Watch This: Urban Ghost Story (1998)

I do love me some supernatural horror -not werewolves, vampires, and the like but I do like a good ghost story. I love ghost stories, I think, because I am such a rationalist and the presence of ghosts is probably the greatest of the ruptures with the real that we see in the supernatural horror canon -certainly more so than the other traditional monsters that we see stalking the pages and screens of the genre.

There is however one thing that has repeatedly bugged me about ghost stories and films and that is the class of the people who are, usually, affected by the supernatural events. It isn’t true in 100% of cases but there does seem to be a preponderance of upper middle class people affected by things that go bump in the night. It is almost as if regular working class people are immune to the attentions of the dearly no-quite departed. I know that there are exceptions to this but they are exceptions and exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis eh?

What confuses me about the lack of working people in supernatural horror films is that the economic situation of working class people is such that fleeing from the horror isn’t even remotely an option -or is at least going to be far more difficult that it is an automatic source of tension and conflict.

I’m not sure how much of this is a hangover from the Gothic tale and the works of M.R. James but I do much prefer a story where I can relate somewhat to the life experiences of the characters and to the non-supernatural troubles that they face.

As I said, there are some exceptions to this. One exceptional exception is the 1998 BBC film Urban Ghost Story.

The story follows the events following the joy riding accident that nearly kills the 12 year old protagonist and does kill her equally young friend. Twelve year old Lizzie lives with her Mum and younger brother in a small flat in a Glaswegian high rise. After the accident strange things start happening and Lizzie’s mother, Kate, does her best to try and protect her daughter from events but she is hampered by her economic position and all the generally shitty things that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

It is a beautifully bleak film which does a great job of capturing at least some of the reality of life for working people in the UK and uses that reality to further problematise the supernatural troubles that beset the family. There are one or two problems with the film -the reinforcing of the myth of young working class women getting pregnant simply to get a council flat is a glaring one- but on the whole it is a brilliant example of a working class ghost story.

It hasn’t been on television for about five years -which is no surprise as it looks like it was filmed on video and so maybe wouldn’t appeal to those who expect everything in HD- but it is available on DVD and, I’m sure, it will be available somewhere like the Pirate Bay. If you get the chance to watch this I highly recommend doing so. 🙂

In Laws and Old Stuff

The In Laws have been up visiting this week and so we yesterday took them to see the Hunterian museum at the University of Glasgow. I was rather miffed that the Pictish carved stone balls seem to have been removed from display as I think they are probably the most enigmatic artefact in the museum’s collection. 😦
As C’s mam is a nurse we also went to see the anatomy museum but I’m not going to share the pictures I took there (a two headed baby and the testes of an “imbecilic dwarf”), don’t worry. 😀

Snow Business Like Being Underemployed on a Day Like This!

OK, so it is properly doing my head in being as underemployed as I am (to the point that I’m actually starting to apply for jobs in Edinburgh despite that being a 3 hour round trip every day.) but despite that it does mean that I get to go and play in the snow when C is off to work and Little Ms. X is away to school. It also means that I get to take some absolutely lovely pictures of the local kirkyard in the snow.

 

NaNoBustMo

Well I never made my NaNoWriMo target; which was set at 35,000 words rather than 50,000 as that’s the ballpark figure for where I see my novella heading. I did get about 15,000 words of it written though. I also managed to get a few thousand words down on a few short stories I’m working on. I know that having a few different projects on the go isn’t exactly the best working practice but I have so many bloody ideas I have to get them at least partially written down so that I can come back to them later.

The short story I have done the most work on is provisionally titled Schemes of Grey and Yellow and riffs off Chambers’ King in Yellow mythos. It’s set on a nameless housing scheme (that’s a council estate for people down south or a project for my occasional American reader) in the west of Scotland. Dolorosa, I’m actually rather firm on that title, is set in Glasgow and follows the tragic events that beset a young working class Glaswegian woman after her family has a chance encounter with the unknown. You can read brief excerpts from the first drafts below. I expect them both to change rather considerably in the rewrite.

One thing that I have managed to do though is come up with a couple of cover designs for Dolorosa. Productive procrastination for the win eh? I’m not sure which one I prefer though, which is a pain. I may put it up for a vote when the book is ready to be released.

Dolorosa-Cover-Working-File Dolorosa-Black-and-White-Cover-Working-File

Dolorosa(Excerpt)

Soft greys and whites bleed across the sky. The world below is awash with greens, purples and cold serrated granite scratching at the clouds. The mountains are emblazoned with flashes of green grass and the purple of the heather, their slopes both sheer and gentle sink into the wide flat bottom of the glen. Two veins of water, sparkling silver below the washed out sky, merge into a wide river tracing its way through landscape. At the far end of the glen, beside the wide river, sits a small town – little more than a village really. A flat topped church steeple looks over the town, the old winding streets and the newer, more linear and regimented, housing developments giving the town a patchwork look. The glen is dotted with small collections of farm buildings and everywhere the signs of an industrial agriculture winding down in the autumn months.

Higher up the sides of the valley are sheep worn meadows, heather, gorse. In a well shorn meadow stands a woman. She stands by herself, not quite in the middle of the meadow. She is dressed unsuitably for both the time of year and the environment in which she stands. Her jacket looks better suited to dashing between the shelter of shops on a Saturday afternoon in a town somewhere. It is so completely soaked that it appears almost black where, when dry, it is grey. Her hair, shoulder length and brown, has been whipped around her face as though by a storm and stuck there by the rain. Yet the air here is still. Still and, but for the soft hum of the ever present insects, quiet. There is no wind to carry the sob. The deep gulping of air is swallowed by the silence spread between land and sky.

Her head is thrown back. Her eyes closed but her mouth open. A dark O set against her sickly pale skin. Her arms hang at her sides. Her hands opening and closing, opening and closing. Clenching. Grasping at nothing. She sinks to her knees. Her head bowing as she gulps and releases another sob. Slowly she folds herself over her legs, her head pushing into the cold grass. Her arms stretch out before her. Hands clutching handfuls of emerald blades. Fingers digging into the soft brown earth. Clawing at it. She sobs again and begins to tremble. Her back heaves as sob after sob escapes her convulsing body. Louder and louder, faster and faster until she is crying uncontrollably. She lifts her head and screams. Rage and sadness shatter the silence of the glen. Her scream crosses the vastness between earth and sky. If it could, her scream, would sunder the world; set the heavens aflame til naught remained but ash. Ash and sorrow.

Schemes of Grey and Yellow(Excerpt)

The scheme was grey. Everywhere. Every house, every shop and commercial unit, every block of flats. Grey. The uniform grey of the Scottish housing scheme. Low cost housing that mirrored the perpetual slate sky above. The choice of colour scheme, ubiquitous around the country, seemed a cruel joke played by the powers that be on the powers that don’t. The most dreichit country on earth and it mirrors the miserable bastard weather in its miserable bastard housing.
Leon waited outside Satish the Paki’s shop for Black Martin. Satish wasn’t a Paki, his parents had come to Scotland from India long before Leon was born. Still didn’t stop his shop being called the Paki shop. People aren’t always blessed with the greatest amount of either intelligence or originality at times thought Leon.
Black Martin wasn’t black either. He had just gone through a goth period in school, listening to the Cure and Joy Division, dressing all in black, and in doing so had earned himself the now redundant, and wholly unimaginative, nickname.

Black Martin came out of the shop laughing and waving back at Satish of whom Leon could see slices between the posters advertising fizzy drinks and loaves of bread which were spread haphazardly across the windows of the store. Martin waved him over and tossed a can of juice at him as he approached.

“Satish gave us ’em on tick til tomorrow, giro day innit?”

“Nice one!” Leon waved back through the glass at Satish.

“He gave us some baccy an’ aw. Want one?”

Martin stripped the small green pouch of its plastic wrapping and began to roll a cigarette before passing the pouch and the slim blue packet of rolling papers across.

“Where d’you fancy going then?”

“I dunno, Weird Malky’s?”

“The paedo?”

“Aye, well he’s always got booze in and, for the record, he ain’t a paedo. That’s just shite talked by folk ‘cos he’s a bit odd is all.”

#

Just behind Satish’s shop lay Fairmount Park, a sad looking stretch of patchy yellowing grass with a square of concrete littered with broken glass which used to hold climbing frames and slides. The sign beside the sorry looking grey square proudly proclaimed a new park opening soon funded by some company or other in partnership with Glasgow City Council. The sign looked as sorry as the rest of park; it having stood out in the elements for the best part of five years. Leon and Martin had still been in high school when they had pulled down the old play equipment citing “safety concerns” and promising to replace the equipment with modern, up to date “safe” equipment for the children of the Scheme. Now all that remained was an old bench which, for reasons unknown, had escaped the attentions of the supossedly safety conscious city council. Upon that bench now sat Cameron Wiley, one of the local drunks, his head bent low so that from behind he appeared to have been the victim of an amazingly bloodless decapitation. Sat beside him were two large yellow labelled green glass bottles.

“Check it.” Leon gestured towards the old drunk. “Shall we go keep the auld cunt company?”

“Aye, why no?”

Leon had always had a soft spot for Cameron Wiley. Before he had screwed himself up on the booze he had been a decent guy. He was only in his late 40s but looked far older. Once, when Leon and Martin had been wains Wiley had saved them from getting collared by the cops when they were playing truant. He had done so by picking a fight with himself outside the shop causing the cops to lose interest in the young lads trying desperately to hide bottles of tonic wine in their jackets. As soon as the cops went to deal with the screaming and shouting drunk the boys had fled. Leon had glanced back as they rounded the corner away from the cops and as he did so he saw Wiley wink at him and smile.

“Afternoon auld yin.” Martin and Leon stood over the derelict. He smelled like he had spilled more booze over himself than he had drank since the last time he changed his clothes, which may well have been some time ago. “Whit ye on wi’ Cam’?”

Cameron Wiley jumped as though wakened from a deep sleep. A thin black booklet slipped from his hands as he looked up at the boys. His eyes paler than Leon remembered, the colour washed out.

“Wha? Who? Is it? Naw!” Cameron slurred the words and wobbled as though unsteady on his feet, despite being sat down. Placing one grubby hand on the back of the bench he pushed himself up and on to his feet.

“Is that you? Naw, naw, naw. You’re lads, no lassies. Are you here?”

Martin, grinning, slapped his hand onto Leon’s shoulder. “Auld yin’s wrecked. Surprise!”

Wiley glanced at Martin, then at Leon, his eyes narrowed as though trying to focus on the boys.

“You’re, you’re no, um, you’re no him or her. You’re no even here.” And with that he staggered off back the way the boys had walked.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen the old pissheid so wasted before.” Leon watched as Cameron Wiley wove his way along the cracked and overgrown path. Snatching occasionally at invisible insects in the air about his head.

“Never mind that” Martin lifted the two, unopened, bottles of Buckfast Tonic Wine in either hand. “Score! Screw going tae the paedo’s house the now. Let’s have these first.”

Leon sat in the spot that Cameron had just vacated and took a bottle from Martin. “One fer you, and one fer me!”. Leon opened his bottle and took an enormous swallow. An heroic swig as Martin may have put it.

They sat awhile watching the empty park; the occasional ray of light bursting through the clouds and dashing across the park as though the light itself was in a rush to get away from this place and its grey hopelessness. Leon said as much to Martin.

“If there’s a bright centre to the universe, my dear Leon, you’re on the scheme it’s furthest fuckin’ from.” Martin cackled to himself. “I’m away for a piss.” He stood, taking his mostly empty bottle of wine with him. “And I’ll be takin’ this. I’m no havin’ you tanning it whilst I’m at me most vulnerable.”

With that he swaggered in the direction of some nearby sickly looking bushes. Leon had once been playing with James Donaldson in the park, when they were 10 or 11 years old, and they had found a huge stack of porno magazines in those same bushes. By the looks of the bushes the wages of sin did not pay well. They had paid Leon and James Donaldson well enough when they had sold the magazines to the highest bidders at school the next day.

Glancing at the floor between his feet he noticed the black booklet that Cameron Wiley had dropped. It had the pattern of the sole of his trainers stamped on the cover in dirt now but was otherwise fine. He picked it up.

Le Roi en Jaune. Leon didn’t remember much in the way of French from school but he recognised the word for yellow. Flipping it open he saw that the words inside were in English.

“What’s that then?” Martin dropped himself down next to Leon on the bench.

“Fuck knows. Cam’ dropped it. Look like a play or something.” He passed it to Martin who looked at the cover and passed it right back.

“I can’t read French man, can youse?”

“Naw, it’s in English inside. Just called something about yellow in French on the cover. Anyway,” he rolled the booklet up and stuffed it into his back pocket, “shall we head over to drink some of Malky’s booze?” With that he drained the last of his bottle, dropped it on the floor and got to his feet.

“Aye, come on then.” Martin stood finishing his wine in a single gulp. “Though if he starts touching me I’m calling Child Line!”

“He’s not a paedo! And besides, if he was I think you would be safe from him. You’re ugly as fuck an ‘aw. I wouldn’t nonce you up if were a paedo.”

With that they headed across the park towards Malky’s flat in the high rise blocks.

#

Leon awoke lying on the floor of Malky’s flat. The sun, bereft of heat but blinding nonetheless, streaming through his curtainless windows and punching holes of screaming agony straight through his eyes and deep into his brain.

“Aw, my fucking God.”

He rolled over and flung his arm across his face to protect himself from the golden needles of fire that were trying to embed themselves deeper and deeper into his head. After laying there for ten minutes groaning and praying to anyone that would listen for either the pain to go away or for someone to kill him outright Leon sat up.

Malky the Paedo’s flat was in an even worse state than it normally was. Things appeared to have gotten especially messy last night. Their visit to Malky the not-a-paedo had been well timed as he had, that morning, gotten his sick money and so Martin and Leon had generously offered to go to Satish’s for him, thus saving him the effort of walking all the way across the park to pick up booze. Of course they paid themselves a purple can of Tennants Super for the effort and drank that on the way back. After which there had been vodka. Lots, and lots of vodka. Followed by another trip to Satish’s just before 10 o’clock for yet more vodka. Then Martin had pulled the booklet Cameron had dropped from Leon’s pocket and started reading aloud from it in a pompous faux English accent. Because, so far as Martin was concerned, only English people liked plays – posh English people at that. He had then passed it to Malky who continued reading, and even sang some of it. Leon had taken a turn and then the bottle was passed around again and after that things just went black.

Slowly, very slowly lest he throw up, Leon got to his feet and went for a piss. After he had finished, and assured himself that he wasn’t going to throw up, he went back to the living room and checked all the vodka bottles for hair of the dog. Empty, every last one of them. He poked his head into Malky’s bedroom and there were Malky and Martin sleeping top and tail in Malky’s bed. He tried to take a photograph to send around to everybody but the battery on his phone was completely dead. “Piece of shit”, he put it back in his pocket and pulled out a ten pound note. Malky’s change from the final trip to Satish’s last night. He put it back in his pocket, grabbed his coat and Cam’s weird black book and quietly let himself out of the flat.

Leon shut the door quietly behind himself, put his coat on and walked towards the door to the lifts, his trainers squeaking on the cheap tiled flooring. Pulling open the heavy green fire door the stench of piss and stale alcohol hit him bodily and made him retch, bend double, and almost vomit. Standing on the landing, staring directly at him, was Cameron Wiley. A black moth the size of his face fluttering about his head.

“You got here then, aye?”

Leon’s hand slipped from the door as his body reeled and he threw up the remnants of the previous night’s excess. His mouth and eyes burning from the vodka, tonic wine, and God knows what else that now lay splashed about the floor before him Leon dry heaved once more and then stood straight -his head swimming. He pulled the door open. The landing was empty.

“Cam?” He poked his head through the door. There was no Cameron, no bloody big moth. Not even the smell that had set his stomach churning. Cautiously, one hand on the door frame the other holding the door open, he walked out onto the lifts landing. There was no one there. Opposite the lift doors was the drying area, used more for people storing crap they didn’t want to have to take down 14 floors to throw away than for the drying of clothes, into which Cameron could have ducked. The door to the drying area hung slightly ajar.

“Cameron?” Leon reached out and gently pushed the door with the tips of his fingers letting it swing open under its own weight. Stepping into the half light of the drying area he could see that there was no Cameron Wiley in there. Just a worn out sofa, a broken pushchair and a few mouldering cardboard boxes.

Confused and trying to remember if he done anything besides drink too much the previous night Leon backed out onto the landing and called the lift.

Leon leaned against the tarnished checkerplate of the lift wall and closed his eyes, blotches of technicolour static swam in the darkness behind his lids. Each small side to side movement of the lift felt like the carriage was swinging wildly free of the confines of the enclosing lift shaft. Grateful that he had already thrown up his stomach contents Leon opened his eyes. The lift had already reached the ground floor and the doors had opened without him realising. Beyond the doors the entrance hallway was dark, the normally harsh neon strip light in the ceiling was dimmed to a sickly orange-yellow colour and beyond the hallway, through the reinforced glass window of the heavy green metal door Leon could see that the world beyond was dim.

“Fuck this.” He hit the door close button and the doors juddered back together. The lift shook for a moment and the doors opened once more onto the dim hallway. Once, twice, three times he tried the door close button and each time the same result. The lift juddered and the doors opened. He backed up to the rear wall of the lift and slid down until he was sat on the floor staring disbelievingly at the tepidly illuminated hallway and the greyer than usual world beyond.

Remembering the staircase Leon rose cautiously to his feet. He may not like the thought of walking up 14 floors, 28 flights of stairs – two per floor, back to Malky’s flat but he liked the thought of venturing beyond the confines of the tower block even less. Placing one hand on the door jam he leaned slowly out from the lift looking first to his left and then to his right, the hall was deserted, the door to the staircase was a mere fifteen feet to his right and beyond that the climb to safety, if not sanity, fourteen floors above.

Leon stepped from the lift, the carriage juddered as he stepped onto the the tiled floor of the hall and the doors creaked closed once more. From beyond the closed doors he heard the sound of the lift beginning its ascent.

“Oh, for fucks sake man!” Leon threw his hands to his head before hurriedly pressing the lift call button. He hammered on the button but to no effect. The lift continued its climb and the doors remained closed. Considering whether to wait for the lift or begin his ascent a glance behind him at the unnatural twilight beyond the main door made his mind up for him. He would climb.

Hope you like what you read. 🙂

 

A Psychogeographic Jaunt Through the Neolithic(via the A92)

Going through some old internetty bits and bobs of mine and came across this. It was part of a project I submitted for my Landscape Archaeologies Past & Present course that I did at uni a few years ago. The Neolithic sites here, two stone circles and an excarnation site, are in a thoroughly modern setting. The Balfarg stones are in the middle of a housing development, the excarnation site is next to the busy A92 and the Balbirnie stones were picked up and moved to make way for a road. So it’s a very modern Neolithic that we have here in Scotland.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfarg

Saor|Aura

Today has been a somewhat metallic one 🙂 I do like to listen to music when I work and so was trawling the internets for something new to play today. I discovered this guy when I was going through the ‘atmospheric black metal’ tag on Bandcamp(don’t judge me! 😡 ) and blimey, he’s really good. Well, if you like atmospheric celtic black metal that is. 😀 Plus he’s from Weegie Land just up the road which is always nice. His name’s Andy Marshall and the band name, Saor, is Gaelic for “free”.

Aw B******s

Well, that went well didn’t it? I’m referring, of course, to the vote for Scottish independence that happened last Thursday. For months I had refused to allow myself to become optimistic but as we entered the final week before the vote it seemed like thing might go the way I hoped. 97% of people registered to vote which I took to be a good sign surely people weren’t going to go to such an effort to maintain the status quo? Especially when that status quo is responsible for devastating poverty, people starving to death or killing themselves as a direct result of the attacks carried out by the state upon the poorest and most vulnerable in our society rather than simply a large number of 3 chord pop-rock songs. It seems that I was wrong about that.

It’s saddening, it really is. There is some hope though. 45%(ish) voted yes to independence and that’s a hell of a result considering that the full weight of the British media and state was behind Project Fear, the No Campaign, in spreading lies and misinformation.

The other really saddening thing is that the optimism and joy of the yes campaign has been trumped by the mean, cold, and horrible ugliness of British Loyalism. Compare the scenes below.

YES-George-Sq YES-George-Sq-2 No-George Sq No-George Sq-2

 

In the top two images we see people involved in the Yes campaign on the day of the vote. Partying and celebrating. Below we see the ugly scenes as British loyalists came to ‘celebrate’ the No campaign victory with violence and bigotry. Look at these fuds abusing a Glaswegian councillor outside the council offices on Friday as they flocked to George Square to cause trouble. Rule Britannia, Britons always, always, always will be slaves.

Still, at least there is the possibility of another referendum at some point in the future. Though I’m certain that Westminster will have stitched things up by then to ensure Scotland’s continued poverty either way. I love Scotland, I really do. I’ve lived here for over a decade and I’ve been, for the most part, happy as larry. Now however I’m seriously considering leaving. Not just Scotland but the UK entirely. There are far better places to live and raise a family, we just have to decide which one to flee to. Operation Sinking Ship starts now.

Free Pie Supper in the Sky

Ken Macleod, the Scottish author of amazing SF novels such as Learning the World and The Star Fraction,  is probably almost as well known for his left wing politics as he is for his literary work. Especially as his novels often quite explicitly deal with elements of various left wing ideologies, be they communist, socialist, or anarchist, which is something that sets him apart from the gamut of, even ostensibly left wing, SF writers. I follow his blog, The Early Days of a Better Nation, as he often has interesting things to say and an overt left wing perspective is refreshing amongst the generalised well meaning liberalism of many SFF authors and fan sites. I obviously do not follow it as closely as I should as I seem to have missed the fact that Ken has a rather odd stance on the question of Scottish independence. That stance being he is against it.

Well, I say it’s an odd stance. It’s an odd stance to me in the way that I always find it a bit odd when a person with whom I share a great many interests and perspectives has a considered position that differs so greatly form my own. This is, quite obviously, a good thing as it works towards preventing me from becoming intellectually lazy with regards important issues such as the upcoming vote for independence. It’s very easy to simply dismiss the outpourings of right wing groups like the Labour or Conservative parties as a mish mash of odious lies and vindictive spite on account of that being almost exactly what they are. Anyone who has seen the pronouncements of the main Westminster parties and the No campaign will know what I mean with this. It isn’t referred to as ‘Project Fear’ for nothing.

I hadn’t realised that there was a particular left wing opposition to Scottish independence. The view from up here is that the left seem either united on this, via the broad left coalition of the Radical Independence Conference, or ambivalent, which seems to be the stance of most anarchist and ultra left groups and individuals.

In his piece this morning Ken refers to a number of sources, including Tom Morrison in the Morning Star and Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group at the University of Glasgow, which raise a variety of points with regards the independence question. He also references the Red Paper Collective who are “a group of activists: trade unionists, academics, politicians.” but they seem to be quite heavily linked to the Labour Party and as I’m interested in left wing opposition to independence I’m going to ignore them for brevity’s sake.

I would like to respond to some of the points raised by the Morning Star article and Greg Philo’s piece on Open Democracy and then outline a wee bit about why I, a Welshman living in Scotland with many, many friends in the South, will be voting Yes this coming September.

The Morning Star article trots out the usual line about Westminster elections.

There is a serious danger that in a matter of weeks the unity of the British labour movement will be gravely damaged and England and Wales (and by proxy Scotland) condemned to long-term Tory rule.

First off I’m not sure what unity within the British labour movement there is to be damaged. Unions are organised by trade rather than industry leading to ridiculous situations where cleaners, for example, within the RMT go on strike but the drivers, signallers etc… do not go out with them meaning that the strike is neutered and the workers have none of the negotiating power that you would expect had the other members of their union gone out on strike with them. Similarly we have multiple unions in a single workplace meaning that union scabbing is a very real thing. So no, Scottish independence will not damage any labour movement unity as it simply is not there to be damaged.

Secondly, no. Scottish independence will not have any real effect on Westminster elections. In all the elections since the 1945 Attlee administration the Scottish vote would have had an effect a mere handful of times. In general we get the Tories or Labour based on the way that England votes.

This point also ignores the fact that the Labour party, let’s be honest it’s a two horse race in Westminster with the Lib Dems for comedy value, is a right wing party that has attacked workers, both in Britain and abroad, has attacked benefit claimants, introduced the hated ATOS sickness benefit assessments, invaded two countries killing millions, begun the privatisation of the NHS, set up the field for the privatisation of the education system, established an immigration policy that would make the BNP green with envy, and all manner of other badness. So even if Scotland’s votes were needed to get the Labour Party back into power why would that be a good thing? Sure, the Labour Party may wring their hands and look apologetic, and they most certainly won’t guffaw, whilst they’re ripping apart the social infrastructure of the island but they will do it all the same.

Greg Philo raises the spectre of Anti-English racism which is, I have to admit, something of a fair point. Racism is a bad and terrible thing no matter who it is focussed upon. To back this up Philo quotes the Telegraph(2013) and the Scotsman(2006) -two very conservative and right wing papers- with articles on anti-English sentiment amongst Scottish school children and a 2% increase in complaints of racism from English people in Scotland.

Both articles are troubling, especially concerning racism amongst school children. I would like to live out my dotage in a place where I’m not surrounded by swivel eyed bigoted young people as I’m sure most people would. One point that Philo misses however is that a 2011 study, reported here in the Times Education Supplement, showed that 83% of teachers in English schools had

witnessed offensive behaviour among children, including name-calling, racist comments, jokes, stereotyping and “a tendency to use asylum seekers as scapegoats for a wide range of problems in society”.

Now I’m honestly not saying that English kids are more inherently racist than Scottish kids. Kids are kids and respond to the climate in which they live, just like adults. What I am saying however is that racism is a very real problem and one that is not confined to Scotland. That there should be an element of anti-English racism in Scottish schools is unsurprising given the Londoncentric bias of the mainstream media. Something that has been a bugbear for many people in Scotland for a long time. That and, you know, the whole history of the English government enacting policies that are hated throughout Scotland.

Not that this excuses it but I don’t think that using this as an example is all that great. Racism appears to be on the rise throughout the island. Something that should be of no surprise to anyone on the left given that the mainstream media have been fostering and promoting rabid British Loyalism, anti-Islamic, and anti-immigrant bigotry almost non-stop since late 2001.

There has, in fact, been a rise in the number of racist incidences recorded in Scottish school. Nearly 1300 over the last two years. However, English school recorded 87,915 racist incidences between 2007 and 2011(apologies for the Daily Mail link). That’s around 21,000 a year. Something like 30 times the amount of racist incidences reported in Scotland. England has 10 times(ish) the population of Scotland. Not 30 times so the disparity here is quite astounding. A disparity not mentioned by Greg Philo.

On a more personal note, I have lived in Scotland for most of the last 13 years and in that time I have directly experienced 3 incidences of anti-English racism. I may be Welsh but my accent is mostly English, and sounds entirely English to most Scots, due to the amount of time I spent living in England as a young(er) man. Three incidences in 13 years. In England however I experienced many, many incidences of anti-Welsh sentiment including being attacked on the streets of Brighton by a drunken Londoner who called me, if memory serves, a “cunt from the provinces”.

Now this, again, doesn’t imply that English people are inherently more racist than the Scots. It just shows that there are wankers everywhere and the existence of these wankers should not be a deciding factor when making big decisions.

Philo then moves on to the factors that are often touted as evidence of Scots being more progressive than the people south of the border. Factors such as the asylum seeker support initiatives and long standing socialist traditions. He rightfully points out that there are equivalents south of the border too.

The truth is we are like a lot of other places, and we would do well to remember that when people speak of Scotland or the Scots as having a “will to socialism” or write that “social democracy is hard- wired into Scotland’s soul”.

The myth of the naturally socialistic Scots is, obviously, bunkum. Working class people are, in general, quite far to the left of the Labour or Conservative parties, this is quite clear from this piece in the International Business Times, whether they are in Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. The assumption of the Scots tendency to socialism is, however, a great failing on the part of the ‘radical left for independence’ and is a fantasy that they would do well to sideline. An independent Scotland will not be a socialist paradise. It will have the same, more or less, class structure as in the UK, it will have workers being exploited by employers and tenants being exploited by landlords. Anyone, aside from the pie supper in the sky nationalists, will realise this.

Strangely though Philo then goes on to say

The radical left, as we understand it, is not represented in the Scottish Parliament, even with proportional representation.

Which I find extremely odd. Where are the radical left in Westminster? Has there ever been a radical left in Westminster? Why should it be expected that there be one in Scotland? This is ignoring the presence recently(2003-2007) of members of the Scottish Socialist Party in Holyrood. Not that I consider the SSP to be especially radical but compared to the Labour Party they are rabble rousing firebrands.

There is a lot more in Philo’s post that I disagree with but I’ve passed 1700 words already, and I still need my morning coffee, so I’ll just get to why I will be voting Yes in September.

For many years I thought that the chances of there being an independent Scotland were slim, to say the least. I said, back before the referendum was announced, that if there ever was a vote I would vote Yes just “to watch the Daily Mail combust in a fit of apoplectic rage.” The thought of which still gives me warm fuzzies. Obviously I didn’t consider that there ever would be a referendum.

However as the referendum was announced and the austerity attacks upon society began to bite I was forced to reconsider my stance.

I have a family. I want what’s best for my family both in the present and in the future. What is best for my family, a rational and egalitarian society, is unlikely to happen any time soon therefore I want what’s better for them and to mitigate the impact of negative things upon us.

Independence will not bring about what’s best but it will act to stymie the more immediate and rampant affects of the austerity attacks upon us.

There are certain things that have been won from the ruling class over the last century or so. These things, the DWP, the NHS, free education, and so on, make up the social safety net that mean that whilst our society is extremely unfair and slanted in favour of the wealthy there are these things that mitigate this unfairness. Even if you are unemployed you are, supposedly, unlikely to starve. You should be able to get a roof over your head at night. If you become sick you will be nursed back to health.

All of these things are vital for us to even make a pretence of being a civilised society. As flawed as the education system, NHS, DWP and so on are they still make life more bearable for working class people. They keep us alive and feed our minds. I look south towards England and I literally shudder.

I do not, for a minute, think that whichever government is elected to Holyrood post-independence will be ideologically any different to the government in Westminster. It will be a neo-liberal government just the same. I do, however, feel that whichever government is in Holyrood will have a greater pressure upon them to maintain the social safety net of the welfare state and to put in place some progressive policies that will maintain, if not improve, the quality of life for those of us north of the border.

When X leaves school in a few years time I want her to have the option of going to university should she wish. For free. When we get ill I want us to be able to access medication. For free. If C or I lose our jobs I don’t want us to be made homeless. I want these things for all people but I especially want them for us. For these reasons I will be voting Yes in September. I’m not voting against England or English people. I’m not voting so that they can’t have these things. I’m voting because if I don’t I feel that we will, almost certainly, lose these things.

I also have little doubt that should the referendum return a No vote then Scotland will be shat upon intensely by a triumphalist Westminster. If the Tories are still in power after the next Westminster election, and I see no reason to doubt that they will be, then they will want to punish Scotland for its temerity to think that it could challenge the hegemony of GBPLC. Remember, these are the same vile human beings who cheered the £81billion cuts to public spending which have driven millions into gut wrenching poverty. Do you not think that they will miss the opportunity to twist the knife once more?

A Yes vote is self defence.

Following are a few issues I’ve heard raised by various friends either in England or in Scotland with regards independence.

But, what about solidarity? Aren’t we saying “I’m all right Jack” and leaving our friends and families to the south to suffer the degradations of the Tory Party? If you are lying on the floor being kicked then is it solidarity to lie down next to you and allow myself to be kicked too? Of course it isn’t! Insanity is what it would be.

But aren’t borders bad things? Why would we want more? Yes, borders are bad things. They are used to control the movement of people for the benefit of the ruling class. They are arbitrary lines on a map and in the case of the Scottish/English border that is exactly what the border will remain. There are no plans, outside of the delusional imaginings of the Project Fear campaign, to establish border controls north of Carlisle. The movement of people will not be inhibited by the ‘new’ border so it makes no real difference.

Isn’t it all about nationalism? No. Nationalism is, along with racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, on my list of things that are both absurd and contemptible. There are, of course, many, many people who will be voting Yes for reasons of nationalism and I think that they are wrong to do so. Not that I think they should vote No, just that they should be voting Yes in self defence rather than in celebration of some imagined heritage that is separate from the heritage of the rest of the island.

So, there you have it. That’s why I’ll be voting Yes. I want to ensure that my family are, however temporarily, shielded from the excesses of the austerity attacks and I have seen absolutely no reason, from left or right, that has convinced me a No vote can do this. Post-independence will not be all ‘free heavy ale and pie suppers in the sky’ but it, for a while at least, won’t be dragged screaming back into the Victorian era by the viciousness of the Westminster establishment.

“Those who can should do for those who can’t”

Here’s an impassioned statement from Denis Curran of Loaves and Fishes in East Kilbride on the horror that is facing many, many families in Scotland and throughout the UK as a result of austerity measures and benefit cuts brought in over the last 5 years. That we live in the twenty first century in a supposedly developed country and have people going days without food so that they can feed their children and walking miles in the hope of getting a food parcel is an utter disgrace. That these people are then targeted by the media and government as scroungers and thieves is, to put it bluntly, sickening.

I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating: this present government in Whitehall seems intent on dragging us back to the age of debtors prisons and work houses.

Malcolm X

British Justice

I’ve blogged previously about the riots that kicked off in cities around England this summer and the reasons why people kicked off like they did. Its no surprise that the forces of the state in the form of the justice system are striking hard against those who engaged in the riots. Even against those who had nothing whatsoever to do with them.

Now the BBC is reporting that two teenage lads from Dundee have been sentenced to three years each for calling for people to head to Dundee city centre to riot. No one took up the call and everything passed off peacefully. Tayside however seems to be the most crime free area in all of Scotland however as the Tayside Police had nothing better to do that track down and prosecute these youngsters for calling for a riot that never happened.

When passing sentence Sheriff Munro said

This is one of the worst breaches of the peace that I have ever had to deal with.

Seriously? Tayside must be one of the most chilled out places in the entire world!

Dundee High Street on a normal Saturday afternoon

A breach of the peace that resulted in no ones peace being breached is the worst breach of the peace he has ever seen? He is either very new to his job or lives in cloud cuckoo land. These lads should be released now and that Sheriff Munro should be relieved of his position as he obviously does not live, mentally speaking, in the same world as the rest of us.

grrrrrr