Saturday, September 20, 2014

Scotland's declaration of dependence. was not to be...this time! The most momentous political event in the UK in my lifetime and an all too rare opportunity to actually achieve real positive change through the ballot box came to naught. A one sided media blitzkrieg and a panic stricken political establishment  promising the world, was enough to persuade the grey conservative constituency within Scotland to remain under Westminster rule. For the demographics show the over 55’s were the bedrock of the No campaign. A sizable element that neutralized the votes of the 71% of young voters who had voted for independence. 

Depending on your perspective, these older voters who were targeted by the Better Together crew were either ‘Wee Timorous Beasties’ frit of change, or a vulnerable element who were ruthlessly exploited by Project Fear’s scaremongering. Everything from pensions to TV licences, food prices to mortgages. The grey vote was basically battered into submission by an endless stream of negative propaganda and basically, enough of them swallowed it. 

For the young and the young at heart, it can feel like a betrayal. A triumph of fear over hope...of cynicism over self belief. It is a fact though, that the conservative constituency is literally a dying constituency. The older generation- many of whom  have a WW2 brothers in arms camaraderie with their English, Welsh and Irish fellow combatants; have experienced the deprivations which followed the war and moved through to the relative prosperity of a post 1950’s economy when jobs were plentiful and industries like mining and shipbuilding still thrived- are undeniably more sympathetic to the concept of unionism and see Great Britain as a benign construct.

By contrast, the present generation have seen a weakening of the ties that bind to the extent that the majority see an independent Scottish state as a natural progression from its current devolved state. More European in outlook and just as likely to visit Amsterdam or Berlin as London, this young outward looking generation is more likely to observe the advantages of living in a modern Nordic state than in a tired imperial relic. It is this constituency that eminent left wing Scottish historian Tom Devine refers to when he declares that the ‘independence genie has been let out of the bottle and it cannot ever return’. From the triumphalist Tory journalists who declare that the UK has killed the idea of Scottish independence stone dead- ignoring the 45% vote for independence-to the more sober Guardianists who say that the issue is ‘over for a generation’. I would suggest that with almost half the population voting for independence and with Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow voting break away from Ruritania, then this significant element of Scottish society is not about to meekly touch their forelocks, accept that might is right and slunk off into the night .

There is a new political force in Scotland which crosses the progressive political spectrum. The Yes campaign has managed to capture the centre/left ground, embracing vibrant new non aligned  movements, harnessing articulate new young voices and consigning the dismal Labour Party led by the hapless and hopeless Miliband to its rightful place with the rest of the centre/right UK establishment parties.  The great city of Glasgow has been a shining light in this great conversation. Ignoring the siren voices of the tame media and the UK political cabal and reviving the spirit of ‘The Red Clyde’. Politically savvy and unafraid to pursue a radical agenda. By contrast, the genteel folk of Edinburgh rather confirming Billy Connolly’s observation that ‘a Glasgow funeral is more fun than an Edinburgh wedding’ ! Conservative, tame and reserved. A city with a sizable constituency of that group recognized by political pollsters as ‘Shy Tories’. Or in this case ‘Shy Unionists’.

As for the future? The UK economy is £1.2 trillion in debt (88% of GDP) and can only function if a tame populace accept zero contract hours, low pay, long hours, welfare cuts, austerity and continued massive borrowing. The irony being that Scotland was continually told it was economically nonviable despite its obvious wealth and potential compared to the rest of the UK.  A useful analogy would be to have seen the referendum as a launching of a lifeboat. The provisions had been stashed; a course had been plotted; people had starting climbing aboard but at the 11th hour, with land and deliverance in sight, everyone was ordered to get back on board The UK Titanic!

To be continued......

John Appleby

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland....Dare to Dream!

The most important political event that has taken place in these islands in my lifetime is just two days away. Unlike the pointless musical chairs that take place in a UK general election where three or is it now four?, neo liberal parties take turns in governing on behalf of the South East, The City and the Global corporations-a process which as Russell Brand so rightly points out is pretty pointless if you want to see real radical change. The Scottish referendum for once, offers the people a unique opportunity to prize London’s bony fingers from around their throats and build a prosperous future in their own free state.

A future free of the dead hand of Conservatism or New Labour. A Country with a built in centre left majority which can look to the more progressive Nordic states as role models rather than remain tied to-in George Monbiot’s words- ‘a corrupt and dysfunctional  British state’.

I was watching a re-run of Jonathan Meades Off Kilter Series from a few years ago this week. In an episode entitled ‘The Football Pools Towns’ Meades travelled around those little outposts on the east coast of Scotland which most people south of the border only know from the football results. This was not the Scotland of mountains and glens or tartan and shortbread; it was a Scotland of empty factories, abandoned coal mines and boarded up shops. It was a Scotland where the working classes having served their economic purpose had been cast adrift. Surviving on brutal housing estates whose very existence is a damning indictment of the politicians, planners and architects who put them there. It was a part of Scotland which shows the highest rate of Heroin use in Europe; a Scotland of poor diets, high cancer deaths, heart disease and lowest life expectancy. It was a Scotland where 11% of the people claimed disability allowance and where suicide rates amongst the young is frequent and unquestioned.

This is the Scotland that London built. Particularly since 1979 when Thatcher’s neo liberal economic policies laid waste to great parts of the nation which depended for its life blood on industries like Shipbuilding, car manufacturing and coal mining. In the new ideologically driven age, The Westminster government now served international capital and traditional industries could be closed down and everything from cars to coal could be imported. The new Britain which New Labour now also embraces as enthusiastically as the Tories, saw an economic future where pushing numbers around in The City was to be at the prime heart of the new economy. An economy which Westminster was increasingly building as a sort of European China. An economy of long hours, low wages and zero hours contracts. An economy of workfare, austerity, tax breaks for the rich and all based on outrageous levels of state borrowing. A level which has continued to rise under this government and now stands at almost 90% of the UK’s GDP.

This is the Great Britain that the people of Scotland are being told they would be insane to leave. But what would they be leaving? A nation with an unelected head of state and where UK residents are subjects without a bill of rights.( In an independent Scotland they would be citizens with a BOR). A nation with an unelected second chamber and the only country in the world- apart from Iran- where religious leaders can automatically take a place in a state legislature. A state with an ingrained class system of Lords, Dukes, Earls and all manner of medieval titles, all backed up by a ludicrous honours system.

A state which has proportionally the 4th highest military spending in the world and in which Gordon Brown’s last Labour government commissioned the Trident weapons system which eventually will cost us £50 billion pounds! A weapons system based of course in Scotland...not the Thames Estuary!  A Great Britain which has seen the gap between rich and poorer grow wider year on year. In fact the gap grew greater during the Blair/Brown New Labour era than during the Thatcher era.

As I write, the establishment are undergoing a collective nervous breakdown. Never before have I witnesses such a one sided propaganda blitz during what is supposed to be a democratic process. The UK has revealed itself as almost authoritarian in its manipulation of the media. It’s blitzkrieg of lies, scaremongering, smearing of independence supporters and threats, would do credit to a tin pot banana republic. The Mass Media, The Banks, The City, unelected EU bureaucrats, foreign leaders and the Westminster cabal, marching in train with the Far Right under a tatted Union Jack. The nauseous sight of the Duke of Westminster’s son in law, Dan Snow and the former picture editor of Tatler, Ben Fogle, rallying a contemptible band of has beens, tax exiles and millionaire celebrities under the union banner, is just one of the many vomit inducing stunts which Better Together have foisted upon a public which increasingly shows itself inured to ’Project Fear’.

But will the Scottish people finally cave in to this propaganda blitz?  A campaign so outrageously based on lies and distortions that Joseph Goebbels would blush! It would be truly an amazing and wonderful thing if Scotland held its nerve and chose freedom over subservience. A progressive future over a stultifying and soul destroying  attachment to a decaying right wing Ruritania. Scotland will be independent, of that be I am no doubt. It would be such a tragedy though, if a failure of nerve at the final moment, condemned the country to more of the same. More Centre Right governments of Bullingdon Boys or Labour Dinosaurs. More wars, more tax breaks for the rich, more austerity, more food banks and soup kitchens, a crippled NHS and education system and the continued dumbing down and Murdochisation of sport and culture.

If Scotland votes YES then I could not do better than recall those lines from Wordsworth, writing about The French Revolution ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven’. For it is for the young that Scotland must build its brighter future. Not leaving the country in the hands of the grey emotionally dead, self serving undertakers of the old order. The Alistair Darlings and Gordon Browns of this world. Politicians so venal and incompetent during their own terms of office that the UK is still suffering the after-shocks of their City friendly policies.  However, I would turn to a less lauded poet, to summarize why I feel Scotland should grasp this opportunity with both hands and cry freedom. In the words of John Lyndon aka Johnny Rotten... “ There is no future in England’s dreaming’. The UK began to break up nearly a hundred years ago with the Irish Easter rising. Centralized states where one dominant nation controls it's empire from its capital are doomed to fail. Be they The Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia or Great Britain. The future is with small self governing nations, controlling their own destinies but in a spirit of international cooperation.

Scotland...I pray with all my heart that you break the chains that bind you to, in Edward Abbey's words..."that dear, tepid,vapid,insipid, stuffy little country'.

John Appleby

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chalk marks cause a dust storm

Photo: Snowdon Mountain Guides

An artist has-with permission from the National Trust who own the land- created a  text mural upon a slab within Cwm Tregalan on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa (or Mount Snowdon as it’s known in English!) The work was created to promote a National Theatre of Wales production ‘The Gathering’ and is an extract from a poem by Wales’s national poet, Gillian Clarke. 

The work has created quite a brouhaha amongst many in the mountain fraternity, including many of my friends who have vented their displeasure through the social media. It resembles a similar art v nature debate a couple of years ago over in Yorkshire. Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones project which caused passions to fly on the UKC forum. In that project, a local stone engraver, Pip Hall, had carved calligraphic text of six Armitage poems into slabs of rock at various locations around Ilkley Moor.

In the North Wales project, lines from Gillian Clarke’s poetry has been chalked onto the rock using natural clay product which is designed to be washed off after the play has finished. It’s strange how these things stimulate outrage in the outdoor community. See the Llanberis slate of the art project, or witness the contempt for mountain memorials and cairn waymarkers on the forums.

I find it strange because North Wales is hardly a pristine corner of Patagonia. It’s popular mountains are carved up with beaten tracks; the popular crags are polished and speckled with chalk. Yr Wyddfa itself has a bloody railway going up it and cafe resembling a Lidl supermarket on the summit for God’s sake! We look out from the tops to busy roads and wind farms. Many of the tracks we follow pass old workings and dissect fences and walls.  The land is virtually a sheep cropped monoculture, as natural as a window box in a city flat! It’s a mountain theme park in its way. A theme park which hasn’t developed organically, but which has been shaped by commerce. might sound like heresy but I don’t mind a bit of art in the great outdoors providing it has some creative merit. The sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy or David Nash appear to not just tolerated but acclaimed, even though they are usually sited in a natural setting. Often a setting which is lot more natural and unspoiled than a popular trail in Snowdonia. In fact, I’d like to see more art in the national park. Especially in those northern bounds which is suffering from overuse and which have become scarred and pitted by millions of pairs of boots. 

Gillian Clarke’s poetry graffiti on a small slab or a crocodile of walkers queuing up to touch Yr Wyddfa’s trig point on a summer’s bank holiday. No prizes for guessing which one I find uglier!

Photo: Snowdon Mountain Guides.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stranger on the shore

 Yes...but is it art?

Walking along the shore of the North Lleyn Peninsular coastline in North Wales, has become a pleasant escape from the dust and grime of a nearby renovation project which has consumed my free time since the start of the year. I’ve always loved beachcombing; especially on a wild and relatively empty coastline and the largely rocky coast hereabouts-lacking in tourist friendly beaches of golden sand- fits this criteria. Depending on what’s going on out in the Atlantic and Irish sea, the sea can be as calm as a mill pond or a churning maelstrom of crashing waves and violent undertows which drags rocks and debris from the shore with a pulsating thunder.

Often, after a rough spell you get lots of fish boxes washed ashore. Mostly from the Irish Republic but some from the Isle of Man and Scotland. The names on these useful plastic boxes reveals the fishing ports where the boats which lost them are registered. Over 50% I’d say, come up from the South West of Ireland. From Castletownbere in County Cork and Rosslare, further East in Wexford.  I guess the prevailing wind and currents send them over to north Wales.

The trawlers also offer up a fair selection of related items including thick orange rubber gloves worn when hauling or gutting the catch, tags and orange welly boots. You can imagine how rough it must get out there with so much being washed overboard.

Last week, my eye caught what I thought was a child’s drawing of a head on a piece of cardboard. Picking it up, it folded out to reveal itself as an Irish election poster for Paul Anthony Ward who in May, stood for Fianna Fail in local elections in Dublin. Time and tide had washed out the colour to its present ghostly condition. It immediately offered itself as a piece of attractive folk art. You could see it hanging in a trendy London gallery with a 5 figure valuation!

The election poster had been floating around the Irish Sea for possibly three months before coming ashore in Wales. In the circumstances it’s surprising there is any discernible image remaining. The fact that its printed on plastic and not paper has saved it from obliteration.

It’s a nice find but I’m still waiting for a nice sea kayak or little boat to be washed ashore. Finders Keepers!