The Luxury Gap

Reading Time: 2 minutesThe Ungagged collective talk about the luxury gap – inc. interviews with Mhairi Black MP and Wee Skribbles

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode of Ungagged, themed around “the luxury gap”, we’ll be giving you two separate interviews for your political fix: Sandra Webster and Neil Anderson interview  Mhairi Black MP at her Paisley constituency office. Mhairi gives us insights to the House of Commons and some of its characters, why she entered politics, along with her views on Donald Trump and Jacob Rees Mogg, and we’ll also have a listen in on a chat with Neil Scott  and Scottish Independence campaigner and artist,”Wee Skribbles” (Michael Larkin), who talks about his work and how he became an activist for independence.

As well as those, we’ll hear from Debra Torrance  on  Food Luxury, specifically about food production in the Netherlands, the second largest food producer in the world, Victoria Pearson ponders the psychological damage of poverty on children and why short breaks should be on the NHS, George Collins will be examining the conundrum of combating global economic injustice from an environmentalist standpoint, and the necessity of interdisciplinary thought among progressives, and Chuck Hamilton muses about the American white middle class and their view of the rest of humanity and Sandra Webster return to talk about how she was transported back in time by the title The Luxury Gap, reminiscing about Heaven 17 and The Clockwork Orange before discussing poverty and having enough food to eat.

Nelly Neal asks whether the evils of want and ignorance seen by Dickens and quoted in the 1942 Beverage report are still here now and if they’ve ever gone away, Laura Lundahl tells us we are ALL immigrants, and says we can help immigrants by changing the way we talk about them, and the possibilities of food shortages after Brexit is discussed by Red Raiph, who has been practising his bartering skills so he can trade for food.

With music to get you moving from Steve McAuliffe & the Mighty Ur, Madame So, Gallows Circus, Jackal Trades, Attila the Stockbroker, The Blackheart Orchestra,  Ethical Debating Society, Argonaut, Nervous Twitch, The Potentials, and Sharon Martin.

 

Pulled together, kicking and screaming, by Neil Anderson, Neil Scott, and Victoria Pearson.

 

Ungagged is a not for profit voluntary collective, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners to help fund our solidarity and grassroots charity campaigns, and meet hosting, equipment and advertising costs. If you love what we do and can spare some change, our collection tin is at PayPal.me/ungaggedleft

Being Wrong 2 – The Irrational in Politics… Who Makes the Tea?

Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

 


Things were so much more simple back when I wanted them to be. Solutions were easier. Socialism was the answer and what THAT was was plain to see – to me. Until I met the left organisations that call each other “comrade,” but hate each other’s guts. 

 

  • Sorry granddad, I should have listened to your story about your day of being a member of the post war Communist Party. How you treat your activists really does show the change you want to be in the world.

This piece will mention various wee groups (because they are wee – but some have inordinate power because of how they insert themselves in unions, campaigning and professional bodies). I apologise to you for that. If you want to continue reading this and don’t want to be confused by their names, think Monty Python. Think “SPLITTER!” And think “Enemy of the Party…” If you don’t know what they are, they will have a label for you. You are either a neo-lib, a Blairite, a Tory or a traitor or worse. Or a potential member with money and newspaper selling capacity. When you begin selling those newspapers, expect praise, and condemnation in equal measure. And whatever you do, don’t ever believe giving the papers away is a good way to get your message out. Taking that pound from that wee woman on her way to get her fivers worth of groceries is part of the bigger picture that will save that wee woman from the hell of not being able to afford Friday’s tea.
Politics at present are odd, and I’m not sure of where we go. Trump draining a swamp, to replace it with a huge hole filled with shit; Brexit; a Scottish government with no credible opposition, plus a UK party in power that is dead but floating like a sparkling turd in the mire and actual seig-heiling Nazis on our streets, smashing up bookshops AND with power…

Don’t read this for answers. It’s about questions. And if you are happy in your cadre, this isn’t for you either. To be honest, if you are happy with your corner in the current polity, stop here. And if David Icke, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon etc hold some truths for you, please go join one of the groups I mention below and have your head at least sorted to move to my level of cynicism. It took me 13 years in one. You never know, if you join, you might find some level of comfort. You might find answers in local campaignsg (as I did) and you might find a parent who will make the tea while you sell papers.

For years I wouldn’t join a political party (I dipped in to a couple and promptly got my coat). I never joined a left faction either. I joined the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2002 because it seemed to be bringing factions and left individuals together. That was smashed of course, by the Sheridan show, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the “Bambury – ites” (those who worked with Chris Bambury within the Socialist Workers Party and then split from that party to form a small Scottish Trotskyist faction), 2005-07. I stayed with that party and probably should have left in 2011, but a combination of a great active local branch and the promise of the up coming independence referendum kept me there and by 2015, had me crushed between machinations of two groups of splinters from the oldMilitant Tendency and the SWP. I left, sanity almost intact. Almost.

  • After the war which he spent in a factory in Lisburn County Down, building amphibious aircraft wings and being radicalised, my granddad decided to join the Communist Party and help at the 1945 election. The party at that time had a decent membership of over 1000 people. He and his comrade were given the task of monitoring a polling station and were told by a party official, importantly for poor working class people, that they would be supplied with lunch.

Labour in Scotland and the dreadful way the UK Labour Party have dealt with the anti-semitism row has ensured I stay clear of that mire. And personality politics, and the meeting of right and left in one party has kept me away from SNP and Greens (though both have got a lot of positive things going for them, and Im sure given their current message/ makeup etc, I’ll vote for them at the next election).

The left as defined by the original SSP of the early 2000’s I joined no longer exists, and can’t exist under the conditions created by vociferous mini-groups on the left with inordinate power in the press and within movements (and fronts) here, and the strength of theSNP. It cant exist now as one of the original factions that shared power controls it completely. The passion of some individuals within it is there, still, but they are voices that whisper distrust even when they herald comradeship. And all of them either accept the current long term parentage, or are enthusiastic for it.
At present, I don’t feel the parameters of the existent, proactive left in the Scottish “Yes” movement work for me, or for that matter a positive vision of a better Scotland. I also feel the activities policed by a wider Yes movement dependant on money from rich SNP members, and organisations “ok’d” by the new unknown Central Committee (ie who decide who can officially take part in the nextindependence referendum), and a movement almost incapable of self criticism levelled at the pursuit of being better than what we are supposedly fighting against, ensure strife amongst those of us really not interested in replicating a Scottish version of late 20th century UK.
You may not be familiar with a lot of what I say regarding Yes, or left movements. Some of you will be. If you have any questions, ask them below. Or on twitter. Or Facebook. Dont expect definitive answers on everything. But I’ll definitely get back to you. Though I’m not your mum, dad, leader, or person with all the answers. Subjectivity is understood by the right wing. The left tries to erase it from all they do, so objectively, conditions are better or worse for all when measured using their particular metre sticks. My 30 cm ruler is mine, and has measured a lot of rooms of people sagely nodding that one faction or another’s meter stick is a metre and not just clever guesses at distance.

This whinge isn’t, of course, just about the left Yes movement. It is about much more. It is, I suppose about how people interact with each other. And how some seize narratives and sew truths that pull people down rabbit holes that are new or established. It’s about how “the bigger picture” becomes “means to an end,” and “casualties of war,” and “collateral damage.”

I think there are good people with good intentions across left groups in Scotland, and the UK, but I feel the present our “Yes” movement and the left in general, is going to be walled in by self-righteous, mostly well meaning, middle aged men. The butterflies have all been painted grey and pinned to a baize covered ply board. This also goes for the left in England, Wales and Ireland. Subtleties are lost. People are lost. People become collateral damage. Enemies of the party; their faces ground into the mud are a means to an end. An unavoidable stepping stone to a better Scotland and a better world.

I’ll still vote Yes in an independence referendum here, but I don’t know what that, as a progressive, means now. Yes, no more shitty Westminster Tories, but it can’t JUST mean what the Bambury – ites say in their columns in The National, The Herald, etc; it doesn’tJUST mean what the SNP say, Labour say, the SSP say, or the SWP, CWI or Solidarity/Sheridan/Hope Over Fear. And it doesn’t mean what my analysis is either.

  • My Grandfather voted Communist in 1945. I wonder how unusual that was for someone perceived to be of the Unionist community at the time? Was the Unionist community different in those days? He wanted a better world for his young wife and his two wee daughters. He wanted a world much better than the poverty and death of his father. Were the CPNI a unionist party, promoting the British Union as the way to socialism/communism? They obviously offered hope to workers like my Granddad. And I don’t doubt there were many who thought the same as him. It cant have been a bad organisation.And the “good” press the Red Army got when it entered Berlin MUST have had an effect on working people. He and his comrade sat and counted voters in and out of the polling station, their heads buzzing with the new society the Communists would bring. Modernity, and scientific production that meant no-one would go without. A management of the means of production by those concerned with meeting demand rather than creating it… Simple.

    A new Scotland and world is possible, but as others have been saying lately, reliving and repeating by rote, lessons learned from failures of the old left/national/other movements, and almost universal agreement on what we did right (when results of movements are, in reality, dependent on something more than binary results of activity) does not move us into our new world. We celebrate anniversaries. We celebrate glorious defeats. We stand in solidarity when there is injustice. We rail against dystopia.We don’t design utopia.And at present the left seem to be debating just how high the floodwall on this safe space for the middle classes should be. They are debating just how devoted some of those w”on our side” rally are. No one is really talking about raising all boats. No-one is really analysing if the alternative to perpetual Tories is the best alternative. 

    Listening to Labour, listening to the “Yes Scotland” left within and without the SNP, and seeing a hard left churn out the same things they have for decades and expecting different results, I am confused by what our demands are. I’m confused at what our movement is. I’m confused at what organisations that fear off message questions, the internetand leaked minutes can offer today’s world of multiple personalities, identities, and vast networks.

    I have little to say to those on the left who tacitly approve continuity Assadist fascism, or those who feel the Rothschilds /Zionists /Jews control the world/the Tories /New Labour. They aren’t on my side, nor the peoples, but for some reason have found themselves through odd deformed analysis, supporting antisemitism, racism, torture and police states. They believe that there are baddies whose analysis is death. They don’t see the grey – the inability to analyse the huge deluge of information an interlinked, fast moving and densely populated world brings. Syria and the subtleties of anti-Semitism are two examples in a world where some on the left are making odd alliances. A Tower built on analysis that cant possibly be wrong, can it? Yet all of these people want a better Scotland and a better world, don’t they? They seem to be preaching revolution for us, but not those trapped in Assad’s totalitarian state. 

    I have little to say to those waving Marx around like preachers did with filtered excerpts from the bible on street corners in Northern Ireland all through my life there, and selling their pamphlets and papers that reveal the opening of the seals. Nor do I have much to say, any longer, to those who urge people to sign petitions in order to get them to part with a few coins. 

    Standing on a cracked paving stone, shouting “LAVA!” at those walking, crawling, shovelling, bleeding by, really doesn’t cut it.

    In a political world contracting behind corporate leaders, walls, fractious self absorbed /self aggrandising left leaders etc, what unites us? Is it just what we are against? What is the progress we aim for that is new? What is this new world? The new world of 19th and 20th century philosophers or of left groups who are scared of discussion, argument and agreement outside their ossifying, smoke stained walls (via the Internet they say they distrust so much) ? Or does a world of self imposed, self condoning, filter bubble, echo chambered confirmation bias suit them?

    I read monthly, the new fronts created by those “with an analysis,” sagely repeating each others step by step breakdowns of what has happened that week, and how this signifies further proof that capitalism is dying (as it has for more years than anyone reading this can possibly remember). And I read “what the class can do,” and sigh. And I read, incredulously, the wobbling towers of analysis built on shaky foundations that support people shouting from on high.The organised left created confirmation bias well before Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica.

    I, like a huge amount of those on the left, will not be joining organisations as they exist at present. All left organisations at present replicate capitalist society anyway. “Be the [democratic] change you want to see in the world,” has totally passed them by. And listening to “analysis” from these people is like having your head drilled by politically correct, bible flapping street preachers. And none of them care much for the activists who can’t keep up with the super activists or “CC’s/ EC’s”, important meetings and large volumes of paper sales by comrade X who will within two years, fall from activity, broken, exhausted, jaded and damaged.

    Their filter bubble world, created before Eli Pariser wrote about Internet algorithms, is
    “A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn … (since there is) invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.” Wobbling Towers. 

    So, beyond “smashing the state,” and various slogans, selling newspapers and grabbing pound coins as people sign petitions to no-one, what can we do? What is our vision? Where does this fit in to a virtually/e-connected, yet disparate, impoverished, walled off world?
  • The lunch never appeared. The new world of Uncle Joe’s Communism, in which everyone was looked after, crumbled in front of my Grandfather’s eyes that day. He and his friend left for home, disappointed and disillusioned. My grandfather told me, “I was a member of the Communist Party for one day. I thought, “if they cant even organise a lunch for us, how can they organise society?” He voted Labour, and what that became, for the rest of his life.And he was right. Sorry Granddad. I heard your story, but I was not listening at that time. I thought YOU didn’t understand. I was wrong. It was me who didn’t. I had found easy answers, and analysis that confirmed my bias. It had seemed so simple. Good people doing good things is all it took. But I had forgotten about the Irrational in politics. I forgot we are all looking for a parent. An authority. Someone who knows. And I had forgot that some will do anything to be thought of as that leader. That parent. And lies, mistruths and briberies are all part of the means to an end, which is usually the means to keep them in their position of parentage within a family group chosen by them. And I forgot that some, in order to be that parent on a pedestal, will never apologise and in fact, can never be wrong. The next analysis, built on the previous, will explain what some thought were errors. Or the previous analysis will disappear from the history. Nothing online mentions the communist party of Northern Ireland’s inability to get tea to their activists at polling stations in 1945. But it was something, a material thing, that was probably a factor in their immediate decline. How they treated people. How they preached bread for all, but couldn’t organise tea for the activists.

    What is this better Scotland/world that is possible if disagreement and “online” can’t be part of it (as proved in my walled world in Scotland by ssh! SSP 2007/ssh! Rise 2015/ssh! SWP 2005)? The SWP proclaimed twenty years ago, that the internet would destroy them. Why? Because information was easily found. Information was easily shared. So the comrades baptised by Thatcher advised / advise activists NOT to share information. Misplaced Managerialism at best. 

    Is a better Scotland/world just being anti-Tory? If so, isn’t that just self defeating and ensuring we give Tories time to rethink their next image and message of “making Britain Great again?” Is it just supporting Corbyn/ the SNP, the great parent? Is it being uncritical until “it” fails, unapologetically?

    If Labour win an election, and don’t make material, measurable, obvious change to lives, are we not just awaiting the next idealogical ultra capitalists to tear down more of the post war settlement and sell it off to the cartoon fat cats and imaginary, rabbit hole dwelling Anti-semetic cartoon bosses? 

    If we win the next Scottish independence referendum, and our lives stay the same, what have we won? The right to replace a flag? 

    And really, lefty Scotland, what is our vision for Scotland outside the UK? What is our vision for the EU? How do we practically get the tea on the table after next year? What is our vision for the world and our part in it? The lexit of the columnists has proven to be a sham that is further impoverishing communities they really have never lived in and the columnists and front leaders have never been elected. Or do we just sit and shout, “wrong!” ?I’m not berating anyone in particular in this piece. Its self flagellation, so sorry to the reader, if none of this is part of your world. Sorry, if you are satisfied with the current polity, or your particular part in that. You see, I want change. I wanted change from the moment I realised we are still living in feudalist societies, with Kings, racism, sexism and poverty. Its borne on disappointment and the realisation that people are still starving, people are still imposing their bigotries across the world and all we seem to do is change flags and parents.

    I no longer want declarations and seven points of agreement etc. I want to know how my children’s children will survive, thrive and live in peace and abundance in an eco system that supports them and in a fair, free world. I no longer want to “foother” at the legacy of pensioners, middle aged men’s and middle class columnists analysis of 1968, 9/11, Stop the War or Yes Scotland. I don’t want to flag wave or pat myself on the back for marching. I really don’t want to listen to ego’s making demands, or shouting into microphones, or telling me I could have sold more pamphlets. I want to work for something.

    If we’ve learned anything from the twentieth century it should be that utopia was lost when we set its parameters and fell for those who loved applause.And trying to reimpose those parameters, in a world where everyone has a high tech machine that punches holes in those parameters, really does not work. And creating imposed filter bubbles ossify and dessicate. And jumping from one surrogate parent and false prophet to another really doesn’t cut it.

    So how high is the sky we are trying to reach? Or are we merely pointing at a branch as the current shit swamp pulls us under?Or are we all going to be left sitting waiting until someone delivers tea they had no intention of delivering?

You can read the first “being wrong” from Neil here, or read his reasons for leaving the ssp here

By Neil Scott

 

Read more more Ungagged Writing here or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

Being Wrong…

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Neil Scott

Being Wrong…

 

Admitting you were wrong is pretty difficult, especially when society is so judgemental and in turn individuals at a personal level feel judged by friends, family and peers. So, I’m going to write a wee series of blogs on “when I’ve been wrong.” Please, judge me all you like. I’m 52 and know I’ve made mistakes. Many. I’ve said shit things, thought shit things, done shit things and been an unbearable shit to some people. Not all the time, I don’t think, but I’m going to offer apologies to those I’ve hurt, or criticised when I have been wrong. I can’t ask for forgiveness, and I suppose, on one level, I don’t want it, because being wrong has helped me learn, because when people shout an alternative world view at you when you are shouting your view, it does sometimes register.

 

I perceive myself as politically left, and I think if anything, the political left should be about one thing- analysing society, and perhaps shifting their world view as well as others, in order to stop society sliding into a massive shit hole of creeping Conservative right wing inequalities. Challenging our own view should not be seen as confrontation, but should be welcomed. We should be open to it. The world can only get better if we keep an open mind to change both personally and societally.

Anyway, my first apology is not about politics, well, partly so, but only partly. Though that will come I’m sure. My first apology is about music, and at a guess as I write more of these, my apologies will be about other aspects and choices regarding music.

  • Paula, I wasn’t wrong about Joy Division, but perhaps neither were you.-

Teenage boys can be introspective en extremis. I was no different to many others, and as I discovered music, I thought, “I’d love to share this feeling, this deep, emotion, with other people,” so the stereo was cranked up in the bedroom and when I went to Paula’s house, I brought my Joy Division tapes with me. Unknown Pleasures on one side, with a few fillers like Japan’s “Night Porter, “ and then their other album, “Closer, “ on the other side with a few fillers like “Love will tear us apart,” “These Days,” and The Beatles “Let it Be,” sang by St Paul’s boys choir.

Cheery, and what every girlfriend would love.

Paula wrote all over the cassette, “boring! Snore..!” and other less than enthusiastic words. Although she was of course wrong, it made me think that perhaps my perspective on music might not be everyone’s. What touched me, didn’t always register with other people’s life experiences.

My music taste did develop, though Joy Division and New Order stayed with me. As I became more aware of what went on outside me, I began to love music that dealt with political themes. The Fun Boy Three, and “The More that I see,” about Northern Ireland, The Police “Invisible Sun,” about the same theme, and then stadium music that dealt with Steve Biko, Mandela, Martin Luther King, poverty, starvation etc became the big theme of the eighties and selfish, introspection was out. And I loved to find the roots of the music I loved, the influences etc, so I became a fan of New York punk, and in turn, the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Western US pre punk rock bands like The Doors. I loved the music that influenced my modern day heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen and other northern English bands; The Associates, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and other Scottish bands.

And here comes the main apology:

  • I wasn’t entirely right about The Cure, Sharon and Toby. I won’t apologise for not worshipping the ground Morrissey soiled, but I will apologise for not fully appreciating Smith’s introspection, musical talent and actually laying out his problems on vinyl.

Morrissey did write some scathing political songs in the eighties, but his own reordering of his thoughts have now set him firmly in the category Rock against Racism was set up to counter. I bought The Smiths first album, and although I did like some tracks on it, that was it. The Smiths to me, created some good songs, sometimes in spite of Morrissey’s whiney, “look at me, I’m so your new Dylan, Byron hero thing that the artistic press seek every ten years or so.” Some amazing, sparing singles. Johnny Marr and the others made The Smiths. Morrissey in my opinion, made them unfollowable.

Smith, at a glance, seemed the same. And for me, again, there were songs I liked. But my mistake was I mistook his introspection and shyness as a Byronic feyness ala Morrissey. I appreciate now, I was wrong.

My other gripe about Smith and his music persona, “The Cure,” was that he seemed to follow groups, and imitate them. I remember reading an interview with him in which he said his favourite track was Joy Division’s The Eternal. So, I started hearing The Eternal in everything he did, and his song The Walk, was quite obviously his take on New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Having said all of that, one of my favourite tapes I bought during the eighties was a “best of” The Cure’s early stuff. (I bought stuff on tape I thought was disposable – if I wanted a lasting copy, I bought vinyl and taped the vinyl). I wasn’t wrong in his listening to good stuff and using some of the same techniques, but I was wrong to make this something to diss what was amazing stuff, almost entirely created by Smith himself. Smith, I realise, was a magpie. While his peers applied modern musical instrumentation to what they learned from The Velvet Underground, Bowie, The, Doors, The MC5, unlike his peers, he also picked out what he liked about what his peers were inventing.

Listen to Disintegration and you’ll hear The Bunnymen, New Order, Bowie, the anthemic stadium sound of the time, and even classical influences. But what is clear is it is about Smith, his disintegration, his depression,, his realisation that the joyous, self conscious, certain world he inhabited in his teens and twenties were coming to an end. Friendships and the need to be in a gang, were less certain, but love and commitment and respect were. His emotions, unlike so much that was “indie”at the time, are laid out on this amazing construction.

And mental health, addiction and depression created a joyous, anthemic, beautiful piece of work I had dismissed as a copy.

Toby says this is late night listening. Perhaps. But the current heatwave, the claustrophobia of the heat and slowing down of life, makes this apt, appropriate.

Unlike those who found it at the time, it will remind me of the incredible weather of summer 2018. My memories of 1989 are of The Doors, Australian rock and crashing my dad’s car driving to meet Sharon, one of The Cure’s greatest fans.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this piece you can read more from Neil on his writing page, or listen to his contributions to our Podcast

Resilience

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Resilience

 

My teacher taught me to be more resilient today.  I fell and I cried, and I was embarrassed she saw me.  But my teacher said, “life can be like that.  Just pick yourself up again, and get on with it.”

It started out an ordinary day.  I had to get to school.  Da’ had come round to the flat last night.

My maw and da are not living in the same house.  Maw’s nerves are bad.  Da makes them bad.

Me and Iain had been out lookin’ for maw.  She goes out sometimes and forgets we can’t get in.  Somebody grassed and my da came round and hit the door through.  Maw was in the house after all, but she had had some of her medicine and hadn’t heard us. Da shouted at her that he couldn’t have the we’ans coming round to his in case he was reported to the social.  And maw flew at him with a bottle.

Iain gets all upset when they fly at each other.  I tell him to get behind the couch and get down.

Da caught the bottle on the arm, and telt her that if she did that again he’d cut her.  She said if he didn’t get the bleep out, she’d have the polis on tae him.  He jist said, “keep them we’ans aff the street at this time of night or I’ll have ye seen tae.”

He had her seen tae one night outside the flat.  That oul’ woman at 9b came out and pelted the guys with clothes pegs, like that could help.  But they ran away, and she brought maw into her house.  It was a really nice house.  Warm, with lights.  Maw was in some state.  And they guys had taken her bottle. After she was fixed up, maw and us went back to our flat and maw telt us never to speak to that nosey oul’ biddy again.

When da’ went back out of the flat, maw give me a leatherin.  “why the bleep did ye go to that bam,” she shouted.  I say bleep ‘cause I don’t like bad words.  Maw and da say them aw the time.  They fly like broken bottles across the street from their gobs when they see each other.  After she leathered me (I don’t cry, ‘cause that can make it worser), she telt me she was sorry and things were bad and that I was a pretty wee thing.  Her wee Norah.

Onyways, Iain and me, we went and slept on the same mattress in the other room.  We’ve a duvet each an’ we can share.

I don’t sleep all through the night.  Sometimes its ‘cause maw is singin’ and dancin’ after her medicine. Sometimes, its just ‘cause I’m listening out for da.

I woke just when the light was startin’ and I crept through to see where maw was.  She wasn’t in the flat.

Our flat isn’t warm.  It isn’t light. Sometimes people in school talk about when they get up out of bed and they get their breakfasts from their maw’s and they have a shower and stuff.  Our maw isnae like that.  We do get showers, especially when the social worker is coming.  But maw hasn’t been good in the past few weeks.  She gets the depression.

The water is cold, but I make Iain wash his oxters and face an’ hauns.  Iain is older than me, but he has special needs.  Or the depression.  They seem the same to me.

Our school Uniform isn’t in the flat.  An’ I know what maw has done.  She has done it before and promised not to.  The social will be roun’ later, because the only thing I have to go to school in is a pair of shorts and a vest.  Iain has a ripped pair of jeans and a power rangers pyjama top.  She mustn’t have been able to fit our welly boots into the plastic bag last night, or maybes people don’t want to buy wellies.  She calls it, “robbin’ Peter tae pay Paul.”  Paul must be the skinny man who she gets her medicine from.

When we are leaving, I leave the door on the latch.  Maw might not have remembered her key, and if she has a lot of medicine in somebody’s house, she might not be hame tae the morra.

The school isn’t too far.  I don’t know the time, but I know when the morning rolls are being delivered to Detsy’s, its near breakfast club time.

When we got to the school, Charlie the breakfast club guy, said, “Youse must be freezin’!” and he gets us uniforms, socks and trainers.  People in the school give them in when they are too wee for them.  He lets me choose, and I choose the ones that look the oldest, so maw won’t try an’ sell them again.

Breakfast club is great… walking in here, into this big new building, with its big hall and light and warm and things to do is like sunrise.  It’s like when I had a torch and I was able to light our room one night when it was scarey.  This place is the only place my forehead doesn’t feel tight.  Sometimes I feel so happy here, I get a bit out of control, and the teachers shout at me.  But its not like da’ or maw shouting.  Its safe shouting.

One of the times I do feel bad is when people are getting points for bringing in their homework.  I never have mines done.  I cant do it.  I don’t have time. You don’t get told off for not doing it, but its like one of maws slaps when Kylie Loft gets points.  She’s horrible.  She wouldn’t give me a share of her big bag of Doritos last Tuesday, even when she gave Maisie, Tina and Mohammed some when we were playin’ tig, because she says, “Norah never shares anythin’.” I wish I did have some stuff to share.  I feel bad when its my birthday and’ the teacher sings happy birthday.  Because I never have a cake or sweets to give the class.

Our teacher is nice.  But I wish she’d stop giving points for things my maw and da’ can’t do, like best costume on World book Day, or for wearing all your school uniform, or for healthy snacks or home learning projects.  I don’t mind people getting points I suppose.  But all them projects are mostly done by people’s maws.  Their maw hasn’t got the health my maw has.  I can never get points.  And that’s like a punch in the stomach sometimes.

The school dinners are the best.  I pretend I hate them like Tina does.  I know Tina loves them like me.  Where do you get food like that?  Its all different colours!  Things you just don’t get normally in the chippy or outta tin. Mr Singh behind the counter likes me.  He gives me extra stuff and winks.

Onyways, after lunch, it was gonna be circle time.  I like afternoons an aw, but I get a wee bit sad because I know its nearly time for home, and I knew it would be cold, and I knew my maw wouldn’t be there.  And sometimes I get angry at my friends because they haven’t Iain to look after, or maw to clean or da’ to hide from. And on the way up the stair to class, I tripped and I fell and I didn’t want to get up.  And I wanted Mrs Madigan, the classroom assistant to pick me up and give me a wee cuddle and tell me things would be awright.  Mrs Madigan says, we have a jar that you have inside you that should be filled with cuddles and love, and when you feel sad, you can use one of the cuddles and pieces of love from your jar to help you keep going.

But our teacher came back just before Mrs Madigan and told me to get up and taught me resilience.

Resilience is when you pick yourself up and brush yourself down and start all over again.  So my teacher says.

I count the cuddles and love going in to my jar.  I don’t have much in there, but when I get them, I clamp the lid down tight and remember and remember them. Because I know that one day Iain and me might need them.

Written by Neil Scott

 

Weesht For Indy – Not…

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Weesht For Indy – Not…

I am part of a political group that agrees to disagree on pretty much all of the razors of political analysis that cause splits, tantrums and forked tongued statements.  Ungagged is a website and political podcast that has pretty much every left view somewhere in its archive, said by people ranging from Trotskyists, Tankies, Blairites, Anarchists, Greens, Nationalists – all from the left spectrum of politics.

We respect the fact that others going to sometimes say, organise or promote an aspect of left politics we don’t agree with on the podcast, or written on the website.  And the fact that quite a few of us are from different parts of the world with different experiences, or different parts of Britain and Ireland, with different experiences, or different parts of Scotland with different experiences, informs us, rather than divides us.

My political background is as complex as anyone’s, but to summarise it, I was brought up in Northern Ireland in a protestant/unionist community and found myself at odds with that community.  I read literature and had experiences in Northern Ireland that convinced me the UK was not conducive to equality – in any way or aspect – and when i moved to Scotland I became involved with left and pro-independence politics.  I was a member of the SSP EC in the late 2000’s; co-opted again during indyref, and elected again onto the EC, twice. I left the SSP in late 2015.

I don’t see independence as a tactic.  I don’t see independence as being about my identity.  I don’t see independence as an income stream. I see independence as a way to break a state that at present is reinventing its imperialist past as somehow glorious – a state that is “dripping with blood from head to foot.” A state that is a key block, still even in its weakened state, in the curtain wall of capitalism.  A wall that hems in the poor and working class, while the rich and corporate world can fly free, borne on wings built with our bones, fueled by our blood and fed to obesity while we starve.

So…

There is an attitude in the Yes movement at present of, “disagreement is not healthy,” or “don’t challenge people – we are all on the same side.” I loathe that. That is nonsense, and designed to shut down debate, just as those on the left who prevaricate and hide the analysis they share within their particular cult shut down debate.

In order to come to agreement as to what sort of Scotland we are fighting for, we have to disagree, hone our arguments etc. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  And both those who tell us to shoosh for Indy, and those who hide their true analysis and hide behind their moderately successful tactic of the past independence referendum are, mistakenly in my opinion, really doing their best to stop education through engagement.  They are building walls to a synthesis of feet on the streets, together, during the next campaign.

“Shoosh for indy,” seems to be the order of the day, not “unite the diversity,” though many of those telling us to wheest cry, “why is the movement not as accepting of difference as it was between 2011-14?” and,  “Why cant we all just raise a flag of truce and deliver a saltire to each door?”

I strongly disagree with some people who want independence, or those who at this juncture feel it is “a good tactic.” I strongly agree with some others.

Some I disagree with, I would trust with my life. Some who seem to “agree with me,” I really trust no more than crocodiles resting just below the water.

And this attitude is coming from all sides. If you criticise the ultra nationalists careering around social media, expect to be trolled. Raise points about people making money (rather than raising funds for expenses) from independence, and you are a traitor. And criticise some of the left “analysis” and you are accused of all sorts.  Let’s not, however class all of those we disagree with in the same category. For example, I have recently seen criticism of Darren McGarvey after his interview with Owen Jones. I don’t entirely agree with Darren, but I totally respect the guy (I honestly went from a position were I didn’t rate him, to once having met him, perhaps “getting him,” to now feeling, as a teacher concerned with ACES, the guy is pretty cool). He is absolutely honest in what he is saying… Which is where I get annoyed by some other folk who write about or speak about, independence or social change or socialism -their hiding behind words and “analysis,” as if those words and analysis are objective and self evident. Hiding behind analysis as “objective,” is deceiving (and in some cases this is exactly what the writers and speakers intend). All analysis is subjective. Darren never pretends his writing or words are anything other than his opinion or experience.

The pretence at objectivity from left individuals and small organisations is breathtaking.  And the pretence that what some of them are doing is for the common good is just damned depressing.  The narcissism of some just makes me want to run as far away from some of the left in the independence movement, but Scotland an the independence media being so small, they seem to be everywhere.

The great thing about the Yes movement between 2011 and 2014 is that it was allowed to shift and expand and then it took on a life outside the original Yes Scotland “diversity plan.” After September ‘14, there were statements and manifestos drawn up in our name, without our input; read out in halls and we were all expected to cheer.

I am a democratic radical socialist. And I am not part of a cadre or vanguard or group with vested interests in how the campaign takes shape and is run. I have always, within the movement and when I was in a political party, spoke my mind and called out dishonesty and worse.

I, like many, have views about what should happen post indyref. And I, like many, have views on how we should as campaigners and activists, be represented in the press, and on political bodies growing up within the movement. And at the moment there are far too many self appointed spokespeople for me. Few of whom speak for a movement of butterflies, and a majority of whom seem to want to stick the butterflies in boxes and tell them to shoosh for unity etc. while they tell us what to think.

To argue, to disagree and to call out tactics and vanguards and manels and pyramid schemes seems to cause great ire.

The people who do are the ones I trust.

A Gift Comes Calling…

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Neil Scott
This story also appears on Neil’s blog
As the scientists looked at each other in disbelief, outside their Lower Withington building across the street, Corey stood up, turned his head from side to side, stretched and took his first tentative steps in the 31 years he had been on planet earth.No one had ever wanted Corey, not even his mother, who had abandoned him on the steps of the Cathedral, just a mile or so away from the spot he sat every day in his wheelchair, begging for change. On the run up to Christmas people felt guilty. Those people who walked past him trying not to meet his eye, as he said, “Have a good day.” He could afford to eat something most days.

His usual day would be like nothing these people had ever experienced. His Christmas would usually be a fight for food, a bottle or two and a fusty mattress in a spike (he called it that name, laughing, because the others in the dosshouse had no idea what he was on about), and middle class liberals assuaging the guilt they had for voting for less tax and a massive “defence” budget, served food on their once a year penance; food the local supermarket usually threw into the skip that his hungry, misshapen bones wouldn’t let him reach.

It had been reported as a rock, around 400 metres by forty, “Oumuamua,” “The Messenger,” and it had shot past earth, steady, silent and faster than anything that had ever been recorded in the solar system. And the scientists heard the warming, comfortingly embracing noise in disbelief, as everyone did.

Report of “Alien Spacecrft,” December 2017 HERE

Corey wasn’t the only life changed when the signal enveloped the earth. Opaque eyes saw colour and faces for the first time and cacophony, orchestra and whispers vibrated auditory ossicles newly formed in old ears.

Jessica, whose life support had been switched off while her family wept around her hospital bed in Belfast, suddenly sat up and laughed. She was 97 years old, and wanted to dance and no one, not even those expecting her demise were going to stop her.

Five year old Michelle clicked her knees back into place and the screams of her mother stopped as she emerged from under the fifteen year old Ford Escort, driven by the suddenly sober Iain MacHick who hadn’t seen her run onto the road to try to catch her pink rubber bouncy ball. MacHick cried, and was glad he would never need alcohol again to feel equal to the task of living. Michelle had learned not to run onto the road. Her mother glared at MacHick, took her child by the bloodied, but uncut hand and walked away from death.

All over the world, sickness, illness, inabilities and disability disappeared.

John, who had always wanted to examine the stars ever since he first watched Power Rangers twenty-five years before this moment, cried as he read the message on his screen. It had affirmed the message in his head. The knowledge he had regained. The lost feeling, he had lived with all his life, a background noise that everyone had fought, grabbed, self-medicated and stolen for, to muffle. Screens across the world were carrying the same affirmation of what everyone all at once knew. The knowledge they would gain later had yet to filter to them and TV producers and directors puzzled over who had intercepted their signals and minds.

Tina and Kodi pointed at the interactive smart board in Mr Kumar’s class. Mr Kumar was explaining how to use a speech bubble, when the board seemed to switch itself on.

Most of the class of eight-year olds could read the message when it first flickered onto the screen. And then they all could, even Demi, who had never been able to read her own name.

Demi knew it was a Christmas Gift. A Gift from Santa, who Jack had said that morning didn’t exist. She knew he did and he had given her the gift of reading by switching on a part of her brain that she had until now, not explored.

No one panicked, and everyone in shops laughed at the stupidity of the money they no longer needed.

Debts disappeared as they all knew, suddenly, how ridiculous the notion that people owned things.

The world started to feed itself and heal, and the hoarders and those who had accrued billions of everything were forgiven as prisoners were. They had not known what they were doing. They had been forced into a system that really was absurd, sick and had nearly killed the world by mistake.

People rushed to ensure no belly was empty. The horror of the old system hit everyone at once and they became free.

And the message that came with the cure, the first contact, the reawakening, the resetting of Earth became a message they all understood from the second the long cigar shaped craft enveloped their senses as it sped through space towards other galaxies long forgotten and left in the cold.

“Welcome back to the Universe. Sorry we took so long.”

Club Trumpicana

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

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Neil Scott

Good luck, American working class friends. Good luck world.

Perhaps by the end of this Presidential term we will all have gold doors.

That white bit around the eyes will become fashionable as sun beds become safer through millions of pounds worth of investment. In fact, USA, the jobs Trump was doodling about in his tacky Club Tropicana White House were all in the sun bed sector.

Imagine a world where everyone can have what Donald has. Greed; total disregard for anyone’s needs only his own and a personal set of those wee goggles you balance on your eyes when you are on a sunbed.

After today, we all live in Trumpton, an aggressive, bronzed, greedy punch in the face- every day until he is voted out or his Government falls.

Trump will think of us all. He thinks of “the little guy” often, tips them to make himself happy, has his shoes shined and his coat brushed and fires a few. They deserve it. They are not as successful as him. They didn’t work as hard at him to show off the wealth his father left him. In fact they are failures because they weren’t born into massive wealth and a dysfunctional,
Love free world.

Jon Voight, the great actor from “The Champ,” says – “Trump didn’t need to be President.”

Nope, he didn’t. But he wanted the power- he wanted the Ultimate job- the one in which “you’re fired,” can finger pointedly condemn poor people to death by way of poverty, missile strike or lack of societal compassion. Voight is right- Trumpet didn’t need the job- but he wanted it. He was incensed a black man was in the job before him, so much he had to try to prove the guy wasn’t an American. Yet again he felt like a failure because in his eyes, the eyes of a racist brought up in a racist world, the lowest of the low, the level below working class, below homeless “bum,” the blacks – had an American President before the successful, kindly, all powerful Trump family.

I have American friends. And this brass faced, greed personified, bling laden, crass, racist, misogynistic, dangerous man who will tell us God is with him, and guides him in his ripping up of Western Democracy and his throwing America back to the days before segregation and homophobia were written out of law does not represent who they are. God is guiding him. The God of unimaginable wealth; the God of bigotry; the God of no compassion or indeed love – the God created by white, imperialist, grab it all America rules supreme and will point at you and scream, You’re fired!” because you don’t have a Gold Door.

America is a progressive, changing society. A place were tolerance is spreading like wildfire. The bigotry of the past is on the wane- and the figures prove it. But the nasties who ruled the roost with their pumpkin pies and racism and bigotry and witch hunts are having one last hurrah at our expense.

Tracks of my Years

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Neil Scott
This piece originally appeared on Neil’s blog

A loaded gun wont set you free…” -Lyrics in the context of my growing up in Northern Ireland that had meaning beyond the meaning Ian Curtis perhaps intended. As a young man I was continually questioning all that was going on around me. Growing up in a mid-Ulster market town, answers were difficult to come by. At 14 I joined CND and around he same time I read Cry Freedom and had my address included in Christian Aids anti apartheid (snail) mail list. I found out about racism in Australia by sending off for a report on the plight of the native Aboriginal people and the organisation I sent away to had the genius idea to include a report on Ireland north and south and the inequalities within the two states. A year later I stole a book about Marx from my “non-denominational” Proddy High school. I stole it, rather than borrow because Marx/the Cold War was associated with Republicanism and Nationalism by those around me. I really could not see anything within its pages that I disagreed with.

All of these things made me think.

I’ll come back to New Dawn Fades in a minute.

Of course other things made me think… challenged me… Made me realise that lots of these beautiful, wonderful, in other ways open, friendly and rational people were saying and supporting the most unreasonable things. Their entire house of bigotted cards was supported by an imaginary being I could not twist my belief system to believe in. And I tried! When seemingly reasonable, funny, kind people say that They had been found by God; were born again; found God; seen the light; were saved and so on, I tried to find what that meant. I looked at ways to think of God that wasn’t this beardy Marx like figure… to no avail. The house of cards of loyalism and unionism seemed equally irrational. “Directionless, so plain to see… The loaded gun wont set you free…” lyrics that could be applied to both sides in the war going on around me.

All around me, death and mayhem drove the engine of our personal and economic society.

And death and mayhem was being cited as a solution by all sides including a Government not elected by Northern Irish people. Thatcher’s solution stepped up the killings and brought bombs closer to me. I saw mushroom clouds, broken, mangled buildings, cars and people and the aftermath of death and revenge and the hatred it perpetuated. The people around me, including me, were in the midst of an undiagnosed trauma. A violated people. And seemingly all of those in charge were out of control… On one hand saying death and murder were wrong, but on the other hand arming more people, and sending in SAS death squads to bereave more people and to harden more and more hearts.

“I’ve walked on water, run though fire, just can’t seem to feel it anymore.” And the denial by all of us within the North of Ireland about the effect of the fire engulfing us, the numbing of our feelings for those around us, was plain to see by any outsiders who came to visit.

Political music influenced me a lot. From the Specials, The Police (yes they did!) and Fun Boy Three through to Peter Gabriel And even Bono (who breeched the dam of Bloody Sunday denial). But the anger, stark, monochrome, industrial hopelessness of Joy Division did even more. It allowed me to realise that those around me might not have solution. The politicians and those they targeted with their biting, bigoted or rationalised violent solutions through to the preachers preaching difference through an imaginary, patriarchal deity were pulling us in ever decreasing circles of murder and hatred.

The track that sums up my freedom from the narrow minded sectarianism was not written with this in mind… But it was part of the freeing of my mind. “Different colours, different shades, over each mistakes were made…” and the shoots of hope I see at home beyond the marches and ire of some politicians as ordinary people reject triumphalism and violence as a solution give different meaning to Curtis words than he intended, once again.

Bits of Kids

Reading Time: 5 minutes
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Neil Scott
This piece originally appeared on Neil’s blog

We drank our tins of Satzenbrau shivering on the school roof looking across the streetlit mid-Ulster valley that was my hometown of Banbridge.  Another Friday night without a care.

Out of the six of us, I was the only one working. The others were all still in High School. We all loved the new found freedom of youth, drink and music- and some weekends, before we hit whatever pub we wanted to go to that week- or whatever youth club or nightclub, we listened to music from a mono battery powered tape-recorder and debated the merits of the synthesizer and its impact on guitar music.

Alex had eclectic taste- BA Robertson, Rod Stewart and chart stuff. Colin was into Jim Steinman in a big way. I was into my post-punk stuff, Joy Division, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire… The Mod was into the Jam, The Kinks, The Who and the likes and Roger and Jackie, the only girl with us that night, were into Punk. We took turns with tracks, but it was The Mod’s stereo. The Jam blared through the cool night air. The noises of the town wafted up to us, inviting us to join the laughter coming from the streets where the Rollerdrome, smoke filled and full of the confused noises of disco and Donkey Kong, Space Firebird and Defender vied for our attention with The First and Last, Campbells, The Coach, the “big church” youth club, Gowdy’s or just hanging about on the streets “gaunching” with people… asking about unseen pals; gaping,  stuttering at girls; feeling inadequate as Lutton took to the dancefloor and never stuttered once. Or playing snooker.

My favourite part of the night was the carryout. A few cans of beer and a bit of craic, usually freezing in a hedge, at the side of a gable wall or a school grounds.

The music was my freedom. It promised much. A world before us. A world we would change. The Mod dressed in his mod clothes, “target” on his back. Roger in jeans and grey denim jacket. Colin in a burgundy bomber, Alex in a fleecy, furry tartan jacket, me in black baggies, boxer boots, a flaming cross teeshirt and long trenchcoat- fashion victim extraordinaire- and Jackie in her forbidden makeup, pvc trousers and punk top she stashed in a bag in a friends house so her ma and da wouldn’t see.

We were ready for a new world- or at least a few more beers, a chip and gravy from the chinese and another box of fags.

Then it was Roger’s turn to play his tape.

The music didn’t thrash out in the way his choice usually did. It wasn’t California Uber Alles or Pretty Vacant. The guitar sounded almost like a sitar. The opening vocals  almost whispered.

“It was nothing like that in my day, not here in my town
We didn’t get things all our way till we were full-grown
Now they go into pubs and you’re gonna get mugged in my town…”

We stopped speaking over the music.

“It’s SLF’s new one.”

We knew of SLF of course. Alternative Ulster. Suspect Device.  Barbed Wire Love. Wasted Life. Tin Soldiers.

Loud shouts about the shite of  our wee world. This world we knew. One that visited this valley from the outside now and again. Driven in deliveries of mayhem that couldn’t and didn’t differentiate between catholic and protestant children, women and men. A world in which music had been a “legitimate target” when after playing our local big venue, the next big thing, The Miami were blown to bits and shot to death.

This was music that told the truth about murderous “sides.”

At the time through my rejection of the local version of rebellion- hard rock; meaningless Billy Idol lookalikes and Doctor Martens that did nothing to Kick Over the Statues, but instead marched to them to salute, I rejected punk.

Outwardly. To suit my image.

My “post punk” *self* image, because no-one here really gave a shit about how I looked nor did they care for the hopelessness of Joy Division or the inaccessibility of the lyrics of The Bunnymen.

Secretly, though, SLF touched me through the nonsense of being told, about my best friend, “but do you know Mickey’s a catholic?” And through the fear of the threatening phone calls my joiner dad got from paramilitaries for doing his job in their territory, SLF comforted me that others thought “sides” where nonsense.

Mickey’s mum’s Sacred Heart pictures on the wall were no reason to hate. And my rejection of religion didn’t make me a protestant for others to hate.

“So you read about it every day, in the headlines
How they take and take and drive away, sex and late nights
And it’s gotta be wrong, because they’re so young…”

My childhood was happy. A mother and father who worked hard to give us Blackpool once a year and a great Christmas. A childhood my society tried to steal. The big men who forced my father to hand over the few quid “protection money” from the corporation he worked for. A low paid worker forced to be the middleman between the multi-million pound rehousing project in Belfast and the Shankill Butchers.

After the cartoons, I watched Gloria Hunnyford tell me why my da’ might be late… “incidents” in Belfast, Lisburn or the Maze.

Our family were not outwardly “kissy,” but we loved each other. Our livingroom curtains could conceal me as I stood behind them looking down the road, waiting.  And on seeing the yellow Farrans van drive down the road my heart would leap, but I would control my relief and shout into the kitchen where my mum kept the dinner warm, “he’s home!”

“They’re only bits of kids, they’re only bits of kids
It’s always bits of kids today.”

“This is class, Roger.” Jackie loved it, so we loved it.

I wished we drank slower. But out of booze it was time to hit the town and to try to make the fiver stretch to a few more beers and a chinese.

“Where do yiz fancy going?”

We climbed down from our sniper nest and walked down the leafy lane to the main Newry Road. A road that took everyone from this end of town to work in Belfast, Newry, the Shoe Factory or the town.  I looked up the hill towards the factory where I would end up working in a few years time- a place in which there were sectarian quotas which were met through predominantly catholic offices and predominantly protestant offices; catholic run lasting lines and protestant run sewing machines. All controlled by English General managers sent to oversee us.

Roger and Jackie walked on. Jackie oblivious of the fact she had legitimised this meeting of nerds by her presence. Roger, Embassy Regal hanging from his mouth, and Jackie disapeared to somewhere cooler than The First and Last.

We walked passed the nursery school where I had been painting Humpty Dumpty’s for the wee ones on the windows when the bomb went off; passed the empty shell that was once Stevey Shepherd’s motorbike shop, across the bridge under which the controlled explosions were executed; past the shop the eleven year old boy died of shrapnel wounds and through the side door into the lounge.

A “catholic bar” where both religions relaxed, played “Crazy Climber” and snooker, and we were never questioned about our age. A few more pints into a world of gaunching with our mates.

” Broken cities ‘n’ broken hearts, bits of people who fall apart
In my town
It’s always bits of kids today
Bits of kids, we’re always, here in my town.”

Stiff Little Fingers are a band I have loved since. A band under valued. A band who, along with their rivals The Undertones and the others from the Good Vibrations camp and along with The Miami and The Shankill Butchers, bomb sales, parades and catholic and protestant quotas, shaped me.

Looking Back

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Neil Scott

 

This piece originally appeared on Neil’S personal blog

Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, is a strange read and it is so for a number of reasons, not least being the fact that it was published in 1888 and is about the socialist utopia the writer envisages for the 20th century. In it he predicts credit cards, radio, television and covered pedestrian malls.
Julian West, a middle class insomniac, employs the services of a hypnotist to put him to sleep at night. When he awakes, he finds he has slept over 100 years. It is the year 2000.

As well as being a critique of the social, economic and political situation of his own times, it is a romance and a science fiction fantasy.
Bellamy’s 20th century is a time when everyone shares in a common wealth. There are no wars, no private profit, no starvation, and retiral on full pension at 45 – so you can, just with that fact, see that his prediction was wide of the mark!
It’s a very 19th century idea of utopia. Everyone speaks in the way the educated middle classes spoke in the 19th century, the dialects of the working class having been eradicated by equality and education.

There is an equality of sorts between men and women – though his 19th century mind could only imagine an “imperium in imperio” organisation of the “weaker sex”. Women do work and are paid equally but their working hours are less and “careful provision is made for rest when needed,” because women are “inferior in strength to men and further disqualified industrially in special ways.”

Though these things are telling of the middle class Boston Bellamy is from, his ideas on state capitalist organisation and equality were revolutionary enough to make the book the third biggest seller of its day after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

One of the most interesting parts of the book for me comes towards the end when he revisits the 19th century. He takes a walk around Boston, commenting on advertising, the banking system and poverty. He then goes to his fiancée’s house where he sits at a luxurious dinner table. Someone in the company asks him where he has been:

“‘I have been in Golgotha,’ at last I answered. ‘I have seen Humanity hanging on a cross! Do none of you know what sights the sun and stars look down on in this city, that you can think and talk of anything else? Do you not know that close to your doors a great multitude of men and women, flesh of your flesh, live lives that are one agony from birth to death?

“Listen! Their dwellings are so near that if you hush your laughter you will hear their grievous voices, the piteous crying of the little ones that suckle poverty, the hoarse curses of men sodden in misery turned half-way back to brutes, the chaffering of an army of women selling themselves for bread. With what have you stopped your ears that you do not hear these doleful sounds? For me, I can hear nothing else.”

He looks around the table and sees the guests are shocked and he tells them he was not accusing them personally of the weaknesses of the 19th century system. The guests, rather than seeing his point, become “angry and scornful… ‘Madman!’ ‘Pestilent fellow!’ ‘Fanatic!’ ‘Enemy of society!’ were some of their cries…” He is then thrown out.

I don’t know about you, but I have been to parties like that.

After this revisiting of his former time he feels shame, “For I had been a man of that former time. What had I done to help on the deliverance whereat I now presumed to rejoice? I who had lived in those cruel, insensate days, what had I done to bring them to an end?”

This is an interesting read – giving an insight to the ideas that were being bandied about at the time and the belief that capitalism was in a state of imminent destruction. Bellamy was writing around the time when Marx’s ideas were becoming known to the world.

Looking backwards, perhaps, if all of those people with similar goals had come together and forced change, a time-traveller arriving today would not see the increase of death, destruction and broken lives that has actually happened.
Perhaps, if all of the people with the same goal come together in our time, a time-traveller in 100 years will find a utopia where “long ago oppressor and oppressed, prophet and scorner, had been dust. For generations rich and poor had been forgotten words.”

Read Bellamy’s works online – http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/b#a327

The Parable of the Water-Tank from the book Equality published in 1897

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Parable_of_the_Water-Tank