Sunday, October 31, 2010

A new bogeyman for Halloween - multiculturalism

The ancient festival of Halloween - Oidhche Shamhna -  is another relic of our Gaelic past. Literally, it is 'the night before Samhain' and 'An t-Samhain' in modern Gaelic simply means November. It was thought that on the night between the death of summer and onset of winter that the door between our world and the netherworld opened. This allowed spirits to pass between both worlds. In Scotland, young men would impersonate the dead by blackening their faces or by wearing masks, sometimes made of animal hide, and carry a 'samhnag' or neep lantern.

Many folk enjoy a good laugh on Oidhche Shamhna but most of us have long since relinquished belief in ghosts, witches and goblins. Some though have conjured up new fears. It's not just the Daily Mail with their daily checklist of bugbears from home-grown dole scroungers to foreign asylum seekers. It's not just Lady Harriet Harman and her 'ginger rodent' abuse of a Scottish politician (imagine if she'd referred to a black politician in a similar vein?).

A few years ago, Gaelic journalist John Morrison laughed at the 'British' suspicion of multiculturalism on a Gaelic TV political debate. To paraphrase him, 'The British drive German cars, drink Belgian beer and French wine, watch American telly on Japanese technology, eat Italian, Indian and Chinese cuisine, holiday in Spain or Turkey etc... yet are suspicious of foreigners.'

Sadly, some bloggers who really should know better have gone all Daily Mail. Not cool.

From smalltown Ayrshire, comes Dark Lochnagar - a former Scots nationalist who now bemoans the lack of awareness of  'British culture' amongst our youth, hates socialism (I guess the latest stats on Norway's "Social Capital" must be sorry reading for him), feels threatened by gays and transsexuals (!) and rants about jobs going to immigrants. The only thing that differentiates this blog from the Daily Mail is the use of 'colourful' language. SubRosa is another such blog. Here ex-DDR opportunist turned Thatcherite German chancellor Angela Merkel and her recent scaremongering regarding the 'failure' of multiculturalism is praised.

What this failure is, we are not told. Playground stories along the lines of 'I heard about a gang of Muslims roaming the streets...' are regaled. Who knows? Maybe there is a kernel of truth in this. Though, the only gangs of aggressive violent and religiously inspired knuckledraggers I've met in Kilmarnock have been Orangemen and Rangers' fans. Perhaps this is a 'failure' of multiculturalism? After all, the Orange bigots commemorate Irish political battles and worship a Dutch tyrant who defended a Semite faith - his homosexuality shouldn't be an issue though the Orange Order doesn't usually come across as gay-friendly.

To John Morrison's paraphrased quote above, one could add... a German language and royal family, a set of laws and parliament rooted in ancient Jewish folklore and popular music which it seems is itself a melange of black African-American and Gaelic Presbyterian cultures. The Gaels too, for all their indigenous status in Alba, are not of 'one culture'. Did the Gaelic-speaking forest dwellers of Perthshire or Badenoch have the same 'culture' as the guga-fishers of Port Nis in Lewis? A shared language perhaps, but I'd argue that the everyday 'culture' was different. The modern Hebridean Gaels too share blood from different corners of the earth and the evidence of different cultures assimilating successfully is patently obvious - from language to art to tools to  religion to architecture and this doesn't take into account the Asian travelling salesmen of the 1930's (who learned Gaelic) or the recent English, Asian or Germanic settlers who have made a home in the Western Isles in the past decade or two. The Gaels have 'Celtic blood' that is mixed with that of the pre Indo-European Picts, the Norse, the Romans and Spanish. Hey, aren't the Spanish themselves of mixed Basque, Roman and Arabic 'blood'? I guess all this can get quite confusing for bigots who decry immigration and the mixing of cultures. I refer to 'blood' here but in scientific terms, as mentioned in my previous post, the biological term for all these people is Homo sapiens.

Are there problems though? Maybe its the Scots themselves. After all, we were the immigrants and asylum seekers for much of the past few hundred years. Maybe its the backward Brits abroad who refuse to speak Spanish on the costas? There can be problems but they are often religious in nature and with religion, anything can be justified. The main barriers to some people integrating are the Orange Order leaders, the Catholic priests, Wee-Free ministers, Baptist pastors, the Muslim imans and Jewish rabbis. Intolerant, self-important and conservative bigots on all sides do hinder progress. I object to any Muslim faith-school be set up in Scotland but equally I object to Catholic schools and the interference of the Kirk in state 'non-denominational' schools.

But what about nature? Take one look at a group of young kids playing together and its obvious that skin colour, hair colour and eye colour are irrelevant. Even linguistic differences will eventually be ironed out. Importance is only attached to these features by adults and their artificial constructs.

Nature decrees that there will be conflict between people though this is as likely to be within a family or between warring clans from neighbouring glens as it is between people of different 'cultures'. If we can't find a foreigner to fight with we  then home in on single parents, Gaelic speakers, gays or lesbians, cannabis users, people on social security benefits, someone in a different church, a follower of another fitba team, folk with red hair, the disabled, travellers, hippies or maybe 'indecent' popular culture, be it youngsters in hoodies or Marilyn Manson.

However, human civilisation has learned to defend itself from much of nature's uglier attributes and intolerance of immigrants and racism should go the same way as infant mortality, TB or being devoured by wild animals.

Our lives have always been multicultural and are even more so in today's small world. To the likes of SubRosa, Dark Lochnagar, the BNP, English Defence League and Daily Mail... get over it. Live with it. Enjoy that pizza. Have some nachos. Nibble at haggis pakora. Listen to some Salsa Celtica. Chill out. Or, see a doctor and get that tight sphincter of yours loosened a little.

Footnote - for a good laugh, see The Croft's account of an English BNP activist and  'white settler' who became an immigrant on the Isle of Lewis. His search for racial purity fell on stony Celtic ground. Scroll down to the comments to the bit where the Gaelic speaking islanders - white Scots who preserve an ancient indigenous way of life suddenly become 'inbred' when they object to this bigot in their midst.

Finally, another link - Native American Celts

Horny-handed Harman goes racist

No, black skin is cool. But ginger Scots I simply can't abide.
Harriet Harman, New Labour's fragrant English rose and horny handed daughter of toil - her aunt is the modest 'Countess of Longford' and she herself was educated at the £20000 a year St. Paul's Girls' School -  has shattered her PC image by calling Lib Dem chancer Danny Alexander a "ginger rodent".

There is of course NO biological difference between the 'races' - a black African is exactly the same as a white Gaelic speaking Barrach, namely Homo sapiens. As a species, it doesn't matter whether a person has white skin or brown skin, blue eyes or green eyes, pink lips or red lips, brown hair or 'ginger' hair. We are all the same biologically. 'Race' therefore is an artificial construct. It makes no more sense to discriminate on grounds of skin colour than it does to discriminate on the grounds of a person's cuticle pigment or colour of nostril hair.

Danny Alexander is a bumbling idiot and political opportunist. The fact that he has red hair is irrelevant. Equally, the fact that Harriet Harman is a stuck-up upper-middle-class condescending harridan is irrelevant to the fact that Labour has done little or nothing to eradicate poverty in Scotland and continues to be a petty, conservative and redundant hindrance to the health and wealth of our people - be they black, white, blond or 'ginger'.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Small means more in the wealth of nations

This week has seen the publication of the Legatum Prosperity Index which seeks to measure the wealth of nations based on a number of factors and not just GDP. Not surprisingly, wee countries do well with our old friend on the North Atlantic rim Norway coming out on top. Backward Britain doesn't make the top ten, though its position at number 13 does give it some kind of 'respectability'. However, given that Iceland - a country with a population roughly the same as Aberdeen and which Brit Nats tell us is 'bankrupt' - is a slot above.

The small nations of Norway, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland all make it above the 'UK'. We are often told that Scotland 'could not survive' as an independent nation or that we are 'better off' being tied to war-sodden London. Exactly what the benefits are of being 'united' with a corrupt, fat, xenophobic, class-ridden and perpetually warmongering larger neighbour, I do not know. What is obvious is that many small nations - even those without our oil reserves and geography thats perfect for renewable-energy -  are not only 'surviving' but thriving.

Legatum Prosperity Index
The proof of this pudding is that the inhabitants of these countries not only live longer than us but are actually happier. Oil money may not necessarily buy health and happiness but neither does the UK's war budget, public service cuts and largesse enjoyed by corrupt or incompetent bankers.

Without regurgitating all the info, some points about Norway do stand out.
  • Despite a surplus of health, wealth and happiness not to mention a healthier respect for the environment than most nations, only 13% of Norwegians consider themselves religious. Marriage is also less common than in most other countries. More proof perhaps that religion and progress do not often share the same bed.
  • Despite having harsher winters than Scotland, Norway is 4th in terms of health.
  • Not surprisingly given the relatively egalitarian use and distribution of Norway's wealth, crime is a very low and people actually feel safe. Maybe the absence of  a scaremongering Daily Mail and pack of rabid tabloid wolves is also a factor.
  • The egalitarian vision of Norwegian society extends to 'remote' rural areas. Those who live in small villages beside the western fjords are equally entitled to good public transport, excellent schools, good provision for the elderly and so on. While I don't have proof of this, I'd imagine that right-wing tabloid whinging about tax payers' money being spent on 'teuchters' or other 'minorities' is rarely heard in Norway. This report seems to state that Norwegians are happy to see their high levels of taxes transformed into excellent public services for all.
  • Most importantly is 'social capital'. To quote:
An unparalleled 74%* of Norwegians report that other people can be trusted, the highest such rate in the world. In a 2008 survey, a high 43%* of people had donated money within the previous month, and a very high 38%* of people had volunteered. The 46%* of people who had helped a stranger in the same time period is also above the global average. Nearly 94%* of Norwegians say that they have someone they can rely on in times of need. This strong social support is present despite potentially low access to familial and religious support networks: marriage rates are below the global average, at 52%*, and reported religious attendance is just 13%*, the second lowest rate in the world.

No-one is claiming that Norway is some kind of communistic/ anarchist utopia - slaughtering whales aint cool and I'm in two minds about Black Metal. But for anyone interested in the everyday well-being of fellow humans and therefore who seeks to eradicate poverty, - are you listening Unionist Labour? - create meaningful jobs for people not based on war or weapons as well as seeking to protect the environment by ploughing oil wealth into renewables then Scotland should follow Norway's independent lead a.s.a.p.

The index can be accessed here. Happy reading.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Time to go French - against the cuts

It was always gonna be like this. If Labour had got in, Alasdair Darling promised that the severity of the cuts would've made Thatcher blush. As it is, we have the great ConDem twins of the bloated Westminster family, Cameron and Clegg. Meanwhile, banks that were bailed out by the state and that are now owned by the state are still paying their chiefs inflated salaries and bonuses.

Who said that capitalism works? The auld Eastern Bloc had shoe mountains apparently, that accrued due to policies that saw people working never mind the demand or use for the product. Bankrupt Britain meanwhile is building up piles of aircraft carriers and other instruments of war - solely to avoid redundancies. The fact that these people could easily be occupied producing technology vital to Scotland's renewable energy future is lost on the London government while the likes of Scottish Labour are too docile or cowardly to back such a move. War is always big business in Great Britannia.

Presently, the French are kicking off big time. If we have any sense, we'll follow. If we're serious about mending the broken economy, lets tax the rich first. These are the fckrs who got us into this mess. Should health workers, teachers, binmen and other public service workers pay the price with their jobs?

The EIS - a good example of a non-politically aligned and powerful union - in conjunction with the STUC have organised a march against the cuts. But this ain't only about education. That much is clear.

Click here for info on Saturday's march in good auld Dùn Eideann. Meanwhile, watch "crypto-communist" film director Ken Loach give Michael Heseltine some lessons on morality and the economy on the recent Newsnight broadcast. Its also worth remembering that socially-democratic and independent Norway don't have a national debt and therefore don't need swinging cuts to balance the books. What is Scotland doing wrong?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Signs of Lowland Gaelic in Gleann Iucha

Reversing attitudes can be as difficult as reversing language shift. But I fully subscribe to the idea that sees a little progress as better than none at all. Better that than metaphors of rain wearing down mountains over millennia. The corrosive power of rain is a fact but is of no use when talking about a minority language struggling against institutionalised ignorance to reverse centuries of repression and decline.

Therefore, the erection of bilingual English-Gaelic signs at Linlithgow railway station is a battle won in the war against the erections who parade their ignorance and bigotry in the pages of the Daily Mail and readers' comments of the Scotsman.

Some may say that 'Gaelic has no history' in Linlithgow but cannot offer proof of their assertion. Whether or not Gaelic was the 'dominant' language of the entire Scottish mainland is difficult to prove or disprove. What is certain though is that Gaelic speaking populations - be they kings, lairds, monks, migrant farmers or just land working peasants - have left their mark in the form of many placenames all over the Lothians.

From 'Placenames collected by Iain Mac an Tailleir'.

Furthermore, as Scots, Gaelic is an inseparable part of our nation's fabric. Our national iconography is almost entirely Gaelic in origin - think of whisky and tartan (it should be noted that the Victorians only adapted an ancient design), the bagpipes, Wallace and Bruce ( who also commanded Gaelic speaking armies whose 'sluagh-ghairm' was 'Albannaich'), the clàrsach, shinty, our personal names from Douglas in the Borders to Mackay in the North and of course our placenames. 

Is there any corner of Scotland that does not have a ben, glen, drum, loch, corrie, bal, dun, knock, kyle, strath, camus, inch, ard, auch, ault or craig?

Historical presence is only one reason though for bilingual signs - English is not the 'native' language of most of the world but it can be found in almost every airport. The 'usefulness' of a written or spoken language can be measured in many ways. I'd argue that for every passenger that notices the Gaelic sign and realises that this area has another identity other than 'British' (in the modern sense) the value of these signs increases. Even more so if they then go and research it all. 

Even without that value, I'd argue that the handful of taxpaying Gaelic speaking locals are entitled to see their, and Scotland's, mother tongue displayed next to the English wherever possible and practical. After all, for centuries Gaelic speakers received nothing in return for their tax money other than the right to enlist as cannon fodder for the British Army and to have their children beaten for speaking their home and community tongue. Strangely though, Gaelic was found to be very useful when attracting Gaels to the Highland regiments that fought on the front-line of London's many global conflicts.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to use spoken Gaelic whenever possible. I'll get my window on the world's current affairs from BBC Alba, Radio nan Gaidheal and Eorpa. I'll browse with Firefox in Gaelic and surf with Google in the same tongue. My address will read Dùn Eideann instead of Edinburgh. My kids will go to the local Gaelic unit/ school and read Tormod a' Bhocsair's output alongside JK Rowlings. The linguistic melange that is global English is not under threat. My actions add to my knowledge of my environment and therefore enhance my life. More than selfish gain though, it's another stane in the dyke along with the others that are placed there by those who seek to protect the earth's biocultural diversity.

From 'Spoken Here - Travels Among Threatened Languages' - an entertaining and mind-opening journey into the wonder of the worlds' linguistic wealth. Buy here.

* Iain Mac an Tailleir's 5-part collection of Scottish placenames can be downloaded, along with many other language resources/ goireasan cànain by clicking here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shaved women and bald punks - its Crass the album

Ex-Crass frontman and Irvine Welsh lookalike Steve Ignorant brings the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to support him on vocal duties at Edinburgh's Liquid Rooms. Its The Last Supper and hundreds of balding paunchy middle-aged punks bounce and scream along with 'screaming babies, shaved women collaborators...'. And it looks like Steve is trying to stifle a grin.

Comparisons with Teddy Boy conventions are easy. This however brings back all kinds of vivid memories of the time - the early 1980s. A dark age that it seems will soon be revisited upon us by the new twin-headed ConDem Thatcher of Cameron-Clegg. In 1984, Crass finished their career by closing their set at a striking miners' benefit gig in Wales with the song 'Do They Owe Us a Living?' and by revising their pacifist views in the face of increasingly brutal state attacks on both striking miners and Stonehenge hippies. At the time, I was a young teenager who travelled to Hearts' games on a supporters bus half full of striking miners from one of Midlothian's pit villages. At a time when local communities were fighting against Thatchers' cops, the black communities in inner-city England were doing the same and everyone from Crass to the BBC film Threads warned of impending nuclear annihilation, the chances were that this stuff would shape your life.

Crass were and still are an institution. They lived the real message of punk - Do It Yourself. They had no or little truck with managers, record companies, promoters etc and relied on themselves and a network of ordinary people to propagate their 'music' and message. As far as punk music goes, this aint Green Day. Yet, despite the absence of nice tunes, major record company and professional distribution networks, their debut album 'Feeding the 5000' went gold. They were more than a band - they were a collective that produced music, artwork, anarchist propaganda, political pranks that saw the Whitehouse, Westminster and Kremlin involved and spawned thousands of imitators. They kicked started the dormant CND movement and gave new energy to issues such as feminism, animal rights and anarchism. In contrast to the simplistic nihilism of other but still relevant punk groups of the time, Crass became seen as po-faced and were followed with an almost religious zeal by some.

This lead to Crass influenced bands berating others for not following the 'true path' of the DIY punk ethic. Chumbawamba threw paint over Joe Strummer because his CBS record label were a subsidiary of an arms dealer. Chumbawamba then signed to EMI - another company with dirty fingers in dirty pies. Chumbawamba did though distribute much of their fee to local community groups. Chumbawamba in turn were criticised by other bands such as Oi Polloi - who in turn neglect the DIY ethic and use Rupert Murdoch's MySpace, though unlike Chumbawamba, have no money to show for it. Should people still care about these baw-hair issues? Or should we just stop pretending to care and accept imperfections, especially in well-intentioned individuals?

Whatever, thousands of middle-aged men and women who may not still clad themselves in black are still living the ideals of Crass. They are still involved in challenging independent music, they are nurses, they are teachers, artists, bicycle engineers, they fight against racism and for diversity, they learn and use minority languages, they open up animal sanctuaries, get involved in community land buy-outs, reject the shackles of religion, involve themselves in community education, write real investigative journalism and much more. The roots may be anarchist, socialist and libertarian but there's more sustainable enterprise come from this movement than anything our bankrupt and corrupt financial institutions and MPs have inspired.
But back to the Last Supper... there was also irony in songs that are more than 30 years old such as 'Banned from the Roxy' still being relevant today. In the week when all of Scotland's main parties presented the London government with their case for retaining the manufacture of aircraft carriers in Scotland, we can only wish that these politicians had Crass' simple - but not incorrect - message drummed into their skulls:  

"Defence? Shit, its nothing less than war, and no-one but the government knows what the fuck its for".

Likewise, the anti-war anthems  'Sheep Farming in the Falklands' and 'Mother of a Thousand Dead' could easily apply to today's perma-war adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The influence of Crass is far reaching. Bjork, the Shamen and One Little Indian Records. Artwork and ideals for Tackhead. Banksy can be seen in the pre-Photoshop collages of Crass' graphic artist Gee Voucher. Even smooth crooner Sade was a friend. In recent years both David Beckham and Angelina Jolie have been photographed in their t-shirts. Ironic too as Crass never produced any of their own merchandise though obviously others lined their pockets with the symbol that shows the snake of capitalism eating itself.

There was plenty of merchandise on sale last night though. Crass polos, T-shirts and a new autobiography of Steve himself. Times change though and ideals can mellow without being forgotten. In 'The Story of Crass', Steve talks about one typically vicious tirade that he wrote as an angry idealistic punk rocker in which he talked of how parents fuck you up. Years later, he regretted this after seeing his folks through mature eyes as just two ordinary working class human beings who tried their best. If Steve Ignorant makes some kind of living out of this tour, then good.
Thanks for the memories.

For a richt guid read, try The Story of Crass, here at Amazon.
Steve Ignorant's new book The Rest is Propaganda, at his own website.