Thursday, June 30, 2011

Out of the frying pan into the fire for Scotland's Presbyterians

There's a battle in my garden with weeds. An aggressive specimen introduced from the Middle East has been wreaking havoc. The only good thing is that this specimen will, in time, apparently destroy itself - constantly breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces until there's nothing left but some annoying little nodules that wear orange sashes and become animated at the sound of a flute.

The genus is Abraham. The species is Christianity. The varieties are legion though there are several that fall within the Calvinist category. Sadly, these have taken root in Scottish soil and despite the efforts of various stalwart gardening experts from David Hume to Hugh MacDiarmid and Iain Crichton Smith, this poisonous weed still thrives in some quarters. Even calling in modern day pest-control experts such as Richard Dawkins and Iain Banks hasn't solved the problem.

The Church of Scotland sub-variety has been in turmoil of late. This is the creation that decreed that the Highland Clearances were the work of god. God had, apparently, chosen idle syphilitic landlords to get rid of poor crofters who sinned against the guy in the sky by living unprofitably on land that could instead by occupied by god's chosen sheep. In later years it orchestrated a vitriolic campaign against a Roman variety of this weed whose seeds were brought to Scotland from neighbouring Ireland. In recent times, the Auld Kirk has become more benign and in a fit of enlightenment recently allowed gay men the right to preach the musings and prejudices of Semite tribes. Some local pods rebelled against this and a few seeds have now ejected themselves and joined with their Free Presbyterian variety.

However, the 'Wee Free' variety is also not without its problems. After years of playing 'bad cop' to the Kirk's 'gay cop', It recently gave the godly green light to music in the house of god. This may seem incredible to most normal people who like a tune or two but many in the Free Kirk still contend that music in any form is the work of Satan and will only worship their god with ancient psalms. Each to their own, I guess. I wonder though what the stern and dour seed pods of the Wee Frees will make of a new crop of all-singing, all-dancing happy clappy Church of Scotlanders joining in?

Park on the Isle of Raasay
The Wee Frees are to reason and progress what the Lib Dems are to honesty and principles. Recently, one Wee Free supporter on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, bemoaned 'the passing of the Sabbath' on the Isle of Lewis after Caledonian MacBrayne decided to run a Sunday service. His logic was that were humans to disregard the Good Lord's commandments regarding work and play on 'his' day then it wouldn't be long before 'thou shall not kill ' went out the window too and murder and mayhem would ensue. As this man's church also believes that we are all sinners anyway, no matter how heterosexual or sabbatarian we are, and that we are all destined for hell, then one has to ask why a Sunday sail on the Minch would make much difference?

One wonders if all these homophobic Calvinists will insist on upholding other parts of "God's word"? Shall their be stonings of tattooed men? Will adulterers be hung from lamposts? Will a dour but godly minister inspect every new born boy to check that his foreskin has been sliced off? Will there be a campaign to stop men conversing or worse, touching, their wives during their 'monthly uncleanliness'? Indeed, I understand that Deuteronomy even frowns upon women who wear 'men's clothes' as it is 'an abomination unto the Lord'.

Or will the 'gentle churches' content themselves with, as Sorley Maclean put it in his poem 'Ban-Ghaidheal', to speak about the lost state of our miserable souls?

Sing if you're glad to be British
Talking of music and homosexuality though... those Village People of Northern Ireland and their followers will take to the streets of Glasgow this weekend. This tiny but very aggressive variety of Abrahamic horticulture usually goes under the name of the 'Orange Order'. They proclaim their opposition to the aforementioned Roman variety due to its love of 'idols' (that means statues, pictures and photographs to me and you). However, their wind-blown meanderings along West of Scotland byways often sees them miss the entrance to their churches and instead end up inside the football stadium of Ibrox. It has also been pointed out that as they march under large banners of King William of Orange that they too are guilty of 'idolatry'. While this pedantry is nothing that a good dose of laxative wouldn't solve, it has also been observed that 'King Billy' was reputed to have 'enjoyed' more homosexual liaisons than all the gay ministers in the Church of Scotland put together.

Funny that. Nothing like religion to give you a good moral compass and consistency of disapproval.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Auld sangs for Armed Forces Day

Or, something in response to the British establishment's conscience salving exercise to make their cannon fodder feel valued. We are all taught at school that violence is wrong. Violence only leads to more violence. Yet, since the justifiable defeat of the Nazis, certain nations have waged unjustifiable war on other smaller nations. The UK and USA are the chief culprits.

Scotland most of all seems to suffer from a strange complex which often takes pride in its role as supplier of young adults ready to die for others' battles. Our young men, for three centuries, have been used to bolster England's many wars abroad. History tells us that before the Act of Union, Scotland traded peacefully with its European neighbours. After the Act of Union, England's enemies became our enemies. The remnants of our indigenous and tribal clan system, imperfect as it was, became moulded into fighting regiments. They fought and died for England in most corners of the globe and they received little in return.

In Glasgow, while a handful of Scottish merchants grew rich on stolen wealth from the New World, momentous architecture was erected while many tens of thousands 'rotted as they lived' - to paraphrase Sorley Maclean. In the Highlands, villages were cleared by greedy landlords, often while the menfolk were fighting in the British Army overseas. In Edinburgh too, refugees from Irish famine and Highland clearance turned the Grassmarket area into a Celtic slum where Irish or Scots Gaelic was the lingua franca.

Even after World War I, there was no land fit for heroes and tens of thousands were forced to emigrate to the likes of Canada. One of them was the 'Crann Tara' of the Gaelic language, Murdo MacPhàrlain - Bàrd Mhealaboist - who himself emigrated only later to return and fight in WWII. One of his later poems lambasts the 'British Hitlers who have destroyed my race'. As an old man in the 1970s and 80s he was a vociferous opponent of the militarisation of the Western Isles and the stationing of a NATO base in Stornoway. A campaign which was also vocalised in the medium of Gaelic rock music by the then young and rebellious Runrig:
Nis leugh t-eachdraich, fosgail suil
Anns gach linn mu dhoigh an Airnm
Stampadh air na croitean seagail
'S beathannan og aig gillean Uibhist

Cha deid mise gu an righ

Cha deid mise an corr a shabaid
O Lunnain mheallt, a Bhreatuinn fhoilleil
Cha seas mi ach 'son sith nan eilean

Now read your history, open your eyes
To every generation and to the ways of the military
Stamping on the rye in the crofts
And the young lives of the Uist boys

But I cannot go "for the King"
I cannot fight anymore
The deceit of London, the treachery of Britain
I'll only support peace in the islands
(Runrig - Tir an Airm )
Lessons were not learned and after World War II, severe poverty still afflicted those who returned despite subsequent provisions like the NHS. In Knoydart - see previous article - seven crofters whose families had lived there for generations were forced to 'raid' the land in order to scrape a living. The laird in question was Lord Brocket - a man so friendly with Hitler that he had even attended the Führer's 50th birthday party in the company of the Duke of Buccleuch. The then Labour government came down firmly on the side of.... Lord Brocket and the rebellious crofters went to jail. The episode was recalled in Hamish Henderson's poem, 'The Men of Knoydart'.

Today, many Scots are still 'proud' of the contribution of our young people to the armed forces. Even when they are not used to defend 'Britain' but are sacrificed in more needles wars for oil - Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and now Libya. Strangely, the equally oppressed people of Syria, Bahrain, the Yemen, Chechnya and China are not deemed valuable enough to save. British morality doesn't stretch to bigger nations that would 'kick its ass' or that don't possess large quantities of oil.

A  friend from the continent has noticed our strange obsession with war. I too have to ask, why are we glorifying this? Is it just a coincidence that many of our young soldiers come from areas of high unemployment? If we are to use socialist economics to provide employment - for some - then why not have the young men and women of Alness, Moray, Lewis or Lanarkshire etc making solar panels, wind turbines, trams or planting forests? Why should our respect for fellow Scots who are prepared to give their lives for others always take the form of war memorials? Better renewable energy surely than body bags and coffins draped in the Butcher's Apron.

Scotland has a martial history but, like clan battles and witch burning, we should leave our martial heroics in the past.
Fuaim a Bhlair
The Noise Of Battle

Fuaim a' bhlair, ceol a' chogaidh
An guth 's an naire
Air cluasan eachdraidh
Sgith dh'an bhlar, sgith dh'an chogadh
An t'eallach 's an cradh
Air gualainn eachdraidh

Blàr nan Gaidheal, an Gaidheal 's an codadh
An fhuil 's am bas
Air braighean eachdraidh
Fuaim a' bhlair, ceol a' chogaidh
An guth 's an naire
Air cluasan eachdraidh

Saidhdear mi sa' Fhraing 's sa Ghearmailt
Saidhdear mi air raointean Chanada
Saidhdear mi san Spàinn san Eadailt
Saidhdear mi 'nam aghaidh fhein an Eirinn

Sa Bheurla...

The noise of battle, the music of war
The voice and the disgrace
In the ears of history
Tired of the battle, tired of the war
The burden and the pain
On the shoulders of history

The battle of the Gael, the Gael and the war
The blood and the death
On the braes of history
The noise of battle, the music of war
The voice and the disgrace
In the ears of history

I have soldiered in France and Germany
I have soldiered on the plains of Canada
I have soldiered in Spain and Italy
I have soldiered against my fellow Gael in Ireland 

Runrig's Recovery album from 1981 must stand as one of the most political and groundbreaking albums ever from a Scottish rock band. Even without the context of young men, punished at school for speaking their home and community language and coming from a deeply religious society where rock music was frowned upon but that was still rich in ancient oral culture, it was an angry but overdue protest. Public Enemy spoke for their people, Runrig spoke for Gaelic Scotland. The record mixes hard rock music with searing bagpipes, waulking type drumming, Gaelic vocables and even singalong choruses.

Most of it is unashamedly in Gaelic with no translations provided. The sleevenotes and introductions to the songs are in English though. Today, 30 years on as Edinburgh 'celebrates' Armed Forces Day while the local council seeks to deny local parents a Gaelic school by using deceit, they are more relevant than ever.

Don't download it. Buy the CD or vinyl. The cover and sleeve are the best parts of an outstanding piece of work. Lastly, a quote from 'Mightier than a Lord' by historian Iain Fraser Grigor:
Year by year in batches of thousands they were sent to follow the battle flag of the Empire. It had been a Highland defence that followed the broken wreck of Cumberland’s army after the disastrous day at Fontenoy when more British soldiers lay dead upon the field than fell at Waterloo itself. It was another Highland regiment that scaled the rock face over the St Lawrence and first formed a line in the September dawn on the level sward of Abraham. It was a Highland line that broke the power of the Maharatta hordes and gave Wellington his maiden victory at Assaye. Thirty four battalions marched from these glens ere the 18th century had run its course. They did not march back.
Anti-war, 80's style...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gay Girl in Scottish Education Blog Shock

My name is... Eilidh. That'll do. I'm a kind of average every-teacher in the oil rich statelet of Scotland. I write about my experiences of Scots education in this time of cholera. My point of view is not exactly one of the kids on the streets, more the kids in the class. And their teachers. And what they learn. And how they learn.

We are besieged. Everyday brings a new hail of bullets. Some of them come from opinionated snipers such as John McTernan of the British Labour faction or Joan McAlpine of the Self-Loathing wing of the SNP who want to defend the privileged citadels of private-school education - and thus maintain the class system of elitism and arrogance which has condemned those 'aggressive and underachieving proles' to wallow in state schools. Government inaction allied to the lobbying of right-wing think tanks and violent extremism of the shadowy COSLA Brotherhood is threatening our sick pay, holidays, curricular freedom, rural schools and job security. The once mighty EIS union who used to defend our way of life has been bought and sold for very little gold. Some schools still have their feet mired in PFI and are forever indebted to private firms. They even have 'business managers' who can even refuse local authority staff access to their own school should it not coincide with their interests.

A few years ago things looked bright. Teachers were given a level of pay that went a long way to reflecting the importance of their position in society. A new curriculum was brought in that aimed to empower kids with the tools to research, philosophise, design, experiment and to actively seek their knowledge of the world rather than just being passive receptacles of lists of facts and dates.

Promises were made to bring down class sizes to a reasonable 18 - which would mean more time for valuable teacher-pupil dialogue as well as creating jobs for the many unemployed teachers around. This has so far failed to materialise.

The likes of COSLA, McTernan, MacAlpine and a whole raft of conservative naysayers - few of whom have real experience of teaching day in, day out or current education practice at all - want teachers to work longer hours for less pay, less or no sick pay and diminished pensions. They want kids to be tested, assessed and their schools slotted into league tables so that pushy middle class parents can cherry pick the best schools should they want to skimp on posh school bills. They want the attitudes of industry and the free market applied to education, as well as heatlh. As if schools and hospitals are just call-centres or factory production lines. Likewise, they want teachers assessed and remunerated according to performance. Just who will be the judge and paymaster, we do not know - is it the headteacher who hasn't taught consistently for years? Or is it the coonsull penpusher with one eye on her own performance targets geared towards satisfying the sinister Tax Payers' Alliance assessment of local authority spending? 

Even worse, some want the spread of 'faith schools' and the interference of business in the day to day running of the school. Or, they want 'free schools' which are run by parents (who tests their ability as parents or aptitude for pedagogy?) and 'charities' (this could mean religious zealots of any variety).

COSLA's recent communique threatened jihad against Scottish teachers. It even went so far as to claim that the central role of the teacher was not to teach children. McTernan and MacAlpine spread their conservative gospel in establishment mouthpieces such as the Telegraph, the Times and Scotland's own 'hurrah for the Clearances' voice of the laird, the Scotsman - known to Highlanders with long memories as 'the Daily Liar'.

What do we teachers want? Recognition of the importance of our job to society. Stability without a tidal wave of new initiatives every year. Less poisonous sniping by those with little or no knowledge of our profession but who shoulder a basket load of political agendas. Less testing for young kids.

It is with envious eyes that we look to teachers in Finland - a small country with many similarities to Scotland. Finland invests heavily in teacher training and in schools. There are very few private schools. Children are not tested in their early years and teachers trusted to assess their pupils in their own way. Classrooms are relaxed and children encouraged to learn through play and by exploring.

In the current climate, we teachers will be joining our fellow public workers at the barricades.

I read recently about the Gay Girl in Damascus blog that turned out to be a fake. Well, my name isn't really Eilidh and I'm heterosexual. The rest is all true.

Some homework...
John McTernan on Educational Reforms
And lastly, it is worrying to think that McAlpine is now a member of the Education and Culture Committee in the Scots Parliament. This article is riddled with factual errors (no tests in primary school?) and even astonishment that childrens' learning should be put into context. Oh, and the need to root out 'lazy teachers'....

Now, a look at the leaders in the field:
Teaching is not to fill empty brains of young students with some fact they should be able to memorize for the next test or something like that - Philosophy of Education in Norway
Legatum Prosperity Index - education
Finland - trusting the teachers, free education for all and few tests
BBC World News: Finland - less is more
Holyrood Magazine - Finnish Lessons: less testing, more learning

Some background:
Curriculum for Excellence
Philosophy 4 Children

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Auld Songs for the new Scotland #2

Even under the first feeble Labour-Lib Dem administrations, the Scottish Parliament took the important step of enabling crofting communities to buy the land they and their ancestors have lived and worked on for generations. Asainte and the Isle of Eigg were the first to throw off the unwanted ownership of uncaring, oppressive or just bizarre rich owners. Who could forget the antics of Keith Schellenberg - the man who let Eigg's houses fall into ruin while he dressed up as a Nazi to impress his rich German friends?

Schellenberg eventually left after islanders began opposing his autocratic rule and a mysterious fire left his Rolls Royce burned out. Schellenberg has since returned to his native Yorkshire and become a kerb-crawler. The island was sold to another bampot though - an 'artist of fire energy' by the name of Maruma. He though only visited the island twice and no further investment to improve the island's homes or infrastructure was forthcoming.

Currently, the crofters of the Pàirc estate in Lochs, Isle of Lewis are engaged in an attempt to forcibly return the ownership of the estate to the people who live on it. The laird is resisting though and therefore the 'hostile takeover' is awaiting approval from the Scottish Government. Here's hoping that permission is granted soon.

Oi Polloi's 'Take Back the Land' from their Fuaim Catha LP is a more than suitable soundtrack for the 'new' Scotland where hopefully more land will be taken from the hands of the rich and given over to community control. Its got anger. Its got humour. And arguably, its got the spirit of those who fought to reclaim their land from the rich - be it the crofters of Aignis and Pàirc, the Battle of the Braes in Skye or the Seven Men of Knoydart who resisted their laird Lord Brocket, a friend of Hitler, only to be sold down Loch Nevis by the then Labour government.

Oi Polloi - Take Back the Land
Tore the people from the land
Torched their houses with bloodied hands
Thousands starved or died at sea
A sickening toll of human misery
Broke the old clan system where land was there for all
And once the people had their backs against the wall
The connivance of the church cleared them off the land
"Remember it's God's will so don't try to make a stand"
They made a desert where trees once stood
Squeezing from the land every penny that they could
Ethnic cleaning of the glens for farming sheep
'Cos that way there's more profit for the rich scum to reap (rape)

"Beautiful bleak moorland?"- I don't think so
This is a place where great forests used to grow
Laid waste by a rich man's greed
Reclaim the land and plant the seed
Yet still every year, seeking their roots
They come from overseas to lick the boots
Of the clan chief and kiss the hand
Of the very people who threw their families off the land
This is nothing more than a sick farce
paying homage to the ruling class
Who, without hesitation, do it all again
Those who forget history to repeat it are condemned

"Gee, Scotland-It's so quaint
All this scenery makes me feel quite
Clan chief looks so good in his kilt
We never think of the blood his family spilt"

"I'm the clan chief o.k. yah
I support Scotland when they play rugger
But an independent country? there I'd draw the line
I own this land it's mine all mine

FUCK YOU, You arrogant prick
You inbred rich bastard, YOU MAKE ME FUCKING SICK
You own fuck all-except in your head
One day the land will be ours-and you'll be dead

I won't beg permission to walk the land they claim to "own"
And I won't pay no fucker to gain access to THE STONES
The rich have stolen and buy and sell our earth
But it belongs to NO ONE-or to all by right of birth