Better Together, Censorship, European Union, Freedom of the Press, Housing Crisis, Illustration, National Collective, Nelson Mandela, Quote, Referendum White Paper, Review of the Year, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, The Hobbit, Unemployment
Thorin Oakenshield: But hang on Sassenach! Most of us aren’t actually Scottish. I for one am played by Richard Armitage – a fine English actor!
Baggins: Just as William Wallace was played by the Australian Mel Gibson. It’s exactly the same character! You’re all generally Scottish, if only Ken Stott is Scottish in particular. You’re existentially in a state of Scottishness.
Thorin: To business! We are fighting to regain our kingdom! We are on a journey to recover our independence! Yae’ll naer take our freedom! The English dragon is sleeping on all of our prosperity and our natural resources, when we have a viable alternative future on our own!
Gandalf: The allegory fits perfectly! Now let us journey to the magical city of the elves where they will offer you the means of voting for your independence in a legally-binding referendum!
“The Hobbit: A Tale for Our Time” (January).
Kelman’s essay, like many in this book, is fatally undermined by its failure to acknowledge the transfer of Scottish sovereignty to the EU. Some of the blame for this can be placed at the feet of Tom Nairn, who, with unforgivable naivety, regarded Europe as the solution to Scotland. I fear that I am climbing back on to Tychy’s favourite hobby horse, but nevertheless: in a book which rotates around the word “Independence,” the EU is not actually mentioned by name until page 149… Some contributors potentially encompass the EU within the washy term “neoliberalism,” but this avoids specifying the powers which would eclipse Scotland’s independence. Westminster at least has a history of being forced to devolve powers to Holyrood, but with the EU we are not even at the stage of 1979.
As readers may have noticed, the semester’s first issue of the Student which should have been published on the 22nd of January was never distributed. Writers and other contributors to the newspaper who attend our weekly meetings may even know that the reason for this was due to legal action being taken against us. Unfortunately, due to these legal restrictions, we are very limited as to what we can and cannot reveal about this situation… It is not just us as a newspaper who have been gagged in this situation; it is every student at this university.
The Edinburgh University Student Newspaper, “On Censorship and Freedom of the Press” (February).
The president of EUSA, James McAsh, and his vice-president (services), Max Crema, have survived an Emergency General Meeting in which they respectively faced motions of censure and no-confidence. There were over 500 students at the meeting and Crema escaped by a whisker, with just 24 votes between either side on the no-confidence motion (although a two thirds majority was required to unseat him). McAsh heralded last night’s EGM as a “shining beacon for democracy.” With 1.8% of the electorate turning out to vote, it was more like a spluttering cigarette lighter.
“Adieu to Max Crema” (March.)
James shuffled up his redundant notes crossly. “If the regulation is more draconian in Scotland, it might be expedient to relocate to England,” I pointed out. “We could cover Edinburgh’s news from Northumbria.”
“Our website is provided by WordPress,” James reasoned. “Whilst you could be bankrupted by the English or Scottish regulator’s “exemplary damages,” your writing will always be protected by the First Amendment.”
“Because WordPress is the publisher?”
James shrugged. “I have no idea whether WordPress actually owns our website. But if Tychy has any physical existence, it will be somewhere in America. The Westminster parliament fancies that they’re regulating the press, but they’re actually giving the unregulated media a massive competitive advantage. Say there was a new parliamentary expenses scandal tomorrow: the New York Times and the Washington Post would be able to report on it freely, whilst the coverage of their UK equivalents would be regulated by the state. If an MP fiddles their expenses, their constituents would have to read about it in the LA Times rather than in their local newspaper.”
“(3D) Printing Error” (March).
“From Aviemore” (April).
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was accosted by some students who initially wanted to challenge him about his immigration policies. He could not reply because they were chanting “racist scum” at him, and when he did begin to finally explain himself, the students suddenly panicked at how reasonable everything was becoming. The chanting resumed and then to save face the students chased Farage aimlessly around the Royal Mile, whilst the hapless politician tried unsuccessfully to commandeer a taxi. He was eventually bundled away in a police van. The police were obviously overreacting: this is vibrant, tolerant multicultural Scotland and not Zimbabwe where opposition politicians need police protection.
“Farage in Scotland: The Rough Wooing” (May).
In retrospect, it was my first encounter, ever, with a fictional narrative, recognisably connected to the experience and eccentricity of the sort of rural, west-coast community in which I grew up. I suspect many Scots have felt similar moments, transported by literature to somewhere they recognise, reconfigured – the thrill of Alasdair Gray’s Glasgow in Lanark, finally “living in a place”, imaginatively. For that, we have much to thank our artists, whether on paper, on stage or on screen. It is an oddly castrating thing, never having seen your own life reflected in art, and even odder that so many folk aren’t sensitive to their own absence. Perhaps more wonkishly, I also think fondly of the book as a recent period piece, a drama from before the internet age, a drama which the iPhone obliterates… Although I was growing up in Argyll in the early 1990s, just riding the wave of computerisation and the popular availability of the internet after I left, I doubt now that Frank’s experience of stultifying isolation, quirkily and troublingly layered by Banks, is a phenomenon most young rural folk could so fully identify with today.
Lallands Peat Worrier on the Wasp Factory/Death of Iain Banks (June).
Only around 30% of the electorate support Scottish independence, but nationalists figure disproportionately throughout Scotland’s political, cultural and, yes, online affairs. The underlying ideological premise of the ruling party – and in fact of the only fully-functioning political party in Scotland – is the drive to independence. We have too many eggs in this basket. From a United Ireland to Chechnya, it is not unknown in history for a nation to be cancelled (at least as a political entity) but rarely has this occurred with democratic consent and in peacetime. Neither Quebec nationalism nor the Basque and Catalan stateless nations have ever received a knockout blow, and indeed both have lately taken heart from the Scottish example. The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum is so ineptly engineered because a No vote will extinguish completely the ambitions of an influential aspirant class. There is nothing to sustain or placate the losing side.
“We Need To Talk Seriously About Losing” (June).
There is no doubt that there is a substantial housing problem in the UK. Local authorities like the London borough of Newham are embroiled in a campaign to identify and demolish ‘supersheds’ – the illegally occupied garden sheds that are sprouting up all over London. Meanwhile in Stockport, in north-west England, some homeless people have taken to living in sandstone caves. When people are priced out of the housing and rental markets to the point where they are forced to live in sheds and caves, it is clear there is a problem.
James Heartfield, “Time to face the housing crisis head on” (Spiked, July).
At first, National Collective resembles the website of an arts centre or a cultural journal, but once you venture into its contents you will be nagged by the sense that there is something deeply wrong or unnatural about this project. It will hit you all of a sudden: despite being supposedly authored by “artists and creative thinkers,” everything on this website is a cliché. Forget about independence – for now, the question doesn’t interest me. The issue here is the hypocrisy of an organisation which piously promotes itself as the future of the arts, when its “creative thinkers” do not appear to have one original, creative thought between them.
“I am Not National Collective” (July).
Ines Wurth and her mostly Croatian theatre company appear initially to have assumed the duty of briefing us about a self-evident injustice. For theatregoers who are not yet clear about which post-Soviet nation the Ukraine is (the big one) or how fledgling its democracy (pretty fledgling), the show begins with an educational video. The former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (Wurth) emerges as blandly impassioned, tastefully Blairite, and generally a good egg. That she was a capitalist behemoth, and that there may be some validity to the corruption charges which have landed her in the clink, are mere details. With all of the relevant clichés ringing in our ears, we may settle wearily into our seats for a long show. But the triumph of “Who Wants…?” is that it actually brings the fight far closer to home…
Tychy@ the Fringe Artwork (August).
I am not sure whether Joyce McMillan is bored by the prospect of an outbreak of civilised concord in the Scottish artistic community. I confess to being a bit bored myself. The patron saint of the home rule cause, Christopher Grieve, would have loathed it, and for once he would have been right. Grieve, better known as Hugh MacDiarmid, was a huge embarrassment to the organisers of the Scottish covenant (who gathered two million signatures endorsing a parliament in Edinburgh) for his blatant racism. He was one of the very few in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh who refused to sign the covenant because, he said, it didn’t go nearly far enough. He was not a man who ever agreed to agree. He preferred a good row and was an expert in the neglected Scottish art of flyting. Grieve would havestarted a rammy on an empty stairheid… Beyond Massie and Grant, I admit that it’s hard to come up with names on ‘The other side’. If there are union lovers out there, who write or act or paint a bit, it seems they are too feart to come out of the closet. We are about to be suffocated by a most un-Scottish consensus.
Kenneth Roy, “I agree. I agree entirely. I couldn’t agree more” (August).
It would considerably improve the tenor of the referendum debate if Better Together just packed it in. There is little heartfelt warmth for the Union amongst the Scottish electorate, who seem to regard it as the least of two inconveniences, and Better Together has only managed to dig up a stiff and rather ghastly patriotism. Scottish politics already accommodates sufficient cross-party opposition to independence – to establish a designated campaign group with all of the associated complications of leadership and sinister funders only invites distractions from their intended message.
“Wings Over Scotland: The Disaster Continues” (August).
Riddoch contends that Scottish independence should involve seizing the historical moment rather than just the state, and junking an established culture of disempowerment along with the UK. For her, Scotland should become a student of Norway and its virtuous welfarism. Norwegians emerge from her analysis looking rather like utopian Martians, with their quaintly marvellous way of life. Perhaps it is just the luck of the draw, but all of the Norwegians who I have ever met have seemed mildly brainless. It must be my bad luck. I suspect, however, that most Scots are a little creeped out by Norway’s communalism; they may worry that it would transform them into a pleasant and unimaginative people, who are rinsed clean of personality.
James Rainy Brown, 75, who had worked for 52 years at fee-paying Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, hanged himself at his home shortly after being told of the investigation. It is understood the claims involved lewd and inappropriate comments to pupils rather than physical abuse. Now it has emerged he had a fortune of £1,485,592 at the time of his death in April this year. After leaving small bequests to family and friends, he instructed that the bulk of his wealth should go to the boys’ school, which charges up to £26,655 a year… At the time, a spokesman for Mr Rainy Brown’s family said: “It is so unfair that it should happen to a man who dedicated his entire life to teaching and helping generations of children. We are 100% confident that, when the police have finished their work, his name will be cleared.”
Herald, “Teacher found hanged left £1 million to school” (October).
Imagine this scenario, then. A woman of 23, with a child to support, loses her job. She can’t find work. After a year, she’s summoned to the Job Centre and told that from now on, she’ll be stacking shelves in Tescos, on whatever pay the DWP choose to give her. If the pay isn’t enough to cover childcare? If the job is too far away and there’s no public transport? If she’s applied to Tesco a dozen times for a paid job and been told there were no vacancies because they can get all the compulsory labour they want from the Job Centre, no cost to themselves? If she wanted to find part-time or flexible work so that she could spend time caring for her child? Tough, says Rachel Reeves: take the compulsory job or we’re done with you, you can die on the street for all we care. That’s not an unusual scenario I’ve just outlined. That’s the reality of Reeves’ threat that Labour will be worse than the Conservatives if you’re in need…
Edinburgh Eye, “Unemployment is not a sign of bad character” (October).
“Clutches Crutches” (November).
Jane Hill: A historic press conference, as you can see. With me now to discuss today’s white paper are Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, and Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign. Turning to you first, Nicola Sturgeon, this is a momentous occasion, isn’t it?
Nicola Sturgeon: I would say an historic occasion. This is the chance for Scotland’s people to decide their own destiny. Just looking at this historic paper now, I would say… I would say that… If we turn to this page, I would say… [She begins to blink and nod.]
Jane Hill: Err… Nicola?… BUT THERE ARE MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS, AREN’T THERE?
Nicola Sturgeon: Oh yes, where was I? Yes, this is the most detailed blueprint for an independent country ever published and it sets out, in unprecedented detail, how an independent Scotland will function. We want as many people as possible to read it. Referring to the summary, it says that… it says that… sorry, I’m having trouble here… Zzzz… [She flops to the ground and rolls over fast asleep.]
“The White Paper on BBC News 24” (November).
If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.
Slavoj Žižek, “If Nelson Mandela really had won, he wouldn’t be seen as a universal hero” (Guardian, December).