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Culture in Scotland in the midst of storms: A Call for Dangerous Cultures

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, March 16th 2018

Culture in Scotland is in difficult times: public spending cuts, the lost decade of stagnant living standards for the vast majority of people, limits to the Scottish Government’s largesse and devolution powers, controversy over Creative Scotland’s decision making and funding priorities resulting in the debate over the future of the Scottish Youth Theatre – and much more (with some questioning the continued existence of Creative Scotland).

If you think these are dangerous waters you ain’t seen nothing yet. While some yearn for the headwinds of populism, revolt and voter dissatisfaction to blow themselves out and ‘normal’ politics to resume, others recognise that what was normal was part of the problem and one of the reasons we got into the current mess. Restoration politics and culture which is what some dream of isn’t aiming very high.

Instead, we inhabit an age of broken mainstream politics, a discredited economic model, big questions about accountability, ethics and responsibility in both public life and in what is called private life, but is increasingly a contested arena. That’s without mentioning Brexit, Trump, the ineptitudes of the Theresa May UK Government, and that nearly everywhere in the developed world those notionally in control have lost their confidence, while continuing to pretend otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »

As Brexit Britain heads for the rocks what does Corbyn’s Labour stand for?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 14th 2018

The diminished global status of Britain and our future post-Brexit has been on display in the last few days. The attempted murder of Sergei Skripa and his daughter Yulia and the possible role of Russian authorities; the visit of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, and the continued saga of Donald Trump’s unpredictable, erratic Presidency from trade wars to his state visit, all illustrate the challenges a diminished UK will face in the aftermath of Brexit.

Twenty-one months on from the Brexit vote we have no clear plan or detail from the UK Government. Indeed, the kind of Brexit and Britain which the UK Government represents is nothing more than a sketch and vague principles, much to the increasing consternation of the EU and the remaining 27 nation-states.

Brexit is full of contradictions, tensions and paradoxes. Can the fabled Tory Party with its reputation for statecraft really be reduced to its current incompetence and divisions? This has come after decades of Tory appeasement of Euroscepticism, culminating in David Cameron’s infamous pledge in 2013 to hold an in/out referendum: a pledge he though he would never have to deliver; then followed by his attempt to secure renegotiated terms of EU membership – with echoes of Harold Wilson in 1975; and subsequent referendum campaign and Brexit triumph. Read the rest of this entry »

The Revolution has not been televised: And why mainstream politics and media prefers not to talk about it

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 7th 2018

Switch on your TV news these days and you will find, when they get past the poor weather and Royal Family announcements, that the world doesn’t exactly feel a happy place. There is disorder, division and disaster seemingly everywhere, but also very little attempt to make sense of why much of this happening.

Last week the BBC news and current affairs programme ‘This Week’ hosted by Andrew Neil began with a film and discussion led by historian David Starkey. His thesis was that Britain has experienced a revolution in recent times, arguing that ‘For the last twenty years we’ve had a revolution by stealth, not in our streets, but our values’. He went on to claim that ‘a generation brought up with no rules and no religion, has lurched with quasi-religious fervor into a puritanical groupthink where debate is stifled and difference of opinion cannot be tolerated.’

Starkey stated that this was a ‘revolution’ in which ‘things had been turned upside down’, and whilst recognising it contained some good aspects (from his own experience as a gay man) he believed this was an age where politics had ‘a new pseudo religious intensity’ and a ‘puritan revolution’. In his view this contributed to ‘a complete revolution of values – between the sexes … the transgendering issue, the unmentionable has become enforceable … [and] … moral values have inverted.’ Read the rest of this entry »

After the Oxfam and Save the Children scandals what does it take to be a good organisation?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 28th 2018

The last few weeks have seen huge controversies surround the charity organisations Oxfam and Save the Children. In both senior men have been accused of acting inappropriately; in the case of Oxfam, involving the grotesque spectacle of Haitian disaster survivors being sexually exploited.

It didn’t take long for this to become a political football. Elements of the right, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, called for the UK international aid budget to be revisited, while former International Aid Secretary Priti Patel tried to link her enquiries into Oxfam when she was a minister to people in her department plotting her downfall. Left-wingers rallied to the defence of both charities and alleged a right-wing media plot to undermine organisations which increasingly stray into the political.

None of this had been helped by the responses of both charities. Oxfam’s current chief executive Mark Goldring has often seemed bewildered in his public utterances about the storm he has found himself in. He has misspoken several times, including in a painful interview in ‘The Guardian’ where he said that the backlash was as if ‘we murdered babies in their cots’ and that ‘anything we say is being manipulated’ – hardly striking the right tone of contrition. Similarly, Save the Children’s senior staff have been slow to wake up to their, at least perceived, collusion in what went on under their name. Read the rest of this entry »

2018 will be the Year of Dundee but whose Dundee will it be?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 20th 2018

2018 will be the Year of Dundee. There is excitement and expectation in the city. After years in the doldrums, Dundee has now been punching above its weight for over a decade.

It is not just the anticipation of the V&A’s public opening on September 15th. The city has been picking up international attention and plaudits as variously ‘Scotland’s coolest city’ (Wall Street Journal), the ‘coolest in Scotland’ and undergoing a ‘renaissance’ (Condé Nast Traveller), ‘Britain’s coolest city’ (GQ magazine), and one of the top ten global destinations for 2018 (Wall Street Journal).

There is a good story here and we should celebrate it. Dundee has changed, lots of positive things have been happening, and more is on the way. Yet, it is also true that Dundee has historically been neglected by large parts of Scotland, from being overlooked to being patronised. How often have I heard the line ‘I have never been to Dundee I have just passed through it without stopping’, as a friendly Aberdonian recently said at a party in Edinburgh. Dundee planners have even made this easier as the Kingsway provides an easy by-pass cutting through the city.

That condescension is felt by Dundonians. My auntie Betty, in her 80s, and an astute observer of all things related to the city commented last weekend that ‘Dundee has always been a Cinderella city. Edinburgh is the capital, Glasgow is always buzzing with things going on, and Aberdeen had the oil.’ Is it possible that Scotland’s Central Belt tunnel vision, which is really a Glasgow-Edinburgh focus, will give Dundee a chance to shine and be noticed? 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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