‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ Still Matters
Sunday Mail, September 27th 2015
One year after the referendum has seen a golden summer and autumn of Scottish theatre. Adaptions of Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’ at the Citizens’ Theatre, and Alan Warner’s ‘The Sopranos’ at the Traverse, along with John McGrath’s ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ at Dundee Rep.
These are all iconic, evocative plays that tell much about the Scotland in which the original texts were written, the times in which they are set, as well as the present day. ‘Lanark’ addresses the scale of economic, social and psychological change in post-war Glasgow and the West of Scotland; ‘The Sopranos’ (adapted as ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’) deals with youthful rebellion and expression, but it is ‘The Cheviot’ which attempts the most over-arching account of Scotland through the centuries to modern times.
Written by John McGrath, first premiered by his theatre company 7:84 in Aberdeen in 1973 and then shown as a BBC ‘Play for Today’ in 1974, it has now returned for the first time in over twenty years, adapted by Joe Douglas and Dundee Rep Ensemble. Read the rest of this entry »
Corbyn and Anger: Rage Against the Machine is understandable but never ever enough
Sunday Mail, September 20th 2015
Jeremy Corbyn has dominated the news headlines this week.
Let’s start with the obvious – the failure of mainstream politics. Conventional British politics are bust. The Labour right, the Blairites and soft left have nothing to offer their own party, let alone the country.
More seriously, the Cameron Conservatives after five years in office have yet to find a convincing governing mantra. ‘Big society’ and ‘compassionate Conservatism’ are long dead, leaving little that represents Cameron and Osborne beyond living within your means, cutting the deficit, and savagely pruning back the state.
Corbyn’s politics are fed by anger at austerity, the rightward drift of British politics and the incessant war drums, along with the militarisation of much of British life. Far easier it now seems to endlessly celebrate past military triumphs, than mark things much more relevant today, such as the founding of the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »
Scotland and Britain Have Changed: The ‘Big Bang’ of the Indy Ref and After
Sunday Mail, September 13th 2015
One year ago Scotland went to the polls.
An amazing 85% of us voted: 45% for independence and 55% against – both expressions of Scottish self-government and a desire for a different Scotland.
Scotland did not vote for independence, but nor did it settle for the status quo of the existing union. Instead, it voted to continue in a kind of interregnum – a transition from something familiar to something still hazy with a destination as yet unknown.
This is a time of great upheaval and unpredictability here, in the UK and globally. The SNP May landslide, the Corbyn surge, the Greek crisis, the humanitarian disaster of Europe, and Chinese economic shudders. Yet, paradoxically Scotland one year on seems to be sitting waiting for the next big thing to turn up. Read the rest of this entry »
A Revolution is coming to BBC Scotland – let’s seize it and make it happen
Sunday Herald, September 6th 2015
The BBC is one of the key institutions of Scotland and the UK. It arouses passion in many forms: identification, reverence for some of its past glories, fury at current and historic shortcomings. These can come from anywhere on the political spectrum.
In Scotland, many views of the broadcaster have become interwoven with how it covered the independence referendum. No-one really thinks the BBC had a good campaign. This unleashed allegations of bias, demonstrations at the BBC, and a sparring match between Alex Salmond and the BBC’s former political editor Nick Robinson.
All this has left a BBC shaken, stirred, and unsure which way to turn, while a large section of Scotland feels shortchanged and wants reform. To understand and address these feelings we need to see the referendum and its aftermath as part of a much bigger picture.
The BBC and BBC Scotland come from, and to this day are rooted in, a very different UK and Scotland. The BBC’s origins in the 1920s were as a patrician, elite-driven organisation whose motto – “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”, adopted in 1927 – showed that it saw itself as benignly speaking down to the world, at home and abroad, and enlightening it. It was also clear that “the nation” in question was Britain, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seen as mere regions or outposts. Read the rest of this entry »
Where does real political power sit in Scotland? And where do we want it?
Sunday Mail, September 6th 2015
The Scottish Parliament is one of the central pillars of public life.
It has become the unquestioned landmark and focus of domestic politics in the country. People look to it, want it to have more powers, and generally trust it much more to look after their interests than Westminster.
That is all good and well. Yet, when people think of the Scottish Parliament what they tend to have a vision of is not the reality, but the broad idea.
The idea of the Scottish Parliament is an unqualified positive. It has changed Scotland, how we think of ourselves and how we want to be governed. But because people follow little of the debates at Parliament they don’t know much about what it actually does.
The reality of the Scottish Parliament’s actions is that it hasn’t directly done that much to change Scotland – in its decisions or debates. And nor is it where political power can be found. Read the rest of this entry »