I Want to be Labour, I should be Labour, I’m not Labour.

I received a ballot paper for the Scottish Labour Leadership Election due to my membership in the Labour Affiliated Communication Workers Union (CWU). I didn’t use it. There was a wee bit I had to tick that asked me if I supported the party and agreed with its decisions. I couldn’t in all good conscience tick the box to validate my vote.

I’m left wing, I’m working class, I’m for workers rights. What has happened that I don’t feel that the Labour Party is the place for me? I had a wee chat with a few of the guys at my work, also CWU members, and they had the same feelings as I do.

Plabour2

I was delighted when in 1997, Tony Blair and his “New Labour” ended Tory rule, but crucially the “New” part seemed to be the more important part than the “Labour” part; no renationalisation took place, instead we got illegal wars, an attempt to sell the Royal Mail and the continuation of a downward spiral for the NHS. Then, ultimately we got Gordon Brown inviting Thatcher over for tea, a photo which could well be used as a talisman for the 13 years of Labour Rule. Thatcher is still a figure so powerful that Ed Milliband praises her leadership in his speeches, in a blatant attempt to win votes and pander to middle-England  votes.  Both Labour Leaders showing a complete disregard to how the woman is viewed, by the very people who put them in power.

brown thatch

The Labour Machine in Scotland is now in full, “Vote SNP and get the Tories mode.” Well frankly for me and many like me, just not being the Tories is never going to be good enough anymore. Scotland voted Labour in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 2010 and every time we got the Tories and the 13 years in between we didn’t get much different.

I want to be Labour

I want Labour to own its socialist roots. I want Labour to ditch the careerist political elite, who all seem to come from the same pod and are just allocated a different coloured tie, so we can tell them apart. I want MP’s with Union histories (Perhaps not NUS, I’m looking at you Jim Murphy) who genuinely care about the social fabric of this country, the NHS, social justice and who put the rights of workers before the profits of their bosses.

I would embrace that Labour Party. I feel I may stand with my arms outstretched for a very long time.

For what it’s worth I would have been Findlay/Clark on my ballot paper.

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I Hate Foodbanks (and so should you.)

I have problems with almost everything to do with foodbanks. I dislike the fact that the Trussell Trust describe their model as “scaleable” and use words like “franchise”.  This is the language of business, this is the language of permanence.

Do not get me wrong, I know how important foodbanks are. I filled up with equal parts rage against the system and compassion for the victims of that system when I watched this video from Maryhill Foodbank. I also fully respect the efforts of the army of volunteers who run these foodbanks.

Who decides who gets Help?

“Care professionals such as doctors, health visitors, social workers, CAB and police identify people in crisis and issue them with a foodbank voucher.” – Trussell Trust website

For the most part, these are government agencies, so, in my eyes, the government is perfectly willing to identify people in need, but rather than do anything about it, like perhaps improving the benefit system,  it drives vulnerable people towards charity.

Do not believe the “lies of austerity”. We live in an affluent country, we can find money for state weddings and funerals and games (both Commonwealth and Olympic.) It is a matter of priorities. Our country is not poor, it is making an ideological choice to discard the people who need help the most and throw them upon the mercy of others.

Normalisation

Donating to a foodbank should not be like buying a poppy or a yellow daffodil or a Lifeboat sticker. It should never be considered normal. It should fill us with pain and shame every time we do it. Pain because we live in a country that has abandoned any sense of social security, shame because we have allowed it to happen.

During the Scottish referendum campaign, I saw “Better Together” minded people, sharing information that claimed that Foodbanks are all over Europe and that it’s all part of being a perfectly normal 21st Century state. I cry Poppycock and if that is normal I want to live in a country that is exceptional.

poppycock

I would also put an end to collections in schools, unless it is made clear to the children that the reason for them is that “the Government is failing the people”.  Collections in schools illustrate the point that: What we as a generation tolerate, the next generation will think as normal.

So every time we donate, which we should, we should realise that foodbanks are an abomination and we should be fighting against the need for them at every opportunity and not cementing and glorifying their place in our communities.

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My Recovery through movie, music and homespun philosophy.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was on my knees, literally and figuratively, in the early hours of Friday morning. It didn’t last too long, as I sat a day in the pits of despair chinks of light started to break through. Inspiration and ideas came from many people and places and although nothing is solid or 100% formulated I’d like to share some of them with you.

sadnessthanks for the image Neil Slorance

Rocky Balboa

And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

We need to walk away from the vote rigging conspiracy, which can all be explained. We need to show we are indeed better than that. Moving forward, I think the best idea is for the Yes Movement to keep going, to fight the Westminster elections not as SNP, Greens & SSP but as YES! and take the battle to the 3 Westminster Unionist Parties and send a bus load of YES! Movement MPs to London to ensure that promises are fulfilled.

Jewel – Life Uncommon

That song has many great lessons, none more so than:

No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.

This for me addresses a number of organisations: The BBC a once beloved institution gone badly awry. There are many people sharing ways to avoid paying your TV Licence. The Scottish Labour and Unionist Party have for too long coasted on the Anti-Thatcher feelings and failed to deliver better lives for the very people who support them. In many constituencies, they could put a monkey up and still win, yet their heartland areas slip more and more into deprivation. This needs to end. Dealing with other businesses and banks that  scare mongered, I believe remains a conscience issue for individuals. I don’t think that any mass boycott would prove anything and may well prove to be counter-productive.

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother and the “45”

I have known this song forever and it wasn’t until it got shuffled up today that I really got it; my “brother” goes to the food bank, my “sister” is on a zero hour contract. They are the low paid and the disenfranchised. I want to pick them up when they stumble, it doesn’t bother me and I’m happy to do it.

1,617,989 people have now started to call themselves “The 45”. I advise caution and restraint. Be proud of your accomplishments , but if we regard ourselves as any better than “The 55”, we can never become anything more than 45. Be inclusive, talk and open your arms. Those people are going to need us as much as we need them.

45

Homespun Philosophy

My Granda taught me to ride a bike. I remember him saying, “The secret is, every time you fall off, you get back on the bike.” I’m pretty sure now that he stole that from John Wayne talking about horses, but I thought it pretty wise at the time. I told my Nana what he’d said and she replied, “That’s stupid, the secret is just not falling off at all.” Sadly we fell off the bike this time, the worst thing would be if we never get back on.

I lived without hope for a few dark hours on Friday. I didn’t like it and I refuse to let life do it to me again.

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The Last Supper

I probably wasn’t going to write about Independence again, then I was asked by a person who likes my Universal Service facebook page, to write him a blog for the Wednesday morning before the Referendum entitled The Last Supper. So, apparently I now do requests! Hope you enjoy what I came up with.
From my very first meeting at my local Yes shop, it’s been hard to ignore the similarities with the church groups of my youth. The friendliness, the outreach programme, the evangelical zeal and even the rag tag collection of chairs. I’ve watched the shop grow and the congregation swell over the last months and weeks. It’s this that sprung to mind when I was asked to write a piece called “The Last Supper.”

Now, with the polls opening in less than 36 hours, I find myself sitting reflecting on what we as a nation have been through and our two possible futures.

One in which the rich will continue to get richer, the poor will continue to get hammered and the people in the middle will get squeezed even more, but at least they can guarantee they will get squeezed in £’s and in full solidarity with the English Working Classes.

The Future we have been trying to sell, is socially just, it gives our children the opportunity to find a decent well paid job in their own community, without having to move abroad. It helps prevent 30 somethings continually having to put their hands out to the bank of Mum and Dad, because their wages don’t go far enough. We put Bairns before Bombs and People before Profit.

bairns

The heartbreaking thing is, we have worked hard, but if we fail to persuade enough of our fellow citizens to buy into our dream, we have to go back into the box with them. To have our wings clipped after such dreams will be a bitter pill to swallow. No amount of extra powers or “devo max” could possibly replace the Hope that would be lost.

Naw

I don’t think this evangelism should have been so hard, the UK is most certainly not OK and some of the harrowing tales emerging from our many Food Banks should be testimony in themselves. However, apparently large numbers of Scots have forgotten what the financial institutions and banks did to the world a few years ago and now act as if they are experts and an opinion to be trusted.

The worst thing of this campaign has been the loss of the BBC. I go to a lot of football matches. If the ref is bad, that’s one thing (he’s bad for both sides.) However if he is unfair or obviously biased that’s a problem. The behaviour and obvious bias displayed by the BBC above all else has been the saddest revelation.

Tomorrow, we do not Vote Yes in remembrance of Wallace or Bruce or Burns, we do it not looking back but looking forward and we do it with silent prayer that enough of us have realised that ANOTHER SCOTLAND IS POSSIBLE.

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The penny may never drop

I attended an Independence debate last night. It wasn’t as much the debate that got me thinking, it was a confrontation I saw at the door on the way out that sparked my interest.

A guy was handing out copies of The Wee Blue Book, a woman and a local Tory Councillor charged over in a rage. “You can’t hand things out here, it was agreed with the SNP, no leafleting!” The guy handing out the books tried to explain that he had nothing to do with the SNP and had just done it off his own bat. The woman couldn’t be convinced, she was SNP this, SNP that. It was then that the penny dropped, she genuinely doesn’t realise what is happening in this country. I thought back to Jim Murphy going on about a coordinated attack against him, he’s not figured it out either.

weeblue

People in this country have engaged like never before, some in a positive way (handing out books), some in a more negative manner (shouting down opponents), but these are people who have never taken an interest before, people who don’t speak the political language, people with no political affiliation, people who for the first time are finding a political voice.

They are people who refuse to be labeled, they are not anti-English – my local Yes Shop is often staffed by English people, they balk at the title Nationalists. Instead, they seek normalisation and democracy for their country. They are basing their future on a civic rather than ethnic identity, in a way that the old guard could never understand.

This is not about career politicians slugging it out, this is not Red v Blue v Yellow, it’s not the same old faces, it is new faces,  it’s Radical Independence, it’s Wings Over Scotland, it’s National Collective, it’s Bella Calledonia.

New heroes have risen, not to make a few bucks or keep their jobs, but because they cannot keep silent. People like Dr Phillipa Whitford, Cat Boyd and perhaps most importantly, everyone who has urged their friends to ask them questions, everyone who has written a testimony on facebook, everyone who left their comfort zone to knock a door or sit in a shop answering questions.

Radical Independence Campaign mass canvassing in support of Scottish independence, in the Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday 22nd June 2014.

This is what Jim Murphy, the local Tory Councillor and the angry lady ranting about the SNP will never understand. The rules have changed, their labels don’t stick, your party politics are not applicable. Scotland is awake like never before. There is a groundswell from the pubs, to the workplaces, from the homes, to the street.  People want something better than Westminster can offer.

Visions of the future like Common Weal, Blossom and Scotland’s Future are enlivening debate and emboldening people to think other ways are possible and most importantly, ANOTHER SCOTLAND IS POSSIBLE.

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An open letter to Rolf Harris.

Dear Mr Harris,

This is the second time I’ve written to you, I was a wee boy when I wrote for an autograph the first time, you probably don’t remember I’m sure you got loads, I probably called you Rolf, I’m not comfortable with that anymore.

You were wonderful, I regarded you as the greatest entertainer of your generation, there seemed to be nothing you could not do, that people did not love. You were the gateway to cartoons as I grew up, in a time when cartoons were a rare treat.

I remember feeling a righteous indignation when the talentless bum that was not fit to tie your laces, Lenny “I got a laugh in the 80’s, once” Henry cut you short at the Queen’s Jubilee show. I bought your 3 cd greatest hits CD, it was a marvel, you were a marvel.

Then the rumours started and I thought NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it, I was dismayed, there must be a mistake, it must just be folk trying to be funny, but they persisted.

When the finger of accusation pointed at the others, Saville, Clifford, Starr, Davidson etc etc etc, I admit I was happy enough to condemn them without much evidence, they have always been a bit creepy a bit suspect, none of them were a national treasure.

Now daily we have the unedifying spectacle of an 84 year old man being tried very publicly for the most heinous of crimes, your life has become a very real panto. I can’t watch the news, I can’t read the papers about you, I admit it hurts.

It hurts because I don’t know what counts anymore, my wee boy wasn’t a very good sleeper and the one thing I found that could help settle him was me singing ” two little boys.” later when I was looking after him alone, if I stuck the video on You Tube, I’d have  3 mins 20 seconds to jump in a shower and know that he was still enraptured and hadn’t moved.  It’s all tainted now, when I recount these cherished family memories, do I stop at the bit where you were revealed as a molester and abuser of children?

I know my feelings of hurt is nothing compared to what your victims must feel, I know we shouldn’t get too involved in celebrity culture as so many seem to have feet of clay, but I’d have thought you would have been a pretty safe bet. Perhaps that was part of the problem.

I find it a horrid revelation that all the joy you tried to bring to people’s lives has been turned into sadness. Everything about you now is covered in a heavy blanket of sadness.

 

Yours,

A Boy then a Man who used to idolise you.

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If I’m a One Hit Wonder, I’m cool with that!

I started writing Universal Service as a creative outlet and also as a way of putting order to my own thoughts. Never did I imagine I would have had 163,151 visitors, but that’s not really the whole story – 151,317 of those visitors have read the post Scottish Independence in 5 Points. Yes, I’m a one hit wonder and here are some things I’ve learned….

Numbers take over.

I found myself constantly refreshing my stats button, it becomes obsessive. 217 people have read my blog while I was in the shower, wow! “Mum, guess how many people read my blog while you made me that cup of tea?” Incidentally, the best way to answer that question is with a ridiculously high number. Or boasting to the guys at my work how many people in Nepal had read my blog (6). I found I could think of little else. Frankly I became boring (or more boring.)

nepal-flag2

Other people are different

When I use a phrase, I immediately assume that everyone has heard of it. “Shock Jock” for example, was used in relation to a talk radio disc jockey. I thought it was common knowledge, but using it got me accused of being racist and also of being English.

One person wrote a big long lecture to me about why Scotland couldn’t have solar power and I was wrong to suggest it. (I hadn’t!) H went on about latitude, flower growth and even mentioned the colour of my skin.

I also learned that I don’t handle critism well and find I start to bicker with people in my comment section, I need to work on this. I  probably mean stop this.

I feel like Tom Hanks’ Mum

I’m sure Tom Hanks’ Mum is equally proud of all her children, but nobody else seems all that bothered about the other kids. This is the way with the rest of my blogs, only 40 people read my superman piece. I remember writing that in my head on the way back from the cinema and loving what I’d come up with. I still do. Or posing my John Wayne CD’s for fun photographs to accompany a blog about The Duke. I really get a kick out of people being directed to my blog after searching Jamie Oliver Chicken Nachos. I often wonder what they think if they stay to read it. That’s happened 12 times. I feel a bit like “My daughter is a writer and my other son has a PHD.” “That’s smashing Mrs Hanks but has Tom ever taken you to the Oscars? He lost so much weight for Castaway were you worried about Tom? Is Tom good to his Mum?”

woody

Stop chasing it.

After getting my one hit, I tried again with 2 more attempts on the same topic (Scottish Independence.) Neither of them set the heather on fire and I genuinely looked up the word HUBRIS to see if it was appropriate (it was.) I think rather than writing and then just throwing it into the world, I started to target an audience and frankly I’m not good enough or prolific enough for that. So I’m just going back to writing what I want and not worrying about the numbers. I can gaurantee that 2 people at least will read to the end of every piece; my mum and my wife (and only because the latter helps with proof reading and punctuation.) But I’m cool with that.

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Invisible Nation

“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”

This is one of my favourite Burns quotes. I try to apply it to my own life and often feel I let myself down. Then I started to apply it to Scotland and got rather annoyed.

Travel the world and talk to the vast majority of people and you don’t need them to explain their countries’ place in the world, they don’t have to explain that they are not just a region of a larger neighbour, they don’t have to get bogged down on “we are British and we live in the United Kingdom, but we are also Scottish.”. We don’t have the recognition that comes with true nationhood.

How often do we have to listen as television news, entertainment or sport, use “England” and “Britain” interchangeably, blissfully unaware that A.) they are wrong B.) There is a whole nation seething every time we are slighted by this.

hitlerwe all know the next line- and that was the “British” Broadcasting Corporation. 

Even Adolf Hitler thought he was fighting just England: “England, unlike in 1914, will not allow herself to blunder into a war lasting for years…. Such is the fate of rich countries.. .Not even England has the money nowadays to fight a world war. What should England fight for? You don’t get yourself killed over an ally.” We went to war and helped defeat a guy who didn’t even recognise we were there.

Everytime, I try to register something on-line I search in hope for “Scotland” in the drop down box, I invariably have to keep going until I get to U.

Every house in the country must have had the tea-towel listing what the Scots have given the world (I won’t do the list, it’s ingrained in us all.) We sent Explorers, Pioneers and Founding Fathers the length and breadth of the globe as Winston Churchill famously said “Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.” Yet we left so little for ourselves when we joined a political union that has kept us sidelined on the world stage. We control 25% of Europe’s potential tide and wind energy, yet sit behind the UK representative in EU Energy Meetings, similar with fishing and defence (despite holding 100% of the UK’s nuclear stockpile.) We have no voice.

tea towel

So back to the Burns quote. The honest truth is that the other nations don’t see us, we are an Invisible Nation. Some may have a vague notion of who we are, but it most certainly does not match the vision we have of ourselves.

It’s time to take back what is already ours and claim our rightful place in the world.

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UK (not) OK! Part 1

Imagine if you will, slaving over Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings 3, 4 or even 5 courses. At the end of the meal your guests turn around and tell you it was “OK!” How would you feel? Disappointed? Angry? Like you’d just wasted your time? Frankly Ok! means mediocre, it means plodding along. There is nothing special with Ok! (even with an exclamation mark.)

scale

But, OK! is not good enough. Nobody wants OK! They want Great, they want Excellent. OK! is blah, OK! is “It’ll do!” The No! Campaign could have used the “Great” in Britain and built upon that, but you have to imagine that even they know they couldn’t have got away with using the word Great to describe this country today.  So they choose OK! hoping that they could force that word through, with the added bonus that it rhymed (Genius!)

But, OK! is not good enough, nobody wants OK! They want Great, they want Excellent. OK! is blah, OK! is “It’ll do!”

We want better than just OK! We deserve better than OK!

I would argue however, that this union is not even OK! It’s not even close to OK! In fact I don’t think UK OK! would pass the scrutiny of the Advertising Standards Agency.

Exhibit A

My local primary school is collecting food to distribute to people who can’t afford to feed their families. This is not OK!

Exhibit B

The Red Cross has put in place procedures to feed the hungry in this country for the first time since WWII. Who in their right minds would describe this as OK!?

Exhibit C

Experts writing in the British Medical Journal have stated that Hunger in this country has reached the level of Public Health Emergency. Most certainly not OK!

Naw

So when it comes time to cast your vote, by all means vote No! if you want, but don’t lie to yourself that you’re doing it because everything is OK! as it is, because it’s far from OK!

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Craft Fairs have got me sold.

How often do we get the opportunity to buy something from the person who produced it? Recently I have been getting a big kick out of doing just this. I get so frustrated with the many soulless ways I have to spend my money.

There is something truly beautiful about a Craft Fair. People create something and then they put it on a table in front of them and hope it catches someone’s eye. They all seem prepared to chat and to tell you what inspired them and go into the details of their work.

Despite the fear this is going to come across as just a big advert, I’m going to give a few examples, with the intention of inspiring future gift ideas (or even for yourself.)

I buy over 500 comics a year and one of the ones that struck me most was by a Glasgow guy called Neil Slorance who wrote his own, had the courage to sit behind it and sold it to me himself. I bumped into him at another Fair and ended up buying Christmas cards from him, because they were just so cool.

cards

I recently bought a lovely boy pirate painting from Audrey Allan, for my one year old nephew’s bedroom wall. Audrey also does wall hangings and tree decorations.

I bought myself a Braveheart Lego sketch from Garry Robertson, he takes all sorts of commissions and has a cracking catalogue of work to look through.

Lego

I discovered just the other day that fellow blogger Louise Mills does the most fantastic linen pieces, purses, table mats and Christmas tree decorations.

Literally endless amounts of local people selling their art, taking commissions and making whatever you want. Guaranteed, locally there will be someone selling their wares on Facebook or through Etsy  which is another newish discovery of mine, a place on the web where people can sell their unique goods, it’s amazing.

I’m fed up spending all my hard earned money in big impersonal husks, giving it to people who have no more desire than me to actually be there. I live in the real world and understand that the practicalities of modern life dictate that, these are places I have to go.

However, when it comes to gifts and some of the nicer things in life, John Lewis and M&S have enough money and dead artists don’t need to eat. Instead find someone who created something special and thank them for it. It will be some of the best transactions you ever make.

It’s not a new way, it’s a rediscovery of an old way, a better way.

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