestinians, including children.

When we try to describe what the Nazis did to the Jewish people during World War II, words are inadequate.

Atrocity, ethnic cleansing, even holocaust seem too weak when the event we are trying to describe involves the systematic and deliberate killing of 11 million innocent people.

Of course, not all of the 11 million who died as part of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’ were Jewish, but no one group paid a higher price.

Other than the intellectual and moral inadequates who populate far-right organisations, like the British National Party, the National Front or the English Defence League, no-one can fail to be moved by the harrowing newsreels that show Jewish men, women and children being loaded onto cattle trucks - some German soldiers even took money from them for their fare - and transported to camps where they were either killed in mechanised extermination chambers, or worked to death by sadistic guards.

People of the Jewish faith had been persecuted throughout history, but until the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in 1930s Germany, no-one had attempted to actually wipe them from the face of the Earth. Like the Roma Gypsies, Jews were believed by the Nazis to be racially inferior and degenerate and therefore worthless. The ‘Final Solution’ was an attempt to annihilate an entire people.

It is because of the inhuman treatment of the Jewish people that I find it so difficult to understand how the State of Israel can, today, so readily resort to acts of violence and persecution against the Palestinian residents of Gaza.

Israel, the Jewish homeland, occupies Palestinian territory. The rightful owners of the land on which Israel now sits were forced-out in order that a ‘safe’ country could be created for the Jewish Diaspora. Of course, as with so many historical disasters, the British played a pivotal role in allowing Israel to be created on Palestinian territory.

It is from the very beginning of the Jewish State that today’s Israeli-Palestinian problems derive. However, over the past three years, Israel has exacerbated things by enforcing a blockade of Gaza, where 1,500,000 people are crammed onto a strip of land 25 miles long and between 3 and 7 miles wide. Of that total population, over 900,000 people are officially classified as refugees.

In January 2009 Israel launched a full-scale military invasion of Gaza, which included air-strikes directed into densely populated civilian areas. All the while, the Israeli blockade means Palestinians in Gaza are denied essential food and medicines.

The Israeli defence of its action is that Palestinians continue to launch rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza. However, Palestinians point out that such attacks are reprisals for Israeli aggression and oppression.

According to the United Nations, 80% of Palestinians living in Gaza are now reliant on humanitarian aid.

Obviously, there is no scale of comparison between what the Jewish people suffered at the hands of the Nazis in World War II and what is currently happening in Gaza, but I just can’t understand how a people who have known and suffered persecution over centuries can have allowed themselves to become the oppressors.

Israel has got away with its persecution of the Palestinians because it receives unflinching support from the United States of America, the country with the largest Jewish population in the world, outside of Israel itself. Any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to criticise, censure or impose sanctions on Israel over its incursions into Palestinian territory or its treatment of the Palestinian people have been vetoed by the United States.

However, if the international community, including America, allows Israel to get away with killing innocent people – collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population - then they will be condoning what can only be described as state-sponsored terrorism.

Copied below is an extract of a letter written on behalf of the civic community of Gaza. It was written on May 31 2010:

The hardships of Israel’s closure of Gaza have been well documented by all human rights groups, most recently by Amnesty International in their Annual Human Rights Report, which concluded that the siege has “deepened the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages left four-out-of-five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law.”

The people of Gaza are not dependent people, but self sufficient people doing what they can to retain some dignity in life in the wake of this colossal man-made devastation that deprives so many of a basic start in life or minimal aspirations for the future.

We, from Gaza, call for the  severance of diplomatic ties with Israel, trials for war crimes and the international protection of the civilians of Gaza.

We call on you to join the growing international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign of a country proving again to be so violent and yet so unchallenged. Join the growing critical mass around the world with a commitment to the day when Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as any other people, when the siege is lifted, the occupation is over and the 6 million Palestinian refugees are finally granted justice.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Independence isn't about politics, it's about people

In the past week I have personally witnessed three incidents that illustrate Britain in the 21st Century, and Scotland’s future if we remain within the British Union.

Scotland has not voted Tory for 50 years, we have more giant pandas than we have Tory MPs (2 to 1 in favour of the pandas), yet we have a Tory-led Government imposing its will on us.  The UK Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government in London determines policy in such vital areas as taxation, the economy, trade and industry, social security, pensions, foreign affairs and defence. 

The Tory-led, London-based government follows an agenda that provides for the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer; the supposed economic recovery is based on yet another unsustainable ‘housing bubble’ in London, which is actually just property inflation; many pensioners struggle to survive on one of the lowest state pensions in the developed world; the UK is still seen as a sabre-rattling, war-mongering poodle of America, prepared to embark on illegal wars if that is what the US wants; and those who find themselves without work are demonised as worthless, idle spongers.

All of the above – the policy agenda of the Tories - was soundly rejected by the people of Scotland, and has been since 1955, yet for most of the past 50 years we have had Tory Governments.  That is not democracy, but it is Scotland’s future if we remain within the British Union: we would continue to reject the Tories at the ballot box, but would continue to have them imposed on us by the electorate of England. 

The British Labour Party (which is the only Labour Party registered with the Electoral Commission – the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party doesn’t exist) has become such a Tory-clone that its Shadow Ministers are pandering to a right-wing agenda by promising continued austerity if Labour was to win the next UK Election in 2015.  Opinion polls show it is unlikely a Labour Party led by Ed Miliband will win the UK Election, but even if it did there would be no change for Scotland: we would still have a government committed to the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer (as happened under the last Labour administrations led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown), and we would still have a government that attacks the unemployed, blaming them for their predicament instead of the failed economic policies of successive UK Governments and the corrupt dealings of bankers in the City of London.

In October of last year, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves MP, promised her party would be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the social security bill.  Ms Reeves’ comments committed Labour to reducing spending on social security irrespective of need, which means that people will have benefits slashed or removed even when they need them to survive.  That is what is currently happening under the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government and Labour has made clear it will continue to happen under them.

Rachel Reeves went further, removing any doubt there might be about just how Tory a future Labour Government would be, when she said, “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forego your benefits”.  Irrespective of your circumstances, skills, childcare commitments or ambitions, if a future British Labour Government offered you a job – any job - and you didn’t take it, then they would instantly stop your benefits, plunging you and any dependents into destitution.

Tories, Liberal Democrats, Labour, UKIP - all of the British Unionist political parties offer the same dire future.

In the past week, the reality of a political system that punishes the poor was made very clear to me.  A family member was sanctioned by the UK Department for Work and Pensions.  She was instantly left with no income and has had to depend on support from family to prevent her from starving.

Without going into detail, the sanction was imposed because a faceless ‘case assessor’ somewhere within the UK government department didn’t believe her reason for being unemployed.  The ‘case assessor’ took the decision without speaking to my family member or her previous employer.  The decision, apparently, was simply plucked out of the air. 

The sanction will be reversed, eventually, because my family member can prove her circumstances, and could have proved them to the ‘case assessor’ if they had bothered to ask before stopping her only source of income.

What happened to my family member is happening to thousands of others every week, many of whom do not have family support or the ability to fight the decision.  I witnessed one such person take out his frustration on the wrong target, the young woman who happened to be the staff member at the main desk in a Jobcentre.  The man had been informed of a sanction by post that morning.  He was instantly without any income and could not feed himself or his family, or pay his rent.  So frustrated was he that he screamed at the young Jobcentre worker, “Will I just go an f***ing kill myself?  Is that what you want?  That will save you a few bob!”

Last week I also witnessed a woman break down and cry in front of her two children, as she begged for help to feed them.  She had walked into the office of a private company that has a UK Government contract to ‘assist’ the unemployed back into work.  The woman pleaded for a job, so that she could feed her children but there were no jobs available.  She had already been to the Jobcentre and they had sent her to the private company.  The staff offered what assistance they could - helping her compile a CV - and directed her towards agencies offering more direct social support in terms of ensuring her children did not go hungry.

The previous week, Glasgow’s Evening Times newspaper reported from the Maryhill Foodbank, where they support around 140 people a week.

The Evening Times reported Foodbank worker  Julie Webster saying, “I have worked in social work for 20 years, so I am pretty hardened but we had a family come in on a Tuesday at 3pm having not eaten since the ­previous Friday.  There had been a problem with benefits and because it was a Bank Holiday weekend the mum had no money for food for her or her two children.  I watched the mum pick up and put down can after can, wondering what she was doing, before I realised she was looking for one with a ring pull.  She ripped the top off and started eating the beans with her hands, she was so hungry.  At that point I had to go to the toilets and have a cry.”

This is Britain in the 21st Century: this is what will continue to be inflicted on Scotland if we reject the opportunity presented by independence, if we reject the chance to run our own country and implement policies that put the interests of people before the profits of multi-national corporations.

Independence is not some nebulous political concept: it is the catalyst that will give us the full powers we need to build a better, fairer country for all the citizens of Scotland.

Independence isn’t about politics, it’s about people.