“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile”Ariel Dorfman
This is a story told to me by a remarkable student. She attends my Philosophy classes and the classes I teach.
Gabriela Inostroza de Gatica is very Latin, the native blood of South America flows in her veins. She is passionate , intense, exceptionally kind and has a wicked sense of humour . She contributes so much to the classes and still laughs in the midst of a life full of losses and tragedies and yet, in Kahil Gibran’s words, she makes of her heart a chalice through which she feasts on the elixir of life.
She has been twice a refugee, confronted several times fascism in all its totalitarian horror. Yet she understands how we effete left-wing progressives of Wales have never feared the knock on the door in the night, never really understood what it is to be watched, what it is to wait outside a prison for her loved ones. She mostly excuses those who claim that the solution to totalitarianism and fascism is to grant to the fascists the same rights we would give to the standard political parties of the west.
At those times in the class I think of the thoughts of Trotsky and his comments about a paving stone and a fascist. But I am the first person who would run a mile from a violent encounter and so I stay quiet.
This remarkable student is called Gabriela Gatica Leyton. I have known Gabriella and her husband Umberto for over 12 years now. Umberto has presence, he fills a room with both presence and gravitas.
In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet imposed a military dictatorship in Chile. Gabriela was 23 and had only been married to Umberto for a few days when he was seized by government officials for “gathering in a public place” (more than three people together was seen as an act of treason).
Umberto was put in prison and tortured. Many of his fellow inmates just disappeared. Gabriella says;
“the prisoners were kept underground, in a cellar. Over 100 people crammed in a room only big enough for 10.”
When Umberto was released, he and Gabriela knew they had to get out. They left their families behind and were smuggled by plane into Argentina where they spent a year in a refugee camp.
It was freezing, and they weren’t allowed to work legally. They got black market jobs, mending door locks or working in bars – and they spent hours just sat in a backstreet bookshop trying to keep warm.
Then their luck changed dramatically – the couple were offered scholarships to study at Swansea University, under a scheme to help refugees from Chile in 1976 they moved to Swansea and they’re still there.
Gabriella told me a story about an experience she had recently. She was in Wales and a woman kept asking her where she was from. Gabriella told her that she was from Mount Pleasant in Swansea. The woman kept insisting and asking where she was from. In this intolerant society, this brexit-Ukip poisoned Wales and this Trump polluted world. Like myself Gabriela believes that those of us who live in Wales are Welsh.
“We could cook real food for ourselves. I even started physically shaking when I saw four different sorts of cheese in the supermarket. I always call Wales my adopted mum. My adopted mum brought me up, gave me opportunities and nurtured me. One day, my bones will be buried here,”Remembers Gabriella.
Umberto and Gabriella fled Chile in the 1970s after Umberto was detained and tortured under General Pinochet brutal regime. They live in Wales. Umberto has just retired from 30 years in the department of Photography at Swansea Metropolitan University, and Gabriella from 25 years as a social worker. Both of their children work in the NHS.
It’s an incredibly difficult story to tell. Twice exiled. A story of fear, detention, of suspicion and of loss…Umberto continues:
We are Chilean, I am an artist. In the Chile of the early 1970s I worked in the Culture Section of a Community Development program, with rural communities making works of theatre, photography, journalism and film. This was a community who had never had the chance to see a film or play before – through artistic expression the doors for social development could be opened.
But the community never got to see their first film.
The military coup of the 11th of September 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet put Chile under brutal restrictions and terror.
So many strange things happened then. I’m still unsure what lead to my imprisonment, but I think I have some idea.
I had married my wife, Gabriella, in July 1973. We were young and had very little money, so after we married I rented a room while she lived with her mother. We had been married only six weeks when the military took power.
They enforced a curfew on Friday nights which stayed in place until the following Monday. Over the weekends, I stayed with my new wife at her mother’s home.
After three or four days I guess my neighbours began to notice I was ‘missing’. Someone reported my absence to the authorities. I suppose they thought I was a guerrilla member. Two days later I was detained, interrogated and tortured. No matter the extremes of my torture, I was unable to give the authorities the information they wanted. I wasn’t a member of any party. I did not know of the activities of the guerrilla fighters or where they kept the guns. I was an artist, a husband. I simply knew nothing. So the torture continued.
I was put on a chair, blind-folded so that I didn’t know where the next punch or kick would come from. In a way I was very lucky – I wasn’t shocked with electricity the way many others were. A common method was to tell me – “If you don’t know anything, I’m sure your wife does.” My young wife and her mother were frequently harassed by the authorities, their house turned upside down. But of course neither they, nor I, had any information to offer up.
Weeks after detention and interrogation I was moved to a sport centre, used as a detention camp. After a while I was moved to the city jail, to a political prisoners corridor.
Gabriella was totally lost, she went into autopilot. Everything you have, the ordinary things like a salary, a family, to speak, to laugh – were suddenly all gone. It was like an alternative reality. She couldn’t visit me and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead.
Once, after I was moved to the sports centre, she was allowed to send me some new clothes. She wrote me a letter on very thin rice paper which she pushed into a minute tube and sewed into the hem of a shirt. I don’t know how I knew it was there or managed to find it, but I did. She simply told me she was alive and thinking of me – she told me to keep faith. Maybe this is what kept me going.
I was kept in a centre with hundreds of other men. There was no space to sleep – we took it in shifts to lie down. It was as you see in American films – men in dark glasses guarded us with machine guns.
Within the group we were erratically and frequently called for interrogation. Many men from the group were taken and never returned. Many disappeared during the night.
In a climate of such fear and stress we eventually we took to holding lectures and classes among ourselves – something to provide focus, give structure and meaning back to our wasted days. The prison was full of political prisoners of all ages and backgrounds – university students and professors, journalists, chess masters, scientists, farmers – teaching and learning maths, music, reading and writing. I was in charge of the library and in turn studied creative writing, chess and guitar. There was a theatre group run by some of Chile’s most famous actors, who were detained alongside the others. Eventually, after 9 months of arbitrary imprisonment, the authorities realised they were wasting their time with me. I was released without charges.
The very next day my wife and I visited the Chilean Catholic Church, who created a body to help political prisoners and the relatives of the disappeared, taking their cases and offering legal aid. The lady lawyer in charge of our case advised us to leave the country, even though there was not a policy within the organization to persuade people to go into exile – we couldn’t be sure when we would be targeted again.
The very next day, when I went to collect our passports, I was taken in and questioned by the authorities.
“How could I possibly have done something in the last 24 hours, since my release?” I retorted. Thankfully, I was quickly let go. The next day, Gabriella and I fled to neighbouring Argentina to seek asylum. We fell in love with the country and with the people. Everywhere people helped us. There was a true sense of solidarity with Chilean refugees and we were welcomed like one of their own.
But it wouldn’t last.
One year later – in October 1975, a military coup saw the streets fill with soldiers and their fierce dogs. They were nasty. Foreigners were intimidated, detained and disappeared. We tried to be invisible. Suspicions rose. No one knew who could be an informer.
Eventually we were advised, once again, to leave the country. At the time, governments around the world offered their support to Chilean refugees – they knew our lives were seriously at risk if we remained in Argentina. We left Argentina with a grant from the World University Service for my wife, the help of the UN Refugee Agency and a visa extended by the British Consulate in Buenos Aires.
We arrived in Swansea, Wales and I started working in a Community Centre in Neath, running photography workshops for young, unemployed people. I went on to work in the department of Photography of Swansea Metropolitan University for 30 years.
After working hard to re qualify and earn a Masters, my wife continued her vocation as a social worker in Wales. She worked with schools cross the area with children at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse for 25 years.
When we first arrived in Wales we expected to only stay for a year or so until the situation in Chile improved. We didn’t even buy any furniture, but we kept active working, learning English and campaigning to raise funds and awareness of what was happening back home in Chile.
With the support of the churches, universities and unions in Wales, we organised huge fundraisers for political prisoners in Chile – the Welsh absolutely loved the Latin music – the salsa, rumba, cumbia – and loved the saucepans full of Gabriella’s rice, empanadas and my chilli con carne.
Gabriella will always remember the opportunities she has been offered in Wales and fondly remembers her gratitude after being offered her first job. She was always treated with respect and on merit – never treated differently for having an accent, or being a foreigner, being a refugee. Wales gave her a chance. And she gave so much back to the community.
This is our home now, this is our country. Both of my children work for the NHS. My son qualified as a Biomedical Scientist at Cardiff and now works as a biologist, testing organs before transplants take place. My daughter is a mental health nurse.
When I see people fleeing across the Mediterranean, my heart breaks. We spent just one year in a refugee camp, these people have spent so many. The support we were offered from the international community saved our lives. My wife, children and I are now a valuable part of our adopted community. I know, first hand, the danger of countries turning a blind eye to the kind of humanitarian crisis we are currently witnessing.”
My philosophy course is multi cultural and multi-ethnic we have Irish, Italian, Chilean individuals all of who are tolerant and full of laughter, yet all have a profound understanding of sadness and of the nature of the world.
Even Luciarno Luciano Welsh Balsamo, now approaching eighty, and after living here in Swansea for fifty years, has been told at times to go home. We live in a more brutal Wales now, a barrier in the collective mind has been breached and through that portal we have revealed a deep and dark racist id spilling its poisons on to those who are both refugee and those oppressed and exploited by the demons of the large corporations and the high priests of neoliberalism who separate us from one another and lay blame, causing us to project and displace our fears, our shame and envy upon one another. There is, of course, no reason for Gabriella and Umberto to have that told to them…they know that so well.
‘You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back – it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”Naomi Shihab Nye
Reading Time: 7 minutes“Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless”
Sam Hamad talks Brexit, Scottish Independence, the EU and ‘Norway style’ deals…
There is absolutely no doubt that the UK’s relationship with the EU was overwhelmingly positive. If you were to add up all the areas where the EU influenced and determined UK policy, the result would be a very easy net gain for our societies in their totality.
But Scottish separatists ought to consider the bigger question of what Brexit means regarding the place of Scotland and Scots within the British Union. Even if the British government gets a ‘good deal’ or a ‘soft Brexit’, should we then celebrate the ‘soft’ disregarding of Scottish self-determination? Should we be thankful to the British government for ‘softly’ and ‘pragmatically’ discarding, as is the very nature of the political set up of the British Union, the self-determination of Scotland to remain in the UK?
It goes without saying that the British government striking a good deal that averts a hard Brexit or an IMF crash out would be better not just for the citizens, unwilling or not, of the UK, but for Europe in general and the whole world. However, even if Theresa May defied the racist will of her own party base and that of the wider Leave movement to end freedom of movement at all costs, allowing the UK to stay in the ESM and the Customs Union, all of this would have been done despite the will of the Scottish people.
To put it as starkly as possible: to Scots, Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless regarding happenings that have huge implications on the every day life of Scots. The home counties of England have more power over the life of Scots than Scots do. This is the reality of Brexit for Scots, regardless of its final form.
It’s part of the wider problem of the democratic deficit that exists within the British Union between British rule and Scottish self-determination. Though we take and make the best of what Britain gives us, Brexit simply is a particularly egregious example of the fact that we ultimately must take what we’re given and are expected to simply accept it.
Indeed, it’s of note that the one solid thing we know about the consequences of any Brexit deal on Scotland will be the rescinding of the powers that Scottish parliament are granted by the British state. They’re not really our powers at all. They don’t belong to us. They belong to a Prime Minister who has scant support in Scotland and a government comprised of one Scottish MP, while the legislative body that has ultimate domain over them is comprised by a huge majority English MPs.
Brexit is the Bedroom Tax on steroids. It’s the array of vicious welfare ‘reforms’ and fiscal austerity that the Tories, and the Tory-Liberal coalition before them, have forced upon the people of Scotland, ‘reforms’ that punish the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society despite the overwhelming majority of Scots opposing and voting against such ‘reforms’. Devolution, in this respect, doesn’t work. We don’t have the power in Holyrood to undo these devastating socioeconomic policies, so we must go further. We must have proper and unrestrained self-determination in Scotland.
If we had the self-determination that any nation deserves, we wouldn’t be living under the gathering storm clouds of Brexit – storm clouds that not only could lead to logistical nightmares in terms of the economic ramifications, but ones that are interwoven with the ideological bonanza of the far-right that Brexit represents. Or, alternatively, the ideological bonanza it represents for a Labour dominated by a racist, conspiracy theorist alt-left, who, more often than not, agree with hard Brexiteers – agree with the alt-right – over the bare bones of Brexit. Corbyn has done everything in his power to ensure that no singular progressive movement against Brexit can be formed in England.
This is the way Brexit should be utilised in any potential independence campaign: whether you’re a Scottish separatist who supports Remain or Leave, you can’t argue against the fact that Brexit validates the already obvious fact that Scottish self-determination is stunted within the British Union. If you’re a separatist who is ideologically committed to opposing the EU, you could say that if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. It already has been so much else.
But this gets to another major point about the question of Scottish independence and Brexit. I understand people who actively love or support the EU only slightly more than I understand those who are pathologically opposed to it. Don’t misunderstand me, I voted Remain and would do so again without any hesitation, but I find the idea of being an active fan of the EU rather bewildering for any progressive.
On a personal level, I hold no more of a ‘European’ identity as I do a British one. I understand a European identity might mean something to people in England, as a cosmopolitan counter to the intrinsically racist British and English nationalism, but as a Scottish-Egyptian, the EU or ‘Europe’ as a geopolitical zone of power has no influence on my identity, political or otherwise.
Moreover, I’ve always considered the EU in its totality to be a cold, unaccountable hierarchical entity that is dominated by an assortment of toothless centrist and increasingly far-right-dominated governments. These can be uncomfortable arguments to make as a Remainer, given the dominance of the absurd British nationalist arguments about the ‘EUSSR’ eroding British sovereignty or the Lexit equivalent of the EU bosses club that curtails some vague idea of British ‘socialism’ (both of these absurd arguments from right and left meet each other in the middle and the end result is them both agreeing to support a Hard Brexit – Neil Findlay and Jacob Rees-Mogg are as one).
But the EU is far from a bastion of liberty and progress. Its own collective policy on immigration, asylum and refugees, referred to aptly as ‘Fortress Europe’, has been responsible for genocidal levels of death in the Mediterranean. The EU, ever more dominated by the right or centrists who embrace xenophobia in a foolish attempt to curtail the right, has overseen the deaths of tens of thousands of refugees, with their policies forcing them to take the perilous journeys across the sea. This is genocidal and the ongoing nature of the crime, while people seem to just accept it, makes it doubly monstrous. To rub salt in the wounds of this great injustice, the number of fatalities was further increased when the EU, with callous indifference, cut the number of rescue services available in the Med.
In addition to this, we’ve seen the EU allow the use of brutal tactics of rounding up, detaining and deterring refugees as they try to make it to safety. Refugees fleeing Assad’s genocide or ISIS’ horrors or the permanent war in Afghanistan, have mostly been met in Europe by governments that want to get them out of the continent as quickly as possible – the mostly Muslim refugees are considered a threat to the alleged Christian values and underpinnings of Europe. This is the ever more formal consensus of the EU.
The industrial deportation of refugees undertaken by Orban’s semi-fascist regime in Hungary has become normalised by the EU, while the concentration camp-esque ‘detention centres’ used by countries across Europe, particularly bad in the Balkans and Central Europe, are now being normalised and expanded as EU policy.
The use of these ‘detention camps’ might even extend to the fascist tyrannies in the Middle East and North Africa who police the walls of Fortress Europe. Think of Egypt’s Scorpius Prison with EU funding? That ought to be a good idea of what the EU’s agenda, ever more set by the far-right, will look like for refugees trying to reach Europe.
These same tyrannies that the EU outsource so much of their dirty work to, such as Sisi’s Egypt, which is one of the most brutal in the world, manages to get sweetheart deals with the EU that, though sold as ‘cracking down on human trafficking’, actually amount to imprisoning refugees, most of whom are Syrian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian, in Egypt, where they cannot work and are left vulnerable to everything from virtual slave labour and racist attacks to endemic sexual assault. For this, they receive lucrative economic deals with EU countries (including the sale of weapons, Germany and France’s finest, used against innocent Egyptians.
As an Egyptian, as a human being, it’s thus often extremely hard to listen to people talking about a progressive Europe, but in the UK they are usually doing so in the face of the British right and its absurd Euroscepticism. And this is a major point – all the above, all the negative things about Europe, are fully supported by the British government. When Merkel had a progressive turn and allowed an open-door safe-haven for Syrian refugees, the UK was grudgingly agreeing to let in a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of several years, compared to 700,000 in Germany.
The major caveat then is that Brexit, with its anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, Islamophobic core, represents no kind of progressive drift from Europe. The Brexiters want to extend their racist policy towards refugees and non-European migrants to the untermenschen of Eastern and Southern Europe – the ‘Romanians’ that Nigel Farage warned us all about.
Thus, the question of the EU when it comes to an independent Scotland is a simple one – a question that the huge majority, a growing majority if you take recent polls, agree on: Scotland ought to remain in the European single market and Customs Union. In the days of the Celtic Tiger, the Euro used to be the Scottish independence movement’s get out of jail free card, when it came to the currency question but this is no longer realistic.
In the post-financial crisis era, in the wake of witnessing the ruthless devastation of the EU’s punitive austerity on economically ‘weak’ countries such as Greece in the Eurozone, the idea of joining the Euro is a completely non-starter. To join the Euro would be to surrender the self-determination of Scots to Brussels. In fact, Scots need not join the EU at all. A Norway option, where we remain in the ESM and CU, accepting freedom of movement and all the associated rules, without being an EU member state, is an option that could easily be available. I would personally advocate a continuation of the status quo if possible, as it’s a huge net gain for Scotland and, contrary to the foolish line of Scottish Eurosceptics, it would allow us with full political and economic self-determination.
Outside of the British Union and inside the European Union, we could design our own welfare state, our own tax system and our economic policies and strategies – our own social programmes and projects, our own scientific research and arts and sports bodies, all with additional EU support.
We could design our own immigration, asylum and refugee system – neither ‘Fortress Europe’ or ‘Fortress Britain’.
Scottish independence is an act of creativity and vitality, while Brexit is an act of self-destruction. This dynamic ought to extrapolated – Britain is hellbent on moving inwards: cutting, dismantling and stripping, while Scotland has been for the past decade or so been moving in a direction of creating a more egalitarian society. Nothing, of course guarantees this, and there will be many complications and challenges, but Scottish independence gives us the tools to build society in whatever way we see fit.
The Eurosceptics talk about ‘Taking Back Control’, but they were already in control – Scots, on the other hand, have no control over our own futures while we remain in the British Union. Even the very process of legislating and sealing a independence referendum is in the hands of the British parliament and government.
Brexit simultaneously reminds us that England is not only moving in a newly destructive direction, while the old routine of Scottish self-determination being completely meaningless is getting worse and not better in the British Union.
It is August, which usually means a month of damp, cold driechness, just to welcome all the tourists to the Edinburgh Festivals.
Instead, we’ve seen record summer temperatures, and several weeks of not only high temperatures but also very little rain.
Northern Ireland saw its first hose pipe ban in 23 years imposed last month. Wildfires have been raging across several parts of the UK. The Met Office issued its first ever thunderstorm warning at the beginning of July.
Further afield, 100% of New South Wales is affected by drought. Fires are rampaging across California and Greece. And, back in Scotland, perhaps most (un)surprisingly of all, there have been train delays and cancellations because the tracks were ‘too hot’.
Many Greens, environmentalists, climate scientists and others have been talking about the increasing likelihood of such events for decades. Up until now, we have always been dismissed as scaremongers, conspiracy theorists, idiots, or worse.
Finally, though, it seems as though the mainstream media is taking the break down of our climate system seriously.
At last the BBC has published an article taking climate change seriously. That is, not couching it in terms of uncertainty and doubt, or extreme ideologies and marginal interest. Not only that, they didn’t try and temper it with ‘balance’ from climate change deniers.
It seems extraordinary that it has taken more than four decades of clear scientific consensus for the UK’s public broadcaster to take seriously the issue that is the game changer for our society. And even the Economist has led on climate change this week.
But talking about climate change as a real thing is not good enough. Not now. It is not about a changing climate. Likewise, it made no sense, during the Beast from the East, to be talking about global warming.
Thawing out (nevermind being warm!) seemed a distant dream as we were plunged into the frozen cold of ‘spring’ this year.
We must ask why it has taken so long for climate breakdown to be headline news. The mainstream media, and the neoliberal economy that it props up, has, for nearly 40 years, been used as an instrument of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Twenty years ago, we were told that China was the problem: what was the point in ‘the West’ doing anything about Climate Change when China was building a new coal power station every two minutes?
More recently, rather than causing more climate destroying emissions, China was blamed for being at the centre of a conspiracy: using climate change to destroy the American steel industry, or way of life, or whatever.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt have been the weapons of choice of the media-enabled neoliberal system that has controlled our lives since 1979. We can see this only too clearly if we look at the comprehensive failure of ‘the system’ to deal with rising inequality.
The contention that the market is the ideal mechanism for allocating resources has limited utility when the market allocates resources to destroying the planet on which we depend.
So, we need action. Urgent action. And urgent action not at an individual level, but action at state and supra-state levels.
We need to decarbonise our energy systems, not just our electricity supplies. We need radically different thinking to how our transport system works. We need to support our communities to be more resilient.
We need to wrest power from the corporations and elites that have benefitted from the market systems they have controlled and manipulated.
And that means changing the economy so that there is space for resilience: where there is social and collective control of and responsibility for the systems and processes that sustain us. We should be repurposing IT platforms (like Uber, airbnb, etc.) to provide social value rather than just making silicon valley millionaires even richer.
Imagine an effective lift sharing system in remote rural areas where public transport struggles to survive. We should be using the wealth created by our labour for the benefit of all. Imagine a society where caring and creating roles were valued over and above profit maximising for individuals.
We should be harnessing the immense compassion of our humanity to ensure a just future for people regardless of their background. Imagine a future where we trade in peace around the world, not in the weapons of war.
We need system change much more than behaviour change. Asking individuals to act against all the incentive structures of our society and economy has failed.
Where the corporate answer to the climate crisis is to increase ‘green consumption’ our answer must be to rebuild our society and our communities so that we can put humanity and the future of our world ahead of short term profit.
Only when we break free of the economic system of control, fear, uncertainty and doubt will we be able to rebuild our communities and our society for the future.
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.
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.
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.
We live in an age where senior SNP politicians are openly expressing worry about the rise of a far-right figure in England. Alyn Smith, MEP, said that the situation in England is so precarious that one wrong move, so to speak, could lead to the emergence of the far-right. Smyth cites Tommy Robinson, and the associated campaign to free him after he was rightfully locked up for contempt, while attempting to exploit trials involving child abuse to smear Muslims. Smith’s conjuring of Robinson of course hints at the way all these causes of the right intersect with Brexit. Many people, mostly Labourites and Unionists, might make the charge that Smith’s comments are some attempt by the SNP to fearmonger, but those people don’t know Alyn Smith. He doesn’t do hyperbole. He can just sense the political mood, as many of us who have seen the grand catastrophe of Brexit can.
I often cast my mind back to those early debates I had with some Lexiteers, including one with Corbyn’s now economic advisor. While they said Brexit would pave the way for a veritable anti-neoliberal utopia of the left, one of our warnings was that Brexit would radicalise everything to the right. Well, we were 100% right.
UKIP have always been a party of racists, including literal Neo-Nazis (the fact the disintegration of the BNP accompanied UKIP’s rise is no coincidence in terms of activists, members and electoral forces), but they always maintained a kind of right-wing Tory leadership. Norman Tebbit-like people who would maintain decorum while tolerating loathsome extremes in private. The mask of plausibility in an age of multiculturalism and anti-racism (derided by the right under that vague spectrum of ‘political correctness’) – well, in today’s England, Brexit England, there’s no longer a need for the mask.
Now UKIP have a leader who is openly supporting the fascist, Islamophobic pogromist Tommy Robinson. Everything is being dragged rightwards in England, while the conditions of a ‘no deal’ Brexit might very well put all of us across these islands in uncharted political territory – I’m thinking of Weimar Germany in October 1929, when the Great Depression hit Europe like a tonne of bricks, and overnight revamped the at that point rapidly disintegrating NSDAP (the overall radical right, the Volkisch right, as they were called, were still alive and kicking in Germany, but the NSDAP were like a dying fish, following the Beer Hall putsch of November 1923 until the Great Depression). Brexit could have similar consequences, especially the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which would splinter the British economy and lead to a social and economic crisis on par with World War 2, with potential food shortages and the possibility of a return of rationing. Progressive politics rarely ever do well out of crisis –societies facing crisis almost always turn inwards and towards the most bestial instincts of such societies. In England, we can now see the kind of beasts of the far-right who could potentially capitalise on a Brexit dystopia. Such a dystopia would’ve been unthinkable even 5 years ago, but now government departments are planning for it.
I don’t foresee a fascist party emerging as a serious force in the UK any time soon. But if you look at the balance of political forces in England, it’s more bleak than I’ve ever see – more bleak than I could ever have imagined when I first became politically aware during the Major years, when we were told, so famously, by a certain Mr Blair, that things could only get better. My own view on the ascendant alt-left, namely Corbyn’s Labour, is that it would be a huge catastrophe, given the relation of their kind of pro-Putin politics, dressed up in the phony languages and symbols of the ‘anti-war’ movement and superficial notions of ‘anti-imperialism’, to wider global happenings that have a direct effect, a boomerang effect, on domestic politics.
But the rise of the alt-right in a similar fashion would represent something altogether more immediately sinister. It’s perfectly true that the only two political leaders to call for triggering Article 50 on the night of the Brexit victory were UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. It’s also true that Corbyn espouses a ‘left-wing’ anti-immigration message regarding freedom of movement – he dresses up the old far-right slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’ and the idea that immigrants drive down the wages of ‘indigenous’ workers in the language of immigrants being exploited by EU bosses. No matter the spin of Corbyn’s supporters, it’s simply a form of racism associated with the conservative left that simultaneously reflects their conservative core, as well as acting as a device of populism, appealing to the reservoir of racism that lies behind our entire current predicament. However, to reiterate, the alt-left represent one kind of threat, the alt-right have these things at their political core and they represent the tip of an iceberg of concrete fascism.
Thus far the alt-right have been confined to the fringes. However, the Tommy Robinson affair, and UKIP’s embracing of it, as well as its connivance with fascist conspiracists like Paul Joseph Watson (the leader of the English wing of Alex Jones’ fascistic pro-Trump conspiracy media outlet ‘Infowars), are symptomatic of the radicalisation of the right. In fully mainstream terms, we see the rise of old school League of Empire Loyalist type Tories like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has direct links with people like Steve Bannon and British fascists. Both of these elements of the spectrum of the emergent alt-right grimly demonstrate that there is the bones of a genuine threat from the right that could capitalise on their political ground zero, their political point d’honneur, Brexit.
It’s not just an English phenomenon, or a peculiarity of British nationalism – these kind of politics, the politics of neo-fascism, are being revived across the world, with Europe sliding rightwards against the liberal democratic grain. We’ve seen a host of European countries experience either the alt-right gaining political power, such as in Italy, Austria, Poland and, of course, Orban’s Hungary – minorities are increasingly unsafe, with Muslims and Roma most in jeopardy. But the rightward slide of the UK also has a direct and astounding international component – If someone told me almost 10 years ago that the Islamophobic fascist football hooligan, Tommy Robinson, he who started the EDL, and who is an almost comical caricature of a typical English racist, would essentially have backing from people serving in the administration of the President of the United States, I’d have considered the person to be having some kind of nervous breakdown.
It’s not quite Darkness at Noon here yet , but I remember reading the astoundingly brave anti-Nazi writer Fritz Gerlich (murdered in Dachau, after being arrested during the Night of the Long Knives – all that remained of him was his broken glasses, callously sent to his grieving widow) writing about how Nazism had come upon Germany like ‘a smouldering fire that in the blink of an eye turned into a terrifying blaze’.
I can really understand it. I can now understand how quickly you find that ‘civilisation’ is like a thin layer of ice over a sea of barbarism. We can now see the cracks. I genuinely wonder not if but when it will fully shatter.
After the shock of the Leave victory in the Brexit vote, I used to joke that the next stop was ‘Norsefire’, referring to the fictitious fascist party that rules England in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. It’s becoming less and less of a joke every day. Do I see Norsefire on the horizon? No, but I see the kind of people who would make up Norsefire stepping out of the shadows.
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.
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:
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.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen me tweet this headline from The Spectator:
With the words “is this real life?” so I apologise if this feels like I’m going over old ground for some readers, but I do feel like this sort of headline is harmful on a number of levels, and some important points are being missed while people’s brains are imploding at the idea of Theresa May as a sex symbol.
I won’t be drilling into the article itself – partly because I couldn’t force myself to finish it, but mostly because we live in an age of tweet length news, rolling 24 hour coverage and attention spans more stretched than a whale’s waistband, so the headline and sub-heading is all most people will see of a lot of news stories, whether that’s digitally as we scroll past on our newsfeeds or physically as we walk past the news-stand, or see someone reading a paper in public.
Almost all of the chatter I have seen about this has centred around denial that Theresa May exudes erotic appeal. Personally, my cup of tea she is not, but it takes all sorts to make the world go round, and life would be very beige and boring if we all found the same people attractive. Desirability is entirely subjective – so it’s a bizarre premise to set an article on.
May’s attractiveness or lack thereof aside, what bothers me most about this headline is the casual sexism. This kind of headline seeps into the collective consciousness and suggests that a woman who has been working in her field for over 20 years and has reached the very top of her profession must have done so because of her sexuality. That she is in her position because of the male gaze – that men still very much hold power over women, however powerful that woman may seem.
Why then should we – having internalized this message – have respect for any woman who has risen in her field? Those who have followed my writing in the past know well that I have no time whatsoever for Theresa May. I think she is an incompetent, floundering politician who has achieved her position purely because no one else wanted the poisoned chalice, she’s a terrible representative and an even worse person. But if we reduce even the Prime Minister to “We Britons have always liked a girl on top” nudge wink, Carry On Westminster, what does that say about other women in professional positions?
Why would people not assume the same about female doctors, engineers, mechanics, or any other traditionally male dominated profession? This fosters a societal attitude of distrust of women’s abilities at all levels, implies that we cannot hold power in our own right, and as such is incredibly insulting – both to the millions of competent, hardworking women this attitude impacts on, and to the men who the writer seems to assume voted for someone to run the UK based purely on the fact they’d quite like to bang her.
This creeping sexism is massively disheartening to those of us trying to teach the young women in our lives that they have a world of opportunity ahead of them, and can be anything they choose. This kind of headline teaches them that’s not true. Whether they want it or not, regardless of how they present themselves, or what job they do, they will still have male fantasy projected onto them, and be viewed through the lens of their sexuality, not their achievements. They will not have a choice in the matter. Even if they become a navy trouser suit wearing, “Christian” Conservative Prime Minister, they will still be viewed as wank fodder by so called journalists who can’t imagine for a moment they may have achieved anything without the help of fawning men who fancy them. Why should our young women strive to be anything other than just sexy if that’s all they’ll be judged on anyway, whether they want to be or not?
I’ve no doubt the writer would say, if asked, that the article was meant to be complimentary, and they had no intention of undermining anyone’s authority or indeed implying anyone’s value lies in whether they are judged to be hot or not by the chattering classes. But this smacks of putting the woman in her place, reminding women that they are welcome at the top table only if men put them there, asserting power. It is, as one of the replies to my tweet said, so grubby.
This “article”, as far as I could see, wasn’t written in response to a survey or opinion poll. It wasn’t written to try and make sense of an unexpected bounce in the polls, or as a reaction to a fluff news piece. Perhaps the writer was asked to write a positive story on Theresa May and this rot was literally all they could think of. If so I’m not sure if I despair more at the competence of the PM, or the editor that thought this drivel was worth printing. I suspect though, that this casually misogynistic word salad was turned in with little thought and used to fill inches and sell ad space and generate outrage clicks.
Why then am I giving the piece further attention here? Because words matter. Headlines matter. And once upon a time, in a land that feels far, far away now, journalism used to matter. Our media is a direct influence on all levels of our society. Its about time that responsibility was taken more seriously.
By Jay Sutherland
As Britain’s Armed Forces Day approaches Scotland Against Militarism and others are working against the upcoming UDT Arms Fair due to be held at the SEC events centre in Glasgow on June 28th and 29th.
When we tell most people, even those who claim to be fully switched on and up to date about politics they are shocked to hear that an Arms Fair is coming to Glasgow, and sometimes even deny that it could be sponsored and supported by the Glasgow SNP-led council. This has been one of the biggest challenges for us to overcome, the fact that the council and the SNP group of councillors have done their best to hide the fact that they silently support this.
But as always, money talks. The SEC, which is 90% owned by the council, will be hosting the event. It’s important to name and shame who we are dealing with, the key people who are involved in this through the council are David McDonald the deputy leader of the council and public defender of the Arms Fair within the city chambers. He claims that it is simply a technological conference and that Trident is not involved, despite having speakers, displays and information relating to Trident at the conference, as well as a student recruitment drive led by Trident experts taking place at the event. The logo for the entire event involves trident – you would think they would do their research.
More hypocritical is Susan Aiken’s approach who claimed she only found out about the Arms Fair a few months ago despite being head of the Council and Glasgow Life. She has defended the Palestinian cause in the past but sees no issue with Israeli Defence Force technology being promoted at the conference and companies which are linked to the IDF being there. Some of the technology present at the conference will be the same tech which continues to oppress the people of Palestine but also keep them within from the land as well as the sea with underwater detection.
S.A.M (Scotland Against Militarism) and activists from CAAT Scotland (Campaign Against The Arms Trade) have been doing most of the ground work in Glasgow and beyond to try to get the event cancelled or at the very least remove council support. Recently we have held demonstrations outside the city chambers and outside Susan Aiken’s surgery where we confronted her about her support for the Arms Fair. She claims that cancelling the Arms Fair would damage the city’s reputation. The opposite is true, it will show Glasgow doesn’t deal with warmongering/human rights abusers such as Israel. Also the fact that the SNP-led council will only speak to us when we turn up at their surgery’s unannounced shows a real democratic deficit, despite David McDonald saying he would always be happy to meet with us, he also gave no reason for cancelling his surgery when Scotland Against Militarism announced our day of action.
Before that we met with Green MSP’s who gave their backing to the protest on the 26th of June at SEC.
We have a lot of actions lined up in the days and weeks ahead, we want to make it clear to the council that we won’t stop the disruption until they remove their support for this trident showcase. With the council blatantly lying about the links to trident we have no choice but to step up our campaign.
We urge everyone to get involved by contacting their elected representatives, taking part in actions and attending the protest weekend we have planned. 26th June: Mass protest 8am/10am, 27th: #ArtsNotArms a festival of music and Arts Against the Arms Fair, 28th: TBC
Scotland Against Militarism welcomed the news of the removal of the People Make Glasgow logo, but we won’t be backing down until full support is removed.
Scotland Against Militarism and the Sink UDT Campaign first pushed for them to remove the branding with our meeting with Susan Aitken, this was not a decision that the council came to themselves.
Most of all it shows that people power works and that the council realise they have got it completely wrong, but they are still refusing to remove full support. They recognise that people have claimed the brand but what they don’t realise is that people own the city too and we are not putting up with this.
We won’t be backing down until they remove their full support for the event, nothing less. Otherwise they are simply hiding their interests.