I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the category “Scottish Independence And Referendum”

Judgement Day

So…… today’s vote.

Today we have the vote which was delayed by Theresa May before Christmas. The vote is to decide whether the UK accepts Mays negotiated deal with the EU. All the pointers say she’ll lose the vote but why?

Well, simplistically, the deal is hated by hard brexiteers because of the Northern ireland Backstop and because they think it makes too many concessions to the EU.

It’s hated by remain or soft Brexit supporting MPs because it will damage the economy by 6% making us worse off by taking us out of the single movement and out of the customs union.

The SNP MPs will vote against this bill because it is bad for Scotland. It will damage our economy, make Northern Ireland a much more attractive place to do business, end freedom of movement which we need for jobs to be filled and to enable Scots to have choices and fulfil their potential by living and working abroad. And most importantly – Scotland voted to remain.

The Green MP will vote against it, I would expect the Lib Dem’s to vote against it and the DUP because of the backstop. But then all bets are off.

The Labour Party can’t decide between themselves what they want to happen, some for the deal, some against the deal, some want a general election, some a people’s vote, some just want to leave, some to remain.

The Tories are also a mess on this. Vote against the deal and we might see Jeremy Corbyn take centre stage and they don’t want that. Vote for the deal and we don’t have a proper Brexit and they don’t want that.

So it’s anyone’s guess. But Scotland’s voice will be, as usual, ignored . During this whole process – 2 years – any suggestions Scotland has put forward and there have been several- have been ignored and today will be no different.
In or out of Europe Scotland is repeatedly treated like it has nothing to say of any importance.

I’m expecting May to lose the vote, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins, because above all else, those in power want to cling onto power, whatever the result is Scotland will have to do as we are told, like it or not.

That’s no way to grow a strong successful fair society.

#youyesyet?

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What can we do?

Daniel Blake

Trigger Warning – this blog post discusses suicide and references an article about the experience of people who have been asked to talk about their suicidal feelings during DWP assessments.

Today the front page story in the National deals with my MP Drew Hendry calling for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit citing the appalling delays leading to rent arrears and highlighting the hardship and poverty that Universal Credit is causing people.

It is the latest in a long line of awful stories which highlight the devastating effect of the last seven years of Tory Governments. Perhaps we should call them testimonies – rather than stories, each one a  personal, miserable story of humiliation, of poverty, of inequality brought to bear on individuals as a direct result of government policy designed to do exactly that.

The havoc that the UK Government are wreaking on the NHS is shocking. The us and them attitude of the UK Government to EU nationals living, loving, working here in the UK is awful. The callousness of the immigration system which deports a wife, mother and grandmother of British citizens who has lived here and been an integral part of her community is breathtaking, but for me, it is the Tory attitude to the poorest in our society which makes me furious. It is the policies that they have introduced which put people directly and immediately into poverty with no thought for anything other than their ideological drive to abolish the welfare state.

The last couple of weeks alone we have been faced with further announcements.  Last week the UK government announced that they are indeed abolishing the right to Housing benefit for 18 -21 year olds, a move which will see an increase in the number of homeless young people.

April sees the reduction in the Bereavement Allowance – a mean minded policy if ever there was one – which will mean that after 18 months the support for widows and widowers with children will stop. Apparently paying this £112.50 per week “stops people from adjusting to a single life” says Richard Harrington – after all, caring for bereaved children stops being challenging after 18 months don’t you know..

We will see the introduction of the two child limit for those having to claim tax credits and Universal credit having already seen the reduction in the Benefit cap to £20000. April also sees the introduction of the rule that says lone parents with a child aged three will be required to look for work in order to get any benefit. There is no value of the role of a parent in the UK’s broken system. Children are seen as barriers to work to be overcome as quickly as possible, whilst parents struggle with poor access to affordable childcare and zero hours contracts which conspire to prevent them balancing the books.

The reduction by £30 per week of the ESA of people placed in the Work related activity group is also beginning in April. These are people that Doctors have decided are not fit for work, unable to go to work because their medical practitioners and specialists have said it would be detrimental to their health. And yet, some “healthcare professional” with no knowledge of the person or their condition, has decided that they can be doing something to “get ready for work”.

We continue to see motability cars removed from people who cannot get to work or shopping without them.  People who are terminally ill cannot get access to the special rules for fast tracking benefits if they are expected to live for more than 6 months – because a diagnosis which gives you nine months to live or 18 months to live is soooo much better!

Sanctions continue to be a daily fear for anyone dealing with the DWP. A late bus, failing to get an answer despite repeated calls to an adviser you have been told to phone, a funeral, an unexpectedly sick child – all these can mean a person overwhelmed, panicking that they will and are facing a sanction. The chances of being late to an appointment increase with every Jobcentreplus office being closed and every demand made for  people to carry out 35 hours of jobsearch. People are being set up to fail by wealthy policy makers who have never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from and to be frank, don’t care about those who do.

And then there is the latest article from the Canary about the inappropriate quesioning of people struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. This article which includes discussion of suicide is confirmation of the stories I have heard directly from people who have been through a PIP assessment or a WCA. It confirms a callous approach to  people at risk of suicide.   Expecting people  to talk about their suicidal feelings with someone they have never met before, don’t trust and who’s aim is to prevent them from accessing the money they need to live is cruel and unbelievably callous. The fact that this is done without any understanding of risk assessment and no strategy for suicide prevention which includes crisis referrals screams out the lack of care and respect which is built into these assessments. These processes are designed to strip every vestige of confidence and dignity from those people undergoing the process. In a previous Blog – Patience   I wrote that the policies being enacted by the Tory Government, are designed “ to subjugate, denigrate and control the population. Does that sound like something out of a futuristic post apocalyptic movie? It does and it might make me sound like Citizen Smith, but it is happening  nevertheless.”

I was right then and I’m right now.

Yesterday I was at a screening of  Ken Loach’s BAFTA winning film,  I, Daniel Blake. It’s the fourth screening that I have been involved in and in every case the question afterwards is the same. “What can we do?” Its tempting to throw our hands up in despair and say we cant do anything but there are plenty of things we can do to make ourselves feel better. We can collect for the foodbank, we can write to MPs and MSPs and take part in the variety of consultations which are taking place inside Scotland to shape our future Social Security System and we can assuage our guilt that we are doing ok by buying DVD copies of I, Daniel Blake and sending them to people we think are ignorant of the things that are going on in today’s society (yep someone I know is really doing this 🙂 It made me smile)

Yet many  activists (myself included) have been caught up in the outrage caused by Sadiq Khan calling us racists. We are busy getting furious at Teresa May’s address to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, furious by the idea that they think they can dissolve the Scottish Parliament. We have been tied up with the rights and wrongs of a Wings over Scotland tweet about Oliver Mundell and whether racism can be applied to white people or if its racist to suggest that it does.

What we really need to do is to stop getting sidetracked by the endless roundabouts of “he said she said” stuff being thrown at us by stupid ignorant people trying to tie us up in their stupid games and suck all our energy away by throwing around  insults and inflammatory accusations whilst they laugh up their sleeves at us dancing to their tune. We need to ignore this and speak about what really matters to us. For me it will be issues around benefits or poverty, for others it will be immigration or health or the economy. For me it’s the SNP but for others it might be Greens or Labour policies they want want to shout about. It’s not important, what is important is that we shout – loudly and cheerfully.  I’m giving up being offended by people who call me names. I don’t care one iota if someone calls me a traitor or anti English for standing up for an Independent Scotland. I will remind them what we are trying to do with disability benefits, how we are spending £58 million making sure that poor people don’t become even poorer by mitigating the effects of some of the welfare reforms, how we are demanding that EU citizens have their rights protected, how we are continuing to fund the NHS and resist privatisation even in the face of Westminster cuts to our budgets.  I will point them in the direction of the statement Jeane Freeman gave in the Scottish Parliament on the determination of the Scottish Government to set the foundations of the new Scottish System as a fundamental  human right.

We need to stop dancing to the tune of the naysayers, the trolls and the permanently outraged of little Britain – who cares if they accuse us of treachery, racism or worse. There is no need for us to waste our time contradicting the insults. Whilst it is good to shout our support for each other from the sidelines, the people facing the neoliberal cosh that is the Tory Party’s welfare or immigration policies need our voices much more. We need to shout out our determination that our Scottish Social Security policy will offer dignity and fairness, shout out our welcome of every person moving from NO to YES,  our commitment to refugees, our commitment for and support of those from other countries living here as new Scots.. Let’s not get sidetracked –  let’s get out there and speak up for those who’s voices are being silenced by the threat of poverty starvation, homelessness, deportation for whom an Independent Scotland is their only real hope of lasting change. All the other stuff is just noise.

Footnote – if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are in despair or distress,  then here are a couple of numbers you can call for help – please call.
Samaritans  – Telephone 116 123 email jo@samaritans.org .
24 hours a day, 365 days a year for those in despair or distress. You do not have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/
Breathing Space –  0800 83 85 87
Opening hours
Weekdays: Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am
Weekend: Friday 6pm-Monday 6am
A confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed.
http://breathingspace.scot/

The Power of Good People

Waking up is daunting just now. I planned to stop taking my phone to bed with me at night this year. I even bought a cheap radio alarm clock – remember those? And yet my phone is the first thing I reach for – not to see what my friends are up to, not to see who’s in a relationship, out of a relationship or who has liked my recent pictures on Facebook but to check what the hell Trump and May are up to now.

I haven’t blogged for a wee while, I went to see Paul Kavanagh – Wee Ginger Dug  speak in Inverness before Christmas. He was great –  witty, funny and insightful.  He said that there is no such thing as writers block – just “Can’t be arsed”. I went home and managed to write something. I am finding just now that it isn’t so much “writers block” as that I am overwhelmed by the tidal wave of appalling, depressing, disappointing, head shaking things that are happening. It’s not so much that I can’t be arsed, as I have no idea where to start because there is so much awful stuff happening that I am a bit overwhelmed. In addition, if I start writing I’m not sure that I will be able to stop and I have a life, a job, a family, hobbies, studies, obligations to meet. I feel like I would need to be writing full time to even stand a chance of covering all the things that I feel anger, sadness, horror, indignation or incredulity at – the list goes on and on. Dragging me down so that I find myself shouting at the television once again. I am finding it harder and harder not to say “I told you so” when I hear people who voted No to Independence and who voted to leave Europe speak about how they didn’t think that meant Scotland would be side-lined so much; they didn’t think that the UK would leave the single market; they thought there would be more money for the NHS. I have never been one to cast blame around but even I have been struggling with this. And I turn to my laptop to write and I don’t even know where to start.

My daughter is seven. She is a darling – a sweet child who loves her cuddlies, having her straight hair curly and wearing her favourite party dress and her sparkly shoes but she is also developing a no nonsense personality with a rod of steel running through her. She is beginning to find the wittiest comebacks and the sharpest putdowns to the teasing that her big brothers (27, 26 and 21) subject her to as their only sister and the youngest child. Trying to get the ball off her big brother who at 6’2 was holding it high up out of her reach, she realised that a punch to the belly would be effective in retrieving it for her and she was right. Off she went with her prize to play with the dog. I look at her sometimes, especially when I see things like the video of Tasmina Ahmed Sheik reading out the insulting and offensive responses to her appearance on Question Time, and I wonder what my girl will have to deal with growing up today. It makes me worried and fearful and bloody disappointed.

Last week – in the midst of the seemingly endless stories about Trump and his executive orders she brought home some work from school, which she completed last term. Amongst the maths work and the pictures, was a sentence she had drawn in bubbly coloured in writing and cut out of paper in a wavy sort of way. It read

“Bad things can happen but good people can help”

Looking at this, I asked her, “Where did you get this from?” and she said “Out of my head” shrugged and went off to play.

I looked at it for a long time. I put it up behind the sofa – propped up where I can see it and I kept looking at it. I put it in my handbag and I took it out and looked at it for a wee while.  I think I had forgotten. Then over the weekend, several things happened.

Firstly, it was our annual Burns Party. We do this every year in our house. It’s a great night, usually with around the 70 people mark; there is music and speeches and toasts and singing and haggis, neeps and tatties. There are burns songs – all the ones you would imagine, there are Scottish songs, there is ALWAYS Zombie, and an a capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody that is legendary, a Lancashire dialect poem in my sadly disappearing accent, and a Rattling Bog. It goes on until the not so wee small hours and then breakfast is offered to all those that stay around or return to tidy up. We have been doing it for 11 years. The people who come to our party are from all walks of life.  They come from all backgrounds and are all ages from children to grandparents. We have friends from Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, from Spain, Poland and over the years from many other places. They share our food, our haggis, neeps and tatties and they sing their own favourite songs or play their own instruments or even play our old piano.

It’s always good craic, but this year I was struck by how much love I felt in the house. People who meet up once every 12 months and have been doing so for five, ten years greeting each other with a hug, chatting like they saw them last week and new friends being scooped up and encouraged to join in. My burly husband introducing everyone to a Lyons Hug – sometimes to their slight surprise – the warmth, the smiles and the good humour of everyone. Not a cross word, in fact we have never had a cross word in all the years we have been doing this. I thought about my daughter’s picture and I smiled. I think I had forgotten how much people love and care for each other, I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Secondly, Trump carried out his #MuslimBan. I woke on Sunday Morning – without a hangover – to find that during the night a Glasgow Vet who had been a victim of this appalling policy had her costs met by a crowd funder set up by my wonderful sisters at Women for Independence. I have been involved with Women for Indy from the very start and was a member of their executive until last November. I think I had forgotten how much positivity and good we do. I think I had forgotten that we actually make a difference to individuals like Hamaseh Tayari; to policies like those on women’s justice; to the established media like the BBC by challenging the male dominated political commentary. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Yesterday I met with a group of women with lived experience of mental illness that I have been supporting over the last year or so. Several of the members are experiencing difficulties, emotional trauma, ill health, practical barriers to do with benefits and services and yet there they were, supporting each other even through their own pain. I think I had forgotten how strong and supportive these women are – how much of a difference their support makes to all of them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Finally, last night all over Scotland, all over the UK, all over the world people put on their coats, wrote slogans on placards and stepped outside to protest at Trumps ban and our government’s reaction (or lack of) to it. The protest in Inverness started to ping onto my Facebook page about 4pm and I couldn’t go along because I run a Rainbows group on Mondays at 6, but there in the pictures from Inverness, from Glasgow and Edinburgh, from elsewhere were faces I know, faces I care about – people I am proud to call friends. I think I had forgotten that people are willing to take action when something angers and horrifies them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

And that’s a lesson for me. In amongst all this shit, in amongst the head shaking that I do, the voices of hate that we see everywhere, the ridiculous behaviour of our elected and unelected politicians, the breath holding that many of us are doing over Brexit and a possibly second indy ref, there are people who are prepared to stand up and say this is not on. People who are saying “you are wrong” and who are standing up for others and for what is right.

It is what we all need to do. Many of you may be feeling as overwhelmed as I do. We need to stand up and be counted. We need to remember that we are not alone in this – that, together with others, our voice is loud enough to drown out the voices of hate and division. We need to remember that across political parties, across the Indy debate – yessers, no’s or don’t knows, those for in, or even out of Europe, there ARE people  who are standing up and saying that this is not how we do things in Scotland. They are saying that this is not how we think about people in Scotland and that this is not what we want here in Scotland. That is how we will win a stronger, better future and it is how we will take people with us. It is how we will change people’s minds. This is how we will be those good people my wee girl wrote about.

I say in my blog introduction that I want to change the world – I think I had forgotten that. My wee girl, the people at my party, my Women for Indy Sisters, the women at the support group, the protesters have reminded me that “Bad things can happen but good people can help”. I’m going to make damn sure that I keep that at the front of my mind and speak up, speak out and speak loudly to ensure that my voice is added to all the other good people who are helping. I may not change things by myself but I don’t have to because together, we surely will.

Identity

 

image

I’m writing this sitting in the living room of the French Farmhouse where my sister, her husband and daughters live. It’s raining but warm and the doors and windows are open. The kids are through the house playing, we have all eaten bacon butties and my brother-in-law is cooking up lasagne – he makes wonderful lasagne. He has been playing a cheesy playlist all morning, ABBA, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Barry Manilow – my sister and I and her girls joining in to sing all the words to the pop music that leaves my husband with his Megadeth and Foo Fighters preferences rolling his eyes at us and my much younger children somewhat bemused.

It’s a lazy Sunday Morning, probably being replicated all over the place, well …. maybe without the Barry Manilow. I feel at home here. I feel at peace which is a valuable thing after the turmoil of the last week and a half. And yet there is something just a little fragile about it all. There is uncertainty when certainty once reigned. There is just a hint of fragility about all our lives and there is fury too.

My sister, my parents, many of those living here have a slightly shaky feeling about the future, what about pensions, what about driving licences, what about health care? Many live here and work in the UK paying UK taxes what about them? The bafflement over the attitude to immigrants in the UK is clear amongst those ex-pats who recognise themselves as immigrants. They ask us “What on earth were people thinking?” and we, we shrug our shoulders and have no answers

I’m English. Despite living in Scotland for almost 20 years I have remained English. Despite campaigning for Scottish Independence, being an Executive Member of Women for Independence and standing for selection as a potential SNP candidate for last year’s Holyrood Elections, I remained resolutely English. I was pleased that when campaigning and speaking publicly, people were surprised at the flat vowels and shortened words of my, now fading, Lancashire accent. I enjoyed countering the allegations that a YES vote for an Independent Scotland was somehow anti-English, somehow a hate filled, historical grudge fest based on Bannockburn and the clearances. How could I, a modern English woman, possibly hate England or the English. I love England and love the place I grew up, love the people who have so much in common with the Highlanders I know and love. My eldest sons are English, I am English – there is no hate here. The Independence Referendum didn’t change that fact, it didn’t change my relationship with the place of my birth. And yet somehow the EU referendum has done just that.

It seems overly dramatic to suggest that somehow I don’t feel quite as “English” as I did but it’s true. Driving the length of England is something that I have done many times but this year it felt like driving through a foreign country. I felt a sense of unease as I was setting off, like I don’t really know this place any more. It seems to have become a place where it’s not okay to be foreign, not okay to be an immigrant, where the rise in racial abuse since the referendum has been visible and terrifying. I warned about a leave vote helping to “make the worst voices in society speak louder” and I’m miserable and disappointed that I might end up being right. The video of some young people on an Oldham Tram, shouting racial abuse and threats at other passengers made me feel sick. I traveled that same journey many times and never heard anything like it. The last time, a year or so ago I found it was busy but easy, with all sorts of people chatting in different languages, the different skin tones not really noticed by anyone except the middle aged teuchter wifey fae Inverness who was simply observing how diverse people were and smiling inwardly at the sounds of her own accent reflected back at her.

I don’t believe that whole swathes of England are fundamentally racist. I know many people who voted leave for reasons that did not include immigration or closing the borders.  For many however, immigration was top of the list and intelligent people, smart, clued up people allowed themselves to be taken in by lies and deceit. Add to that the many people, ignored, struggling to live a decent life, dealing with poverty, poor health, poor housing who were left behind as The Labour Party moved to the right. This left a void which in “little England” has been filled by the beer drinking, fake, back slapping, bonhomie of Nigel Farage and his ilk. Lies and half truths, sleekit voices with sinister suggestions whispered in their ears, words of division and hate spread across their tea room tables, wrapped around their fish and chips by the press, spilling their bile across front page after front page after front page.

People were lied to. They were told repeatedly that the reason they can’t get house/job/pay rise/quicker health care was because of the EU. They were told that immigrants who commit crimes, can’t be deported because of the EU whilst the government was systematically reducing the budget of the Borders Agency so they don’t have enough staff to do their job;  they were told that EU immigration was putting a strain on the NHS whilst the government was privatising and squeezing the NHS to within an inch of its life; they were told that social housing is so scarce because the EU allows immigrants and asylum seekers to come here and take our housing whilst the Government brought in policies which made it easier to sell off and harder to build social housing; they were told immigrants push wages down, are responsible for job losses whilst the government encouraged zero hours contracts and told people that £7.20 was a “living wage”; they have been persuaded that immigrants make our country poorer whilst the government happily spends millions on tax cuts to the wealthiest and increases the number of unelected peers and the money given to the royal family. Poor people are sent off to food banks believing that other poor people are to blame for the fact they can’t live on fresh air after sanctions or benefit disallowances.

These people were pieces on a draught board, jumped over by the rich and the wealthy in a game that many of them were not aware was even being played. The articulate, privileged voices of old Etonians and Oxbridge graduates talked about “taking back control” to people who felt they had no control and who wanted change. Add to that a lack of understanding and familiarity with the EU and its processes and systems and you had a bunch of people voting to free themselves from unelected law makers whilst their Government increases the number of unelected law makers in the House of Lords.

And yet, although I recognise the way the people were manipulated and am angry on their behalf, I find that I feel I don’t belong there, to an England that voted to make itself smaller, closed off, narrow minded, tight lipped, isolated in its imagined superiority. The differences between Scotland and England have never been so stark. The Independence referendum was about becoming a larger voice in the world, an outward facing, modern democracy contributing in its own distinct way to the EU and wider conversations. The franchise for the vote in the Independence referendum was based on residency not on nationality like the EU referendum. The contrast is clear. I have watched the Scottish Government repeat again and again that EU nationals are welcome in Scotland with a pride that I am part of that, that I campaigned for that, voted for that. I am proud that the leaders of all Scottish Parties came together with one voice to counter the lies and insinuations from the Leave campaign. I have heard it said time and again that  “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns”. I have reassured friends from other countries that Scotland will be a place that fights for them and their rights. I have teased my friends here in France that they can come live with us if Scotland becomes Independent because they will be welcomed.

Jackie Kay’s poem “Threshold” from yesterday’s opening of The Scottish Parliament included the words “And this is my country…” She might have followed that up with “says the English wifie sitting in the French farmhouse pondering where she belongs now”. Because, despite the the sound  of  my own accent bringing a smile to my lips, despite the familiarity of Lancashire’s steep sided narrow valleys, something in me has shifted. Perhaps, for the first time, my Scottish identity, the one that has grown over 20 years, the one that is made up of my politics, my work, my children’s school, my community, my husband, my friends, is greater, stronger, more clear and focused than the Englishness that I never expected to lose, that I held onto proudly and that seems now on the verge of slipping into my own history. And so, I have been practicing “Je suis Ecossaise; Je suis Européenne” and you know what? It’s true.

Women For Independence Perth. 4th October 2014

The meeting at Perth on 4th October was exactly the meeting that Women for Independence wanted it to be. A place where women from all backgrounds and political party affiliations and none, could get together in a safe space and reflect on their own journeys and the journey of WFI and look ahead to what they, as women with a political voice, wanted from Women For Independence.

I have been a member of WFI since June 2012 and I am on the executive such as it is – perhaps I am perfect evidence of the organic nature of WFI. I fell into the executive as a result of stumbling onto the original Facebook page when there were about 27 members and being intrigued by the discussions and posts, I joined in. Never having been politically active and holding no “position” other than wife, mum and part time worker I have nevertheless been actively involved in the WFI discussions since then and when an executive was pulled together to give some decision making ability to the group, I too was gathered up alongside Carole Fox, Carolyn Leckie, Jeane Freeman, Kate Higgins and   other equally impressive women.

There are no WFI committees, no “office” other than our kitchen tables, no expense accounts, no donor funding stream, no hierarchy or strategic planning group. Some of these things will have to come but just now they don’t exist. We have strong, impressive and articulate women with a huge amount of political experience on the executive and we have some strong, impressive and articulate women who, like me, have utterly no experience of political activism.

In the run up to the referendum WFI has largely left me and many others to our own devices. I mooched about the Highlands holding meetings which enabled women to talk to other women about what was important to them. I didn’t “SPEAK” at many of the meetings although I did at some – particularly later in the campaign, but for me and for many women, the opportunity to encourage other women to ask questions, discuss what was important to us as women, as voters, was the strength of the local meetings. I remember one of the first meetings I held in Inverness, where one woman looked at the 30 odd women gathered there on a wet Tuesday night and said “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one” and promptly went off and set up a local group and organised her own meetings. The local meetings I organised and attended were not MY meetings, they belonged to the women who attended them and that is how it should be. And so the meeting in Perth did not belong to WFI executive members, it belonged to the women who came along for the day. We were not there to tell them anything but to listen. And that’s what we did.

There was no media there because we offered a safe space where women could put their hands up and be free and feel safe to say what they wanted to say. Where they could chat with other women – next to them or by taking the mike and speaking, or by coming to the front to have their say. Where we, as an executive, would be able to hear from the women who had been doing their stuff locally like I was doing, under their own steam, about what they wanted from Women for Independence in the future, as we consider a response to the Smith Commission, approach a General Election, and try to work within the political system as it changes almost before our eyes. Several women had held local meetings already – I had three in the run up to the Perth meeting – and we wanted to share the views of our local groups.

There is much already said about how wonderful the day was and how fabulous the speakers were, Carolyn, Elaine and Jeane – three women we had all got to know well from their television performances. Carolyn Leckie helped us celebrate our successes, Elaine C Smith roused us all after lunch and Jeane Freeman sent us all off with hope and aspirations for the future. Wonderful, rich, affirming, powerful speakers all three.

Our speakers were feminists, as Elaine C Smith reminded us loudly to joyous cheers,  but was it a feminist’s meeting? Well, there were women there who would identify themselves as such and women who would not. Women for whom feminism is fundamental to who they are and some for whom the word Feminism is one they are uncomfortable with. It is worth remembering that the full name is Women for Independence|Independence for Women. This is a women’s group, a women’s movement, whether each of us wanted to use the label of “Feminist” was immaterial we were all sisters in that room, all women looking forward to the future and working out how we use our power to make change in our society as we remain in the UK. That we may disagree how we do things and that we may do things differently across local groups isn’t a weakness – it is a strength. Individuals and groups working locally and nationally in a variety of ways to ensure the political voices of women are heard is important in today’s society where women are still often judged on how they look rather than what they say.

Women for Independence will not be the home for everyone. People will find us and find we don’t suit their political, personal, social or feminist perspective. But that is ok. We don’t need to have every single woman singing from the same hymn sheet. We want people to find their voices and a place where they feel their skills and talents are able to be used. That might be WFI for ever, for a wee while until they move on to somewhere else or not us at all and that is fine and exactly what we want to see happen. Because after all,  it is about ensuring women’s voices are heard, not just within WFI, but within Scotland. What WFI becomes, how it grows and changes over the next however long, will be influenced by what the women involved in it want. This group is not about Jeane Freeman, Carolyn Leckie, Elaine C Smith, Kate Higgins; it isn’t about those of us on the executive, it is about those women who attended the meeting on Saturday, it is about local women turning out on a wet Tuesday night in Invergordon or Inverclyde. It will reflect their views and their priorities and their hopes and aspirations for women and for our communities and our society in 21st Century Scotland whatever its constitutional status and regardless of whether they identify themselves as feminists or not.

At the end of the day on Saturday I sat there looking out over the church and watched the women leaving. I felt completely overwhelmed. WFI has given me a place where I can give voice to the political and feminist part of me which was always there, but which had no real place outside my own consciousness and its not exaggerating to say my life has changed as a result. I know from talking to women during the day that many of them felt the same way. Many of them were speaking publicly for the first time because of WFI; many of them were politically active for the first time because of WFI; many were seeing feminism at work for the first time because of WFI. Women For Independence was not holding the meeting at Perth to TELL these women how WFI will work for them, it was about asking them how THEY wanted us to work for them and actually listening to them. That’s a bit of a novel idea in politics I know but that’s the way we do things – get used to it.

Politics, politics, its not all party politics….

It seems that the Independence Campaign might be catching up with the people in the street. Last week the YES campaign announced its board members and there were people from all walks of life.  A new site Voters Alliance for Scottish Independence and its associated Facebook page have appeared along with “Labour Voters for Scottish Independence” quickly followed by a page for the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems. Not much action on the latter two but the Labour page is already starting to buzz. I’m not sure whether these pages will attract actual Lib-Dem and Tory voters and, whether there will be any sensible debate, is also still to be discovered over the next wee while, but these pages are there and I hope it is an indication that the debate over Independence is starting to cross party boundaries.

The online debate is already wide and varied – from Facebook pages with thousands of members to those with but a few. There is this site – National Collective –  NewsnetScotland , Labour Hame, Tory Hoose, a variety of bloggers and some “official pages” to highlight a few. Twitter baffles me a bit – I have no idea how to increase my followers and it took me ages to figure out what a “hash tag” was and what “#FF” means (Follow Friday apparently). I’ll keep at it but I’m not completely engaged.    My addiction is Facebook. I am a connoisseur. I feel like I should add “LOL” after that sentence LOL. (There I did it – I can stop twitching now). I follow the trail of both YES and NO supporters around Facebook – sometimes posting sometimes not.  I guess I’m a bit of a political page slapper. No real allegiance just picking up whatever I fancy at the time. There are others just like me (Although they might not like my describing them as slappers – my apologies).  I have learned much but also found some things that disturb and horrify me – a dance into the pages of the Scottish Defence League and links from their pages left me running for the hills and hiding behind my monitor for a few days feeling rather sick.

I have only ever actively left a page I had joined once. I  threw my toys out of the pram and said I wasn’t coming back.  It was a “NO” page for those of you who like to know those things, and when the threads descended into a pissing contest between the boys it was really not for me.  I retired to the relative calmness and solidarity of “Women for Scots Independence” to regroup.  I do still lurk on that “NO” page a bit and it is really irritating when I want to post but can’t because I made a big fuss out of walking away. I won’t do that again. Mostly I’m tolerant and interested by the views people express and the immediacy of Facebook. That’s the addictive thing you see – the immediacy. Post a comment and on the busier pages there is often someone who replies within a few minutes. I can while away the rainy afternoons with a film on the telly for the children whilst I, meandering around the internet, can find myself arguing about welfare with a baker in Nottingham, social policy with a lawyer in Glasgow and democracy with an anarchist in Ayr.

It’s tempting to suggest that the quality of the debate is better on the Pro-Independence pages but it does depend on the page.  And of course, we always prefer places where our opinions match other peoples so it’s not really a valid comment to say that the YES pages are better. Some are good and some are dire on both sides.  There is also a sense of optimism about many of the YES pages and a sort of negativity about the NO pages which is mirrored within the argument itself.  YES supporters tend to say “We could do this or this or this” and NO supporters tend to say “We wouldn’t be able to do this or have that”.  I’d like to see NO pages where they say “If we stay with the Union we could achieve this and this and this”. That doesn’t seem to be the case and I find that disappointing.

The area where the Internet is failing to provide any concrete answers is however clear. It’s the Economy – Ya bam! You can drive yourself mad, and quickly too, trying to get to the bottom of the economic argument for and against Independence.  Claim and counter claim, evidence and conflicting evidence, prosperity and austerity… once you enter the world of online debate on Scotland’s economic future you could be lost forever. I worry that one day they might find me slumped over my keyboard, having not eaten for days, smelly and unwashed muttering about McCrone and block grants and the amount of time before the oil will run out. Fortunately I have little ones and when my two year old comes to stand next to me saying “Hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry” I am forced to put my laptop away and turn back into their loving mum – at least until bedtime.  I’m waiting to see if l either get smarter over the next two years, or the arguments  become clearer. I’m not hopeful though.

And so I am pleased to see that the campaign, both officially and online is trying to move on to mirror the debates that are taking place in houses, round dinner tables, over pints at the pub, over coffee at Starbucks and in workplaces. I have been worried that the YES Campaign will fail to engage with ordinary people – People who don’t belong to any political party, people who run small businesses, voluntary organisations or who just, simply, live their lives apart from the cut and thrust of political shenanigans. People ARE talking about Independence more, regardless of what political party they support, they are meandering around Facebook, and they are talking, face to face even, about how it affects them and their families – their lives. They agree or disagree with each other and then continue to drink their pint or talk about their children or their jobs, relationships and holidays. That’s a good thing.  Their conversations don’t start or end with a question about the political party you support and the Independence Campaign shouldn’t either.  We need to reinforce the message that this campaign is about more than party politics over and over again and it looks like we are, at least, starting to do that.

Lies, Damned lies and WelfareReform

The NO campaign launched last week and we listened to Alistair Darling talk of the things that we have shared as the United Kingdom.   We heard him talk proudly of the NHS and the Welfare State. At the same time David Cameron was  spelling out future welfare reforms  for a system which will exclude  the under 25s from housing benefit and which, he initially suggested, may lead to people on benefits in the South East receiving more money than those in the less affluent areas of Britain. Once again, David Cameron is targeting the poor and the most vulnerable in society in an effort to fix the mess that the rich and the greedy actually caused.

Also last week, I was deeply affected by some comments on the Highland News website. I don’t usually read the Highland News, but I followed an online link to an article about a man who had been up in court in Inverness.  The story was a depressing one – an alcoholic before he was a teenager, it detailed violent acts and anti-social behaviour.  However, it wasn’t the story that affected me, as much as the comments on the webpage, now removed – and rightly so – by the Highland News. These comments initially focused on the man named in the article – a troubled and difficult individual -­ but soon became more wide ranging. They moved on from the article in particular and began referring to the “feral underclass”.  It was clear that the comments were about those out of work, sick and in receipt of benefits.  The people posting talked about putting “wasters” on the “Auschwitz Express” and gassing them; they discussed how to remove the “scroungers” and suggested they fight each other to the death. One post suggested that the whole of “the Ferry” –   South Kessock – a deprived area in Inverness – should be bombed. Some of the posters named families who were nothing to do with the article, highlighted their dependence on benefits and discussed ways of getting rid of them and stopping these families being a drain on the taxpayer. There were gleeful suggestions that these “scrounging scum” should be euthanised or otherwise “got rid of”.  There was no hint of compassion for those people who were less fortunate or struggling to make ends meet on breadline benefits. The few voices that were raised to challenge those posting this list of insults and shocking language (It ran to six pages I think) were derided as “liberal apologists” who clearly knew nothing about anything.  Those posting spewed their vile, hate filled nonsense from behind pseudonyms, smug in their own living rooms and no doubt with self-satisfied smirks on their faces. It was frankly nauseating and it has upset me all week.

These two events are inextricably linked in my mind. The UK government has been persistently targeting the poor by trying to remove those claimants who they believe do not deserve benefits – the well-publicised “scroungers”.  They have very successfully persuaded the general public that, somehow the responsibility for the state of the economy lies with people who are on welfare benefits and the media perpetuates that myth. Headlines scream outrage about families with lots of children getting massive amounts of benefits; programmes like the BBC’s “Saints and Sinners” encourage people to see dishonesty and trickery going hand in hand with benefit recipients and so believe that this is the norm. The endless attacks on benefits are designed to encourage us to think that only by reducing the cost of welfare, only by kicking these “wasters” off benefits, can we regain control of the economy. People buy into the idea that draconian measures to reduce the costs of welfare are the only way to reduce the deficit. Yes, removing under 25s from Housing Benefit entitlement may save £1.8bn but Vodafone allegedly avoided paying £4.8bn in tax when HMRC settled a dispute and the cost of bailing out the banks is said to run into the hundreds of billions of pounds.   A survey by Prospect magazine recently suggested that people think that 40% of those claiming benefits are committing fraud. The truth is somewhat different – only around 3% of benefit recipients are getting more than they are entitled to through fraud or error – 3% that’s all.  What a mismatch between opinion and fact – a mismatch encouraged by the Tories and the mainstream media.

By encouraging this popular opinion the UK government has chosen to ignore the one thing that will in reality  tackle welfare dependency and make welfare affordable. The only way to successfully reduce dependence and spending on welfare is to create jobs.  Did you hear that?  I will say it again.  The only way to successfully reduce dependence and spending on welfare is to create jobs; Jobs for unemployed workers, jobs that are flexible enough for single parents and jobs with employers who can support workers with disabilities. The coalition government has shown no real commitment to economic growth and no real commitment to creating sustainable jobs. Instead, they persuade us that, to cut the deficit, we need deep and damaging cuts to benefits.  It is a big smoke screen that allows them to look like they are doing the best – that we are “in this together”- when they are actually just furthering the ideological agenda of the Conservatives whilst the Liberal Democrats  let them get on with it.

People on benefits are not to blame for the economic mess we are in – politicians and  bankers are to blame. These are people like the Barclays chairman – Bob Diamond, who earned 1.3 million before bonuses – not the man who receives £67.50 per week unemployment benefit.  People like  Bob Diamond, whose bonuses were set to exceed £1 million before he gave them up after Barclays Bank were caught rigging the interest rates – not the man who gets £50 a week in housing benefit  to live in a damp dull little flat in Govan;  People like  Bob Diamond, who thought that the best response to criminal activity within the organisation HE was in charge of,  was simply  to say it was “wholly inappropriate” – not the man who may be denied his mobility allowance because, despite being  blind he has no other health problems, so won’t get enough points. Incidentally no UK political leaders have condemned Bob Diamond but they have been queuing up to condemn benefit recipients. At least he had the good sense to resign, although the reports of this suggest that there is more chicanery to be revealed as he appears before the Treasury Select Committee and the newly announced enquiry.

Here in Scotland the Scottish Government already knows that the way benefits are being cut is not the way to move forward. The Scottish Parliament has passed the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland) Bill which is designed to reduce the effect of the UK government’s actions on welfare recipients.  The SNP has also given an indication of its desire “for a progressive welfare system that reflects our nation’s values and ensures fair and decent support for all our people” (Nicola Sturgeon 28/06/2012). To do that they will need to work very hard to undo the mean myth making by the coalition UK government

I know that there are people who do not want to work. I worked in Benefits through the 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century. I remember people who were lazy, feckless and not interested in getting a job.  I can remember the man who was signing on as unemployed, who was found to have a part time job as well as a full time job and who had just had a fortnight holiday in Florida.  I couldn’t even afford a weekend in a caravan in Tenby. I can remember the man who had secured a mortgage using the  income from his benefits  and was then claiming more benefit to help pay the interest on his endowment mortgage.*  I couldn’t even afford to stay at home looking after my wee ones, because I HAD to work to pay our mortgage. I can remember being satisfied when their benefits were stopped because, despite being given every chance, they were either committing Fraud or were not interested in working or helping themselves and it was the right thing to do.  I can remember them and others like them – even their faces, many of their names  and, the reason I can do this, is because they are actually few and far between.

I think I can count on both hands the people I met who were real “scroungers”. The people that the government would have us think are everywhere.  The truth is that the vast majority of people, when given the right kind of help, CAN work and are pleased to do so. The problem with giving people the right kind of help is that it costs money. This money is in fact small bier compared to what a life on benefits costs in both money and in wasted opportunities.  For the hardest to help, it means taking a tailored approach.  It is difficult, complicated and expensive to resolve these problems so to make any targeted measures REALLY work we absolutely have to have jobs.   Growth and the creation of sustainable jobs are not part of the script for Westminster because the Conservatives are using the economic crisis to justify their pursuit of privatisation, a smaller public sector and less welfare. Rather than trying to fix things, it is easier for the UK government to persuade people that benefit recipients are useless, criminal and lazy, and to blame them for the fact that the rest of us are struggling in this time of austerity.

An Independent Scotland must put eradicating poverty and creating a better welfare system at the heart of its policies. To do that we must, must, must have jobs. We can’t win people over with the economic argument – one side says black the other white and it is just too complicated to get to the bottom of the figures. I believe we can win people over by planning for better lives and that means jobs.   By securing jobs, an Independent Scotland will make welfare affordable.  We must develop a welfare system which offers hope and support and doesn’t demonise those who are struggling and need help.  We must strive to have a fair welfare system which supports those who are sick and ill, and which assesses their entitlement by applying medical evidence and clinical judgement to each case. We need a system which doesn’t use private companies to carry out interviews that take little or no account of the medical history and prognosis for the patient, and which leads to people being found fit for work when they are terminally ill or to people taking their own life as a result of draconian nonsensical and cruel decisions to cut benefits.

In an Independent Scotland, measures to help people back into work need to be given back to the public servants who can do it the best of all.  Private companies operating training or job support programmes for the unemployed do so to make money. Some of them have shown they do not have the best intentions for their clients at heart – they are simply interested in the balance sheet.  An Independent Scotland should not – indeed MUST not – allow multi-national rich companies to make money out of the misery of others – to use the unemployed for cheap unpaid labour and dash hopes when real jobs don’t materialise. This is immoral and deceitful.

Of course there  must also be a plan for people who cheat the system and who try to duck their responsibilities – there have to be penalties for those who refuse to engage with the world of work and will not take the help that is offered. Fraud detection must be robust and we should remove the incentives to commit fraud that are endemic in the Welfare system just now – why do two single people get less benefit than a couple?  It simply encourages people to lie about living together. We need, however, to recognise that these people are a small minority and not label all those claiming in the same way. Most of all we must push the message that people are valued. Most of us are just trying to live a good and settled life whether we are on benefits or not.

Unemployment, poverty, disaffection and isolation prevent people from contributing positively to society. Changing our attitudes to welfare will help to change that and will help to start building a Scotland where achievement is more prevalent than failure; where aspiration is greater than despair and where policies are designed to increase the chance of people living a fulfilled life, contributing positively to the society they live in, rather than being vilified and hated for their “scrounging”.

 

* This doesn’t happen in the same way today.

References

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/a-quiet-revolution-britain-turns-against-welfare/

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/tackling-fraud-and-error.pdf

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2012/06/benefitsconsultation280612

 

 

 

 

 

IndependenCE?

And so it rumbles on and it gathers pace.  We have the “NO” campaign launch on Friday – or whatever it decides to refer to itself as – and we hear today that the SNP are discussing the merits of the words “independenT” or “independenCE”. One of them is ok the other is apparently not.  http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/exclusive-snp-msps-told-to-stop-using-term-independence.2012062625 “Freedom” is also decidedly dodgy!  Despite this focus on words we have IndependenCE groups galore appearing on Facebook;  we have Cybernats and Britnats; we have republicans and monarchists and into the melting pot we have had Leveson and First Minister’s questions.

And in the meantime, I still have the bills to pay, the washing to dry in the incessant rain we seem to be having, the endless monotony of the “what’s for dinner” conversations. Today a friend’s daughter is having a baby, another lady I know has lost her best friend; Joy and tears, grief and laughter. The politicians would do well to stop and think about this; that ordinary people are living ordinary lives and when we lift our noses from the grindstone we might appreciate a little passion from our politicians, a little honesty, better research and an end to the sniping and spin that threatens to take over the Independence debate just now.

Discussions over whether IndependenCE is a dirty word and should be substituted with “an Independent Scotland”, “transformational” and other “upbeat” words just plays with the wrapping paper. This sort of marketing speak is ok to listen to in a seminar on a rainy afternoon and then, well, lets be honest –  forget. It’s not going to capture the imagination of ordinary people. We need people on the streets, we need IndependenCE debates in all Scottish towns, and we need fetes, galas, stalls at county shows. We need REAL people!  Not marketing gurus – whatever THEY might be. We need real passion not “brand advocates”; We need supporters of IndependenCE to hold Barbecues and chat about it over a few pints, or a dinner party, coffee morning or a discussion with their mates down the pub; we need secondary schools to be encouraging activists to debate with their 5th and 6th year students – these young people will be voting in 2014 – they need to hear the arguments starting now.  We need to stop being afraid we will lose and start being excited about winning. Faint heart never won fair maiden and if this beautiful country is to be Independent then we need to woo the people with an honest, open and passionate campaign and not fancy words and frippery. This marketing speak is like the cheese soufflé my mum used to make for dinner whenever she thought we weren’t looking – initially tasty but when you shut your mouth there is nothing of any substance to satisfy you.

And this advice goes for the Unionists too.  The Unionists need to step up to the mark. The paucity of their arguments, the comments that continue to suggest that Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid is getting a bit tiresome.  They have an opportunity to reach people and offer hope for the future of Scotland within a United Kingdom. If they fail to do that, they will be failing thousands of ordinary people.  People who truly believe in a United Kingdom and who desperately want to see a coherent, well researched opposition to the Independence debate to sway the undecided. The Unionists haven’t offered that yet, although we may see it being shouted from the rooftops on Friday.

In Holyrood, last week,both the Conservative and the Labour parties had their erses kicked at FMQs. This was actually a reflection on their own poor performance rather than on Alex Salmond’s magnificent oratory. There is absolutely no excuse for poor research – the modern apprenticeship and the FSA questions were easily dismissed due to  the poor research and preparation of the questioner. The unionist parties must start to enter into a proper debate. They must challenge and be positive rather than indulge in the ill-tempered sniping we have seen of late. How much more credible would they have sounded if there been a statement from Johan Lamont or Ruth Davidson accepting the evidence the First Minister gave at Leveson and drawing a line under the Murdoch issue and then asking Alex Salmond if he could give us some indication of his defence, welfare or economic policy for an independent Scotland.  Much more difficult for the First Minister to avoid those questions when he isn’t handed a get out of jail free card by way of shoddy research and an assumption that he doesn’t read the Daily Telegraph.

Ordinary people want to see the real issues of the day debated across the land. We want to be offered options – an insight into what might be on the table as far as key policies are concerned. We are well able to understand there are not any answers just yet. That we will have to vote for the government we want to take us forward to Independence after we have voted in the referendum. The political parties are not likely to finalise their policies for the first government of an Independent Scotland until campaigning begins, but there ARE ideas and options that can be discussed by all parties committed to the YES campaign. Discussing these options will help people to understand that things can be different and that we have a choice.  That this is the time to make that choice and take our chance, the time to grasp the thistle and to make a real difference  to Scotland.

So Politicians let us have less plotting and more passion; less Peter Mandelson and more Denis Canavan.  Ditch the dictats on the “right” words and rely on the passion and honesty of real people to convince the rest of us of the benefits and opportunities for change that IndependenCE and the FREEDOM to choose our own way will make for Scotland.

Inclusivity in Nationalism

We have  the launch of the Yes campaign tomorrow and yet we are still fighting the assertion that Scottish Nationalism is both racist and bigoted.  A recent article by George Galloway in the Daily Record illustrated this  perfectly. (http://blogs.dailyrecord.co.uk/georgegalloway/2012/05/im-scunnered-by-bigots-of-the-brigadoon-brigade.html )  I have to admit I have had a sneaky liking for George Galloway.  I know he ridiculous in many ways but I like him. Watching George on Question Time recently, I knew he would be entertaining and sometimes disrespectful. It’s a nice change from the grey men of politics we usually see. I like the idea that politicians like George have the bottle to say and do pretty much what they want and sod the rest of you. Not always pleasant and often enough to make your toes curl with embarrassment, George is, at least, a character and we could do with a few more like him in politics.  As I read the article he wrote for the Daily Record,  I began to wonder what country George was looking at when he talked about seeing people who have “what can only be described as a virulent hatred of English people and a belief they are the source of Scotland’s troubles – and getting shot of them is the solution.”

As we watch the launch of the “Yes” campaign, it is important that the pedalling of the view of Scotland as a land of bigots and racists by some Unionist politicians and media personalities  is challenged , loudly and often.  I feel aggrieved when I read that Scots hate English people and the assertions that George Galloway and others  make that somehow abusive comments made in response to articles online or in the press reflect the wider Scottish Nationalist agenda could not be further from the truth.

Politicians need to get a grip on reality. They must stop the points scoring and get down to what matters to the man and woman on the street. If George and others looked around and talked to real people rather than relying on internet responses to provocative articles, then they would find that people are living with the independence debate in their daily lives with little or no fuss. There is no “virulent hatred” running through the offices and workshops of our small country. No calls for rivers of English blood from croft houses in Sutherland or tenement buildings in Glasgow or fishing villages on the coast of the Solway Firth. Many people aren’t talking about Independence at all and where people are talking about it, they are talking about it as part of their daily lives, talking about it with their friends, colleagues and family. Amongst those friends, colleagues and family, there are English people and the discussions are generally NOT about hanging and flogging them – thank goodness.

In the same way as George Galloway suggested that internet posts are representative of the whole of the nationalist supporting public, we also await the suggestion that football is a stark demonstration of racism in Scottish society. As soon as the European Cup starts this summer, the fact that Scots would support anyone rather than the England team will be trotted out as an indication that Scots are racist almost to a man. If you follow football to any degree you would know that Man City fans would sooner almost anyone won other than Man United; that Hearts fans would support anyone rather than Hibs; that Arsenal fans would prefer anyone won than cheer for Tottenham. Given the England centric nature of the football coverage on television, it’s hardly surprising that footie mad Scots roll their eyes and cheer for the Czech Republic

The Scottish Nationalist Campaign is an inclusive political campaign.

The persistent drive to insist that Scottish Nationalism is at its heart, fascist or racist, is point scoring and scare mongering by politicians with their own agendas. And you can bet that agenda is not about making life better for those who truly do suffer at the hands of racist abusers. For it would be naïve to suggest that racism doesn’t exist in Scotland today or that it won’t exist in Scotland tomorrow – even if that tomorrow is an Independent Scotland. There are racists in Scotland – some have been responsible for awful crimes and there is no doubt that these people, when caught, must face the full force of the law. There is however, also a casual racism borne of ignorance and fear rather than hatred – the racism of the “paki” shop, the “darkies”, “the incomers”,” the tinks”. This racism must continue to be confronted and challenged and there are many people ready to do that. When it is pointed out to those who use this sort of language that it hurts feelings and its use suggests that a person is a racist, many do learn to change their behaviour. I moved to Scotland from Rochdale and was used to working and living in an area with a high ethnic population. Shortly after starting work in Caithness I was casually told that someone worked for “the darkies”. I was baffled. ”The darkies???? What do you mean…the darkies??” I asked. When it was explained that it was the “paki” shop down the road I nearly fell off my chair. In fact, I don’t think I could speak I was that astounded. “You can’t say that” I stuttered, only to be asked with genuine bafflement, “Why not?” During a time when I had some influence I worked hard to change this attitude and had some success. This casual and naïve racism is becoming less and less but it does still persist.

Racism, along with the sectarianism that plagues Scottish football must continue to be challenged and tackled. The Scottish Government is committed to doing exactly that. It is important that their efforts are not reduced to squabbling over internet responses with politicians who may feel that Scots are always ready to blame someone else for their ills.  George Galloway  is doing the exact same thing. People aren’t giving George Galloway a hard time because he is a unionist, but because he is a bampot. Whether he likes it or not, many see him as a clown, a media whore and self- serving in the extreme. He only has himself to blame for that.

Comments like the ones made by George Galloway lead to people believing that you can’t live happily here in Scotland if you are English. They have led to me being asked “Don’t you find it difficult being English and living in the Highlands?” The answer to that is “No – never”. Articles like George’s can lead to paranoia and suggest that Scotland is a land of bigots and Scottish Nationalism akin to that of the BNP. This is absolutely untrue. There are Scottish Nationalist of every colour and race as there are Unionists of every colour and race.

Look around you – wherever you are just now, whether you are minded to be a yes voter or a no voter, look at those people who are Scottish Nationalists. Look at the people you work with, the people you live with, stand at the school gates with, the people you serve in a shop, restaurant or pub. Are they English or Scottish or from somewhere else? Does it matter? Do they care where you are from? I doubt it. Interested in your life and your story they may be… Plotting your imminent demise or some wicked racist atrocity, they are probably not. I never heard the saying “All Jock Tamson’s bairns” until I came to Scotland but there is a feeling in Scotland that you can be here and be Scots whether you are from here or elsewhere. Many, many people with Scottish parents or ancestors delight in their Scottishness. Most people coming to live here in Scotland from England or elsewhere feel at home, like this is their “place” and when asked where they are from will happily correct the assumption that they are from England with “ No I’m from Scotland” Scotland gets under your skin, into your heart.

So  for George and others –  your Scotland may be a land full of English hating Nationalist bigots and those who would “rise up” and turn on their neighbours and friends but mine and most other people’s Scotland isn’t. If that’s what you find then I would respectfully suggest that you change the company you keep and take your head out of your computer screen. If you walked the streets a wee bit, drank in the pubs a wee bit, dropped in at some toddler groups or youth clubs or workplaces I would happily bet that you would find many of “Jock Tamson’s bairns” happily playing, living and working together. The referendum is not going to change that.

The state of our union

I am a mum and a wife. In point of fact,  I’m an English Wife married to a Scottish husband with three English children from my first marriage and two Scottish children from my current marriage.  Why would I even bother to mention that at all you might wonder, surely it doesn’t matter where my children were born, surely I love them just the same and you would be right.  What makes it worth mentioning is that my husband is a Scottish Nationalist.  He is such a Scottish Nationalist that were the UK government to say “You can have independence Scotland but you have to pay for it yourself”, he would say, “Where do I sign?”.  He describes himself as “Rabid” and he is absolutely right! If you cut off his leg he would have a saltire running through it like a stick of rock – but not Blackpool rock because that’s in England.  Not for him the sitting on the fence that others might do, not for him the idea that you can vote for the SNP and yet still be undecided on Independence.  John is for an Independent Scotland completely and absolutely.

That sometimes causes fun and games in our own personal Union – our home.  The Scottish children are a wee bit young to know how they would vote being 4 and 2.  Despite this when the four-year old was asked to sing a song he liked at nursery he sang Flower of Scotland. The two-year old has a favourite story which includes the words “a blue bunnet with a bricht reid  toorie on the tap”, although both are partial to “Albert and the Lion” or “The Battle of Hastings” related in my dulcet Lancashire tones.  The English children are however, older and all of them will vote in the referendum.  The younger one will be 18 by 2014 and at university he hopes.  The eldest boy is a welder and living in his own home with his girlfriend and wee girl.  The middle one is still humming and ahhing about what to do with his life, although he is working full-time.

I have often been heard to joke that our house is like a microcosm of Scottish society;  My husband is, as I have already said, champing at the bit for independence at any price; Thomas (17) gets more “Engleesh” by the minute. How much of that is to wind John up, I’m not sure, but it is highly entertaining.  Not having lived in England since he was two and having a mother whose accent is gently Lancastrian, then I have no idea where he gets his deeply middle class English tones from, maybe the play he is studying for his Highers – The importance of being Earnest – has gone to his head or his heid, depending where you look (north or south of the border I mean – I know where his head is – honest).

Graham is 21, full of the arrogance of youth and sure of his own self-importance. At 21 he is sure he knows pretty much everything, he has an opinion on everything regardless of whether he is right or not.  Caution and deliberation are not for Graham. He decries all politicians as a waste of space and anarchy is his preferred option of choice.  Hey ho!

Craig is 23, working hard, earning plenty and spending it all.  He and his girlfriend have their lives full with the wee one and his work and they have just moved into their own house.  He has no interest in politics at the moment.  He hasn’t yet realised that it influences everything in his life he holds dear and so his eyes glaze over at the mere mention of independence and he has been rumoured to ask “referendum?  What referendum?”

And what about me?  Well – What about me?  I moved here in 1997, I love living here in the Highlands; it’s the most beautiful place in the world as far as I am concerned.  Scotland is my home, my life, the place where I live and love and where I am loved in return. I am happy here.  I want what’s best for this place and I want the best place for my children to live happy, healthy, secure lives.  I’m still to be convinced to put my cross in the yes box but I am getting closer to that decision.

Being undecided and married to a Scottish Nationalist in this daft household is no mean feat. The news, Newsnight and Question Time all have found themselves on our favourite list since the referendum was announced.  Scotland Tonight and This Week also feature highly. They have replaced MTV, VH1 and Kerrang as the noise in the background, they are recorded and rewound and the source of incredulity as we watch politicians of various hues bluster and babble over the Yes’s and No’s of the independence debate.  Generally the No’s as there is very little in the way of SNP politicians on these programmes.

The lack of quality in the Unionist debate is turning out to be a cross I have to bear.  I despair almost every time I hear David Cameron open his mouth about Scotland.  I find that no matter where you look there is no quality, intellectual point of view for continuing in the Union.  The main thrust seems to be – “it’s worked for the last 300 years” and to be honest, politicians, that isn’t enough.  I want to hear how in the future a United Kingdom will work to do its best for Scotland and I’m not hearing it. I want to be able to trust and believe the politicians when they say they will consider more powers for Scotland within the Union. I want to hear how they will support and help the poor, the weak, the disaffected, and work towards a better Scotland.  So far all these things have  been missing. All the stuff we have been fed about border controls, the potential bombing of Scottish Airports, the UK taking Orkney, Shetland and Rockall and the comparisons of Alex Salmond variously to Gaddafi and Hitler, make me roll my eyes in despair. It all seems to be the incoherent ramblings of an elderly Union which is unable or unwilling to look ahead.  The recent “Skintland” map on the cover of the Economist is a great example of that.  Many people – many friends – who are still undecided about Independence dismissed that article because of the patronising and wholly inaccurate picture that the front cover painted. Any salient points were lost because the Economist chose to take a cheap jibe instead of a measured point of view.  When you resort to that sort of cheap jibe then you risk losing the argument entirely.

I find that some people assume that because of my Englishness I am somehow required to support the Union with no questions asked.   Either that, or they think that I am some sort of put upon English wifie.  People mistake my support for John’s passion for his tyranny in our relationship as if I have no way of making my mind up when subjected to the complete support for Independence that John has. They mistake his nationalism for anti-English racism. Nothing could be further from the truth.  John is INCLUSIVE in his relationships and his political beliefs.  His fundamental belief is that Scotland has the right to govern itself, if the People of Scotland want that to happen. That’s it – no racism, no easily dismissed patriotic nonsense about Mel Gibson, no hard man antics, just plain and simple human rights. The right to self-determination. None of this is anti-English – it may well be anti–UK or anti-Westminster, but that is not the same.  I would expect ANY nationalist in Scotland to be anti-Westminster.

My Nationalist husband gets angry when Scotland is denigrated as too small, too weak, too poor and too stupid to be independent. He dances with rage when Willie Rennie describes the SNP as the lowest of the low – measuring them against what? He is incandescent when the conservative party actively seeks out people to stand for council seats where they do not live or do not want to be councillors simply to manipulate a result with no care for the people of the ward and what they might want; He is furious when Labour leadership fail to condemn the shenanigans of Glasgow city council which led to one councillor feeling like her disabled son’s job security was being threatened if she didn’t toe the party line.  John’s nationalism is about making Scotland stronger and better for the people who live here – ALL the people – Black, White, Asian, Polish, Chinese, and yes – even English. Making Scotland better is the driving force behind all that John posts on his Facebook page or writes or debates with his friends and those he doesn’t know so well.I love my husband; I love his passion and his sense of self which means that he knows where he stands on the important stuff.  I do not always agree with him but I know how much this means to him and I am proud and delighted that our tea time discussions are about politics and not Big Brother or the price of a tin of beans although the rolling of 17-year-old eyes means that this isn’t always appreciated across the board!

And so I live with the rants, the fury, the passion and the politics because John is a Scottish Nationalist and whether I decide Yes or No,  I know that  he wants what I want. The best for our children – all our children, the Scottish ones and the English ones.

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