Reflections on Turning Fifty in the Scotland of 2014
Scottish Review, November 26th 2014
I knew from an early age I would turn 50 in 2014.
It was simple maths. At age eight, reading the ‘Tell Me Why’ encyclopedias of facts and figures, I became aware of a sense of time. Apparently the sun would explode in around five billion years wiping out all life on planet earth and any chance I had of immortality. And at around the same time, confronted with this reality, I worked out that I would be 36 in 2000, 50 in 2014 and 86 in 2050. Plenty time I thought for lots of plans and dreams.
Often the concerns of an over-bright boy or girl confronted with the mysteries of life and universe, are about trying to place yourself and idea of self in it. Whereas, in actual fact, these are deep, timeless and philosophical questions which have taken up the time and efforts of some of our greatest thinkers.
I grew up as an only child with a palpable self-consciousness, large amounts of time and space for reflection, and a constant curiosity and hunger to find out more about the world. It was, as a young boy a big positive, not to have siblings. I had no one I had to share a bedroom with, or be bullied by, or look out for and protect from bullying at school or in our neighbourhood. And I had both quiet and room for contemplation and my own private world when I wanted to retreat to it. Read the rest of this entry »
The Power of the Small: A Journey into a Hidden Scotland
Scottish Review, November 19th 2014
Football is everywhere in modern life and no more so than in Scotland.
It is a partial story, concentrating on the theatre, drama and tropes of a very select few: the changing fortunes of Celtic and Rangers, the predictability of the Premiership, and an over-focus on a few clubs in the Central Belt (along with Aberdeen and the two Dundee clubs).
A whole array of football is missing from these accounts: the Scotland of the non-league game represents what is in effect a hidden Scotland. The biggest and most impressive part of this is junior football which covers 164 clubs in the country, and is nearly entirely absent from our media and public conversation, from the vast coverage of the game on TV, radio and papers, and which seems even beyond the reach and interest of Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan’s ‘Off the Ball’, along with most football reporters.
At the start of January 2012 myself and my friend Eddie completed our tour of Scotland’s 42 senior football grounds and teams. We had deliberately undertaken the journey in a rambling, off the cuff way: to consciously not make it into a project or extension of work, and to do it with affection and love. It was also not just about football, but going to parts of our country with curiosity, as well as spending time travelling and blethering as friends. That experience concluded as I wrote about in ‘Scottish Review’ at the time, at a Peterhead v. Celtic cup game, and Berwick Rangers v. Stranraer. Read the rest of this entry »
What kind of Scotland does Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP want?
Scottish Review, November 12th 2014
Scotland and Scottish politics are in unchartered waters. The post-indyref has shaken and rearranged the normal reference points: SNP membership has gone through the roof, while the Labour ‘winners’ have laid claim to putting on a paltry 1,000 members.
Amid all the noise and debate, there is in the confusion, an eerie lack of substantive discussion, as people try to find their way. In the Labour Party a clutch of left-wingers believe that their core problem is the party’s embrace north of the border of ‘Blairism’; in the SNP, Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson have been making predictable sounds calling for a more defiant, traditionalist nationalist approach, mistakeningly believing this will somehow win more widespread support than that achieved by Alex Salmond.
In both Labour and SNP contests there has been a surprising lack of debate. The Labour contest at least has another month to run, and the possibility that a choice between Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack, will bring out some of the huge questions the party has to face if it is to turn its fortunes around. Read the rest of this entry »
Time Travel: the Parallel Universe of Post-ref Scotland and the Voice of Doubt
Twenty five years ago this coming Sunday an event occurred which changed our lives and is still shaping much of the modern world: the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This brought about the demise of the Soviet bloc, the end of the Yalta settlement which had divided Europe from 1945, the unification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it, its monolithic variant of Communism and any aspirations it had to making and being the future.
Much of the last 25 years flows from those tumultuous events in November 1989: the European integrationist project and the arrival of the euro, the certainty that Western political democracy had somehow defeated all other political alternatives which became hubris, and its subsequent decline and hollowing out at the hands of a self-interested crony corporate capitalism.
Scotland and Britain haven’t been immune from these potent political and economic tsunamis. Yet, there is a powerfully and noisily articulated feeling in parts of Scotland that we have somehow successfully resisted these forces, and can do so more in the future. This is seen in the pale version in the nostalgia for the British post-war settlement, and in more radical expressions, that Scotland can challenge neo-liberal orthodoxies and embark on a radically different progressive course, which no one else has yet succeeded at. Read the rest of this entry »
Scottish Labour: The Never-ending Soap Opera That Matters
Scottish Review, October 29th 2014
Scottish Labour loves talking about itself. The evidence for this is everywhere in the last few days, in print media, TV and radio studios, and social media.
Organisations which have lost their way, which are in decline and crisis, often do this as a displacement activity. Think of the Tories ‘banging on’ about Europe, or the BBC post-Savile. Such behaviour is never a good sign. It makes people think their internal obsessions are important, and that the minutiae of such debates matter to the public.
The first lesson for Labour is that lots of what it is doing does not matter at the moment. Labour has become a soap opera, one with diminishing ratings. If it were say ‘Eastenders’, it would be one where most of the original cast and big hitters (Angie and Den) have left, it is reduced to the B, then C list, and no one knows who is in it apart from a few fanatics.
The only reason the show remains on the screen is that no one has the energy or interest to pull it. Scottish Labour is the longest running soap opera currently on the go in the country. It is longer running than its main competitor for attention, drama and inadvertent comedy – Rangers FC. That’s not an honour. Read the rest of this entry »