From Ovid to Dante and onwards…

Reading Time: 8 minutes

“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.

Images used with kind permission

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.

Images used with kind permission

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

By Martyn  Shrewsbury

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

Brexit is Bedroom Tax on Steroids

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…

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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.

By Sam Hamad

 

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Breakdown or break free: the climate choice we face

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

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.

 

By Maggie Chapman

 

 You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

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