Monthly Archives: August 2018

A PEOPLE’s VOTE AND SCOTLAND

images

I really loathe their Brexit. I really do. Never before has the main objective of any Government been to intentionally impoverish the people they serve with such chaotic and clueless abandon. There is no redeeming quality to what the Tories are doing to us and the fact that my country so overwhelmingly rejected it just makes this loathing even more acute. I want to stop their Brexit and there is just no way that I will ever be reconciled to what they are trying to achieve with taking us out of the European Union against Scotland’s national collective will.

It should therefore be easy for someone like me to buy into any and all efforts to stop their Brexit. Another vote to stop it? What could possible be wrong with that? 

Well, there are in fact just a few issues that require a wee bit more attention before I sign up to any campaign. The main one being what if Scotland votes to remain again (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)? No one form this ‘people’s vote’ campaign have attempted to answer this question other than some glib response that it would have to be a UK wide result. Well, I’m sorry that isn’t good enough. Brexit is a problem created beyond Scotland, mainly out of divisions which abound in a Conservative party that has 13 of Scotland’s 59 MPs. We wanted nothing to do with this and when we were obliged to vote on the issue every part of Scotland voted to remain. Why should Scotland participate in an exercise that has explicitly ignored our view and won’t respect it in any rerun? At the very least we would need to see some equivalent support for a second referendum on independence. Surely, these democrats in the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign thoroughly believe in the right to choose and reconsider?

Then there is precedence. There are fears that if a second vote on the EU is delivered a similar type of second vote on the terms of independence may also be insisted upon. This one concerns me less but remains an issue. Any future indy vote will now have to have, built in to the campaign, that a positive vote will be definitive and conclusive. We should also be confident that a Scottish Government taking us to independence will make less of an utter mess of it than the current UK one is doing with Brexit. There will, though, be unreconciled unionists who will use any precedence on Brexit as a means to undermine our independence vote and we should be wary.

But in saying all this Scotland would want the UK in the EU. The most seamless transition to independence would be with a common customs union whilst being part of the  EU single market with the rest of the UK. With the UK out of the EU borders will become the totemic scaremongering feature of a future referendum campaign. One can only imagine the relish a unionist campaign will have in insisting the Scottish people will have a hard border and no common travel area with the rest of the UK. Having the UK in the EU is in the interests of Scottish independence.

images

My approach to a second EU referendum then is to be supportive without being one of its champions. I would want them to succeed and wish them all the very best. I would not vote against a second vote in the House of Commons and am open to supporting it if I can secure a commitment that the result in Scotland would be respected.

Realistically, though, It is very unlikely to be realised. We will be out of the EU in just 7 months time and there is just not the political capacity for a second vote. The ‘people’s’ vote campaign is going to target the Labour Party for support. One can only wish them the very best with that with a Labour party that almost exceeds the Tories in the clueless Brexit stakes. The only thing likely to stop Brexit is the contradictions of its own incompetent impracticality and we should never stop pointing out the disaster that is coming our way in the vain hope that it can be stopped.

But there is a sense that the campaign for a second vote is over before it has really begun.

The key choice that is coming is does Scotland want to be part of a Brexitised UK or does it want to determine its own relationship with the EU as an independent nation? The debate around a ‘People’s vote’ maybe coming to a close just as the real debate about saving Scotland from the disastrous consequences of their Brexit is about to begin. 

Advertisements

The Tories and Perth Royal Infirmary

stock_perth_royal_infimary-e1516205174769

In the last few weeks I have had to reassure a number of my constituents who have been under the impression that accident and emergency is to close at Perth Royal Infirmary (PRI). This has been the result of an irresponsible campaign by Conservative proportional list Members of the Scottish Parliament, who have been prepared to suggest that this closure will ‘effectively’ take place. Let me reassure my constituents – accident and emergency will not close at PRI. What will happen is that all unscheduled surgery will now be undertaken at Ninewells, in order to ensure the highest level of care and to make sure that my constituents will have access to the new dedicated Acute Surgical Receiving Unit. And that is the way it should be. If you are involved in a life-threatening situation, you would want to go to where the expert clinicians are based and have full confidence that you will secure the highest standard of care.

What has happened across Tayside is that there has been a review of all acute surgical services with recommendations about how the existing NHS estate should be best utilised. We are facing increasing demands on our NHS with improved life expectancy and new treatments becoming available. The Scottish budget is also being systematically cut by the self-same Tories at Westminster who remain committed to controlling public expenditure as part of their general campaign of austerity. It is, therefore, incumbent upon NHS managers to ensure our assets are effectively managed. These list Tories, of course, know this because they were at the same meetings that I also attended where they barely raised a whimper in protest. The plans for Tayside were designed by the clinicians after extensive public consultation and the Tories’ irresponsible campaign only commenced when the Scottish Government approved what the health service experts proposed. 

What the Tories will not tell you is that health services at Perth Royal Infirmary are to be expanded. An expanded elective surgical service (surgery which is planned in advance) will be based at Perth Royal Infirmary to treat both cancer patients and other conditions – including complex major surgery to fully utilise the excellent care facilities and to ensure that these longer term treatments are undertaken closer to home. A&E will remain open as usual and the people of Perthshire can be fully confident of an A&E that will attend to them as required. 

But imagine for a minute, if you will, an NHS administered by these Tories. We only have to look to NHS England where the Tories are fully in charge. There the Red Cross have had to assist and A&E departments have had to close their doors to patients. This is just part of a Tory NHS England in real crisis, where privatisations remain a feature of a party ideologically indifferent about a real quality NHS. 

You seriously cannot believe a word the Tories say about the NHS and I urge you to treat with caution any further statements from them. What is being closed are schools right across Perthshire by a Tory Perth and Kinross Council. That, though, remains another story. One which you will not hear about from their proportional list MSPs.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER BAND LIKE RUNRIG

runrige

It’s going to be a tough old night for everybody associated with Runrig as the band pull the curtain  down on 45 years this weekend. I had the incredible pleasure of being the keyboard player for the band at the height of its success and the experience of being part of Runrig changed me as much as Runrig changed the face of Gaelic’s place in Scotland.

There simply hadn’t been a band like Runrig before and there won’t be another one quite like them again. Their contribution to Scottish music and culture can not be overstated. Runrig reintroduced Gaelic to a new generation of young Scots and then took Gaelic and highland culture round the world. 

What Runrig offered was a perspective of Scotland from the north delivered in its authentic voice. Scotland had never heard its like before and would forever be altered by its profound message. The songs spoke of historic institutional cultural damage, of emigration and clearance, of land ownership and of our shared home and identity. In rediscovering the part of Scotland that was Gaelic it could be said that Runrig helped Scotland rediscover a large part of itself. 

For most young people growing up in Scotland in the 60s and 70s Gaelic was misunderstood if it was ever even considered at all. A cultural ‘tweed curtain’ ran the length of the Highland line and it was still a time of ‘teuchters’ and weird highland stereotypes. Scotland was still dealing in tales of a Highlands cleansed and made palatable by Walter Scott’s ‘Balmorality’ and what Scots saw of Gaelic culture was largely in the shape of Calum Kennedy and Dotaman. Gaelic was at best a charming other world but one that was largely disposable and dispensible.  

When Runrig emerged in the 1970s the future of Gaelic was very much in doubt. Gaelic had been largely deserted by young people who had most of the language beaten out of them at school before what was left challenged by the more readily accessible rock and pop music. The Scottish folk revival of the 60s had largely left Gaelic music untouched and what remained of its promotion was left in the hands of village bards and sing-songs behind closed doors. 

It was in this environment that the early Runrig started writing their own Gaelic songs. The fusion of Gaelic traditional song and rock music would probably have remained a minority interest if not for the song-craft of Calum and Rory MacDonald. Their ability to make the local universal, for being able to talk of big historical themes and make them relevant and real, to observe the huge truths in small things, defined a song writing approach that readily reached out beyond the confines of the West Highlands. 

pete-wishart-1

Then there were the songs. Songs like Dance called America. A song written about how the aristocracy mocked and mimicked the forced emigrations during the clearances. Then there is the Gaelic epic ‘Siol Ghorraidh’ written about an obscure medieval battle fought on Sleat in Skye between competing branches of Clan Donald. There’s ‘Fuaim A’ Bhlair’ a song that recalls how the highlanders were enlisted as canon fodder for the empire adventures.

But contemporary concerns were there too. Saints of the Soil celebrates the Assyntt community land buyout where Ravenscraig is one of many songs that addresses the deindustrialisation of Scotland. But then there is also ‘the Loch’. Loch Lomond became a defining song of the band and rarely could one song be so unrepresentative of a bands whole catalogue. Like most of the band I had a love/hate relationship with ‘the Loch’ but now find it highly amusing that its has ended up as a staple at the close of Scottish weddings.

The MacDonald brothers have always tried to down play the political significance of Runrig but I won’t share that reticence. Runrig put the big political issues to song and told the world of historical injustices and their contemporary equivalents. Runrig could be said to be part of the sound track of the coming of the Scottish Parliament. The 1987 song ‘Alba’ talks of that ‘empty house in Edinburgh without authority or voice’ with ‘the beautiful soil of the people still in the hands of the few’. It should come as no surprise that two members of Runrig stood for Parliament and one now remains the longest serving MP from Scotland

85365669-612x612

But this probably didn’t matter to the legions of fans who just loved the music. And Runrig sold records in the barrowload. Over 2 million albums sold worldwide with top 5 records in the UK, Germany and Denmark. I’ll never forget how the album Amazing Things just lost out on being the UK number 1 by one of the lowest margins ever to the Greatest hits of Hot Chocolate. Runrig was Scotland ’s biggest band in the late 80s and early 90s. When in 1991 the BBC asked the Scottish public to vote in their music awards Runrig won all categories even coming second in the top female singer category. They never run the awards again. And foreign audiences lapped it up particularly German speaking Europe and Scandanavia. I’ll never forget German fans telling me that what they enjoyed was an immersion in an easily accessible cultural package when so much of their own culture was out of bounds because of history. 

Even with all the well deserved plaudits I still don’t think that the cultural contribution of Runrig has been properly acknowledged. Runrig had to survive and compete in a bizarre and fashion fuelled music industry marketplace that could never properly understand the band far less properly market them. Runrig, though, went beyond genre with songs that will prove to be timeless. There will be other bands who will come and go but none will be able to open our eyes to part of our nation with such beauty, poetry and drama as Runrig. 

Gaelic is now a national language of Scotland. Gaelic medium is a feature of our education system. There is Gaelic broadcasting and multitudes of Gaelic bands. Where there remains political detractors there is a tremendous effort and broad consensus in rescuing this beautiful language and culture. A language that helped define and chronicle Scotland itself. Runrig is a huge party of this ‘recovery’. This will forever be the band’s enduring legacy.