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The World in 2018: Trump, Brexit, Britain and the Scottish Debate

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 10th 2018

The New Year is always a time for reflection. I spent the Christmas and New Year break in the United States, providing an opportunity for reflection and a different take on the world.

Two and a half weeks in an American urban setting, even in one of the wealthiest and most creative clusters in the country around Boston and Cambridge, showcases what works and what doesn’t. Conspicuous wealth sits side-by-side crumbling infrastructure and poverty personified by the MBTA train system that looks like it last had serious investment in the 1950s or 1960s.

The American media have an understandable obsession with Trump – at the moment along with extreme weather. Britain is only visible through Brexit and the latest Royal wedding. One well-stocked secondhand bookshop for example had a large number of books in its British section, but on closer examination more than half were on the royals.

Brexit fascinates the Americans and gets some coverage, but isn’t really understood. Scotland is an afterthought at best, and often confused with Ireland. The only media mention of Scotland in the States during the holidays was the Cameron House Hotel fire by Loch Lomond. This shows that disasters and even mini-disasters can have global reach – as the 2014 Glasgow School of Art fire achieved, or in a different kind of implosion, that of Rangers FC. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favourite Music of the Year: 2017

December 19th 2017

NEW ALBUMS

  1. The Visitor – Neil Young and Promise of the Real

Neil Young’s roving and rocking spirit look at the America of today. Hit and miss in places – but some hard rock and roll such as opener ‘Already Great’.

  1. Dark Matter – Randy Newman

Newman in typical sardonic form with his first album in nearly a decade and trademark laidback musical style and acerbic lyrics, ‘Putin’ being one of the best.

  1. Damn – Kendrick Lamar

Not as stellar and pathbreaking as ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ from 2015 but this is R ‘n’ B with personal reflection and social conscience.

  1. How the West Was Won – Peter Perrett

The uplifting music story of the year – once singer of new wave legends The Only Ones gets his life in order and returns with great tunes, lyrics and guitars.

  1. Soul of a Woman – Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Jones made it as a star in her 40s and her soul sound gave Amy Winehouse her ‘Back in Black vibe. Sadly she died in 2016 and this is her last album filled with the spirit and passionate vocals she was known for. Read the rest of this entry »

MY FAVOURITE BOOKS OF 2017

December 15th 2017

Here is a selection of my books of the year. By its nature, this is subjective – made up of books I have read, enjoyed and been impressed by, and isn’t thus an attempt to comprehensively cover every subject. While the vast majority of books listed were published this year, there are a few from late 2016, and a couple published before then.

Scotland: My Favourite Books of the Year

James Robertson, Michael Marra: Arrest This Moment, Big Sky Press

This is a beautifully produced book on a precious talent – musician and artist Michael Marra. Robertson makes this book about Marra on every page, and about something more – the creative muse, modern culture and contemporary Scotland.

Diane M. Watters, St. Peter’s, Cardross: Birth, Death and Renewal, Historic Environment Scotland

A stunning testimony, in text and photograph, to St. Peter’s Seminary by Cardross. The book covers post-war modernism, the hopes behind building St. Peter’s and what went wrong – resulting in the present ruin that the arts organisation NVA hope to make into a space for cultural and public discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Marra: The Bard of Dundee and Modern Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 13th 2017

Michael Marra – musician, artist and force for good – was a precious Scottish gem. He was unique in his art but also in his delivery and style; singularly understated, modest and often humble to the extent that at times he hugely underpromoted himself and his work.

It is worthwhile celebrating that the writer James Robertson has contributed his time and intelligence to produce a biography of Marra – ‘Michael Marra: Arrest This Moment’. This is a fascinating book, and important beyond the subject of Marra in addressing music, the creative muse, the role of the artist and culture, and having something to say about his home town (and mine) Dundee – and contemporary Scotland.

Michael Marra was born in Dundee on February 17th 1952, the fourth of five children, and grew up in Lochee, then as now a working class part of the city. After an unhappy time at school and several routine jobs, Michael found his voice as a singer and songwriter. Read the rest of this entry »

Are a ‘liberal elite’ really running Scotland?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 6th 2017

Is Scotland run by a ‘liberal junta’ or a ‘social junta’? This might seem a far-fetched notion but this is the charge made by Observer and Herald columnist Kevin McKenna (‘social junta’) and backed up by Iain Macwhirter (‘liberal junta’). I have enormous respect for both Kevin and Iain and value their many contributions to public life, but do think that on this they have got it badly wrong.

The argument put by McKenna in The Observer is that the Scottish Parliament is more focused on areas like tightening the ban on fox hunting, outlawing smacking on kids, and even minimum pricing on alcohol, than waging war on poverty and trying to support and change the lives of the poor.

This is in McKenna’s words ‘further proof of Holyrood’s obsession with the way ordinary people manage their families.’ In sweeping language he disses Scotland’s Parliament as a ‘collection of political confidence-tricksters’ who want to disguise ‘their wholesale betrayal of our poorest communities while blaming it all on the Tories.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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