Nothing Johnston has done has been left to chance, it’s all a carefully orchestrated plan and we are playing it exactly as he wants. He does, after all, have a classic blueprint to follow……..

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Shouts of Traitors, Cowards, Enemies of the People drip like poison from their lips as he encourages the masses to take matters into their own hands. And should there be  clashes and violence on  the streets in the coming months, people dead in the ditch quite literally, he will no doubt regret it but lay the blame firmly at the door of Parliament and not the blessed people.

People who seek power are never to be underestimated. And people who seek absolute power are absolutely not to be trusted. They tend to be clever too. Often with an apparently obtuse intelligence, maybe having studied something arcane. Something which on the face of it has little to do with how we conduct ourselves in modern times. Eccentric even. We don’t understand them really, they are something of a throwback, maybe to be mocked. And we think in turn that they don’t understand us.

But you’d be wrong.

Boris Johnson is one such man. A classical scholar from a privileged elite. He has no interest in understanding the ordinary woman or man in the street. His sense of privilege means he doesn’t have to. His job is not to understand but to manipulate. Not to govern, but to rule.

And he does it all by presenting himself as that most insidious thing, a man of the people – a people whom he holds in contempt of course. A man of the people whose actions will materially impoverish that people. A man of the people who will remove their rights until they become mere vassals. Now that’s something he does understand and can get behind. As he re-invents himself as the champion of the ordinary Joe and Josephine we must remember that he isn’t choosing to champion the little people against big business, or foreign invaders or even Europe anymore. Instead he is turning people  against our own democratic process, pushing power further into the hands of the rich and the few. He is making the people an enemy of the Parliament and Parliament the ultimate Enemy of the People. And a Parliament not as  we might have expected in Brussels, but in London. The very Parliament to which he promised to bring back control, having wrestled it from the dead cold hands of Johnny foreigner and the EU bureaucrats. Well it’s back under control all right, but since Monday 9th September, just not yours or mine.

The day he sneered at the opposition as ”Parliamentarians” he by default set himself up as a Cavalier. Every time he ramps up the anti-parliament rhetoric he is giving the more extreme elements in the county permission to ignore the basic rules of Parliamentary representative democracy. Shouts of Traitors, Cowards, Enemies of the People drip like poison from their lips as he encourages the masses to take matters into their own hands. And should there be  clashes and violence on  the streets in the coming months, people dead in the ditch quite literally, he will no doubt regret it but lay the blame firmly at the door of Parliament and not the blessed people.

In his warped logic and pathological need to lie and obstruct he will cite it as incontrovertible evidence that the people’s will is clear; the people have spoken (god help us) and they don’t like what they have seen. And he is performing this smoke and mirrors charade with the greatest slight of hand of all. By deliberately hamstringing himself with the sacking of the rebels and the destruction of his majority,  he is ensuring that Parliament will be seen as universally standing against him – the man who is after all only trying to enact the will of the people – from a discredited referendum more than 3 years ago. And if they are standing against him, so the logic goes, then they are also standing against the people. The people that put them there. But it’s OK says Johnson I give you permission to bring them down, I’ve got your back.

Meanwhile he plays the blustering, twitching, squinting, smirking Everyman at every turn. Varadker’s Classical allusion in Dublin on Monday was a nod to Johnson’s background but Johnson knows, even as the Taoiseach did, Athena intervention or not, that Hercules completed the tasks and gained his deity, Making the wife and kiddies just so much collateral damage. But in this Greek tragedy, already tinged with fraternal betrayal, Parliament and democracy are being the ones effortlessly sacrificed.

But Johnson is not stupid. He knows he’ll need a fall guy, someone who is expendable, someone who can take the wrap if things get out of hand;  someone who can play the pantomime villain to draw the boos from the crowd. But it’s not Farage…not yet, he has another  job for him to do. And so enter the Machiavellian Prince, all black cape and twirling moustaches: Dominic Cummings.  So stratospherically evil and beyond the pale he exists merely to draw our attention away but while we hiss at him all we like, we should remember to tell each other to look behind ourselves, for fear of what is coming.

Nothing that is unfolding has been left to chance. Not one single lost vote, not one single provoked resignation, not one removal of the whip. Every time Parliament seems to have him in a corner and the tally of votes against him increases, shouldn’t we be asking, why is this so easy?

Sources close to No 10 are briefing that Johnson wouldn’t now have the numbers to win an outright majority in an election. He ruthlessly saw to that. So now he has laid the way clear for a pact with the Brexit party and, with the aberration that is the DUP an overdue irrelevance, perhaps a hard Border down the Irish sea. He might not go so far as his father suggesting the Irish should be allowed to just shoot each other; but he’s willing to cut Ireland loose and hang the consequences if Loyalist and Unionist forces pick up arms again.

For absolutely nothing can be allowed to get in the way of his master plan. He’d obviously rather have the Brexit Party backing him and his hardest of Brexits than work with the moderates in his own party. Farage’s  ranks will pay the foolish courtiers to the clown Prince perfectly, as they are both classic fantasists. When he says, against all the evidence, that negotiations are ongoing and going well, listen to them cheer. When he claims he has a deal, listen to them shout what a deal, what a wonderful deal, but a deal that only really, really clever people can see. And woe betide anyone picking the obvious hole in this Emperor’s new clothes.. It will make the claims on the side of the bus read like a fairy tale. And when the Brexit dust has settled? What then? There will be no going back in the kennel for Farage and his  rottweilers.

They will stay on in government, pushing through the most right wing, authoritarian  programme of government since Universal suffrage. One Nation Toryism, the anathema that everything Johnson stands for, will be dead and buried.

The runt of the left will go further left to lick its wounds, but the mainstream parties will respond by moving, again, to fill that centre ground and so not only does Johnson win his own agenda he shapes the agenda of the opposition too. Until there is no real opposition. Only in the civic nationalist outposts of Scotland and the North of Ireland, if it’s not cut loose, and maybe in Wales will there be any hopes of progressive politics still burning. Hopes of a broader outward looking social justice. But before that can be allowed to do any harm to Project Johnson the devolved administrations I imagine will be weakened if not broken up all together.

Meanwhile what of his new potential coalition partners? What about Chapter 2? Compared to the Brexit Party the DUP are a teddy bears picnic. The Brexit Party is after all a loose group of people not even constituted as a political party, surrounded by dark money and darker aspirations; and by Farage’s own admission therefore not subject to democratic internal processes. As Brexit bites and things fall apart, without Europe to blame or a muzzled parliament to point at, civil unrest will surely spill out into the communities and target migrants, other minorities, the poor, the unemployed, all scapegoated  as the price for this new Britain. For a classical historian Johnson seems unwilling to look at the lessons that have gone before.

For history tells us Johnson wouldn’t be the first supposedly shrewd politician who in his clamour for power made unholy alliances. He wouldn’t be the first to rely on the work of propogandists. He wouldn’t be the first to allow the “debate” to be taken straight to the people on the streets. We’ve had black-shirts in this country before, and Britain is not a stranger to paramilitary organisations or mindsets.

And Johnson is most definitely not the first politician who thinks he can manipulate dark forces to his ends without having to give too much away. It’s what Von Papen and Hindenburg thought after all in Germany in the 1930’s. Von Papen went from stating  “It is to be hoped that leaders of this movement will place nation above party” to,  in a short time,  “the hope in the hearts of millions of National Socialists can be fulfilled only by an authoritarian government”.

So what happens of Britain gives itself over to unregulated inflamed hearts of millions. Lets hope there are no unexpected fires at Westminster. A heater left carelessly on now they have all been sent home. It took Germany just 4 years to turn from a liberal democracy to a dictatorship.

If Johnson et. all prevail.  How long do we have?

 

 

 

 

If the fate of Stateless Nations in Europe is rising up the agenda, maybe it’s because they have behaved so badly towards some of us.

“In the end the ultimate question of the two days was this: Are the requirements of a body like the EU – in terms of how it has to function, or wants to function, to meet its stated aims, compatible with giving more autonomy and a greater voice to smaller units within the EU? I believe that is. I also believe that it needs to be. The drive for greater self-determination is not going to decrease.”

Exactly 5 years to the day when Scotland failed to win her independence from the UK I was sitting in the Catalonian official delegation offices in Brussels representing Women for Independence at a major conference on What Next for Stateless Nations Within the Shared Sovereignty of the EU? Organised by the impressive Coppetiers Foundation there were worse ways to spend that anniversary. The focus was primarily on Catalonia, Flanders and Scotland.

My job was to ask questions, pose possible solutions, consider ideas about how self-determination can fit, work and thrive within the co-determination framework that is the EU. Challenging questions were asked of me throughout the two days in response. Was self-determination a myth? Were independence movements inherently opportunistic? And that’s not to say that opportunism per se is a bad thing. And perhaps the toughest one, why would a country as inherently social democratic in nature as Scotland want to be part of this neo-liberal capitalist idea?

Now I won’t say I’m any less excited about the idea of what Europe really could become and crucially our part in it – I get quite emotional about the various institutions, I think the Belraymont Building is a thing of beauty (And I imagine in that, I’m in the minority) – But I will say that perhaps I’m asking more questions of it. And I’m more certain than ever, that the correct way for a Stateless Nation like Scotland to engage with the EU, is not with fawning deference but as equal partners with as much to give as to get. Much like how we should be re-thinking our relationship with the UK. And before anyone gets worked up about the jargon I’m using; no-one is disputing that Scotland IS a nation, but it is NOT a unitary state recognised as such in the world, with sovereignty over all of its powers. In as much as we are recognised through the devolved settlement, we only exist due to the approval and permission of the UK Parliament which ultimately controls our future and who could dissolve us at a moment’s notice.

While there are huge constitutional and legal impediments to the EUs direct interference in member states domestic policies and issues (or so they claim); my first ask was that the EU finds some way to  officially recognise what autonomy does exist in the Stateless Nations which co-exist, not always peacefully, within Member States. After all in both a Scottish and North of Ireland context Devolution came about entirely because of the EUs insistence that it did, so you could say there is a vested interest in seeing that this thrives.

We should remember that official recognition of Stateless Nations beyond the EU does occur, if not by the executive body of the EU itself, then by individual member states. Sweden, Malta, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria all recognise Palestine while the EU does not. Many member states have bilateral agreements with Kurdistan while the EU as a body does not. So could individual member states, for example, start developing bilateral relations with Stateless Nations which are binding?

But with recognition comes responsibility; for support and protection not least. The singular failure of the EU as a body to condemn the police crackdown of the Catalonian referendum in 2017, and the subsequent  abuse of human rights, removed a great deal of the EU’s moral integrity. While the odd member state, Belgium in particular, did condemn it, the rest was silence, not least from the UK. The general view expressed was that it was an internal matter. But when any state, in or out of Europe, permits attacks on the rights of its citizens which we take for granted and which damage what we would see as our values, then that this laissez-fair attitude is neither tenable nor correct.

From a Scottish point of view, I stressed my grave concerns about the EUs handling of the question about an Independent Scotland’s future relationship with the EU back in 2014. The overall impression from individual heads of states, senior commissioners was that Scotland would have NO automatic right of membership and would need to get to the back of the queue. In fact the President of the EU Commission went further and stated that it would be extremely difficult for an Independent Scotland to  ever join the EU. It really felt like the EU were campaigning for a no vote. Just why the EU thought it appropriate to allow opinion, based neither in fact nor law, to sway public opinion is beyond me. Exactly the  sort of high handed attitude that causes such strong reactions against EU institutions. It was certainly far from the studied neutrality we had been told to expect.

The fact is there was, and remains, NO precedent for a member state breaking up and constituent parts wishing to remain in The EU as a new state. There is of course a precedent for states re-uniting and the new country being accepted as a member. So that will be good news for the North of Ireland once the first border poll votes for a United Ireland but it’s cold comfort for the rest of us.

But it is not acceptable that the EU hides behind no precedent. As demands for self- determination and independence grow in the EU, so I came to my second ask: that the EU have a road map, a blueprint for exactly this scenario. It must be open, clear and transparent. If for no other reason that its citizens can make informed choices about their future post secession, otherwise the democratic process of choosing that future is seriously compromised.

So when days before the vote the Unionists side campaigned heavily on the fact that the only way to guarantee to stay in the EU was to vote to remain in the UK, backed up by the careless and prejudicial remarks from across Europe, was it any wonder that it was the argument that pushed many who were unsure into voting NO? Leaving aside the irony of that position now, was it right that the confusion and fence sitting from the EU was able to influence the result? No, it clearly was not.

And Europe can’t have it both ways. On the one hand it can’t say these matters are internal matters in which the EU will have no comment or influence and on the other be seen to directly influence the result by some ill-judged legally incompetent statements and opinions. And while there has been a softening of that negative opinion towards Scotland within the last few weeks, we are no closer to knowing exactly what the EU thinks about our aspirations to be an independent member of the EU. And I suspect their fine words are linked to the fact that, chances are by the time we ask again, we will no longer be a part of a Member State, breaking and challenging the EU loyalty code.

Stateless Nations, independence movements, cries for self-determination are growing for a number of reasons. Dissatisfaction with the old order of things; too much centralised power; feelings that National Governments do not represent distinct groups in society and underpinning it all of course, some form of Nationalism

Considering the past 100 years of European history and the very raison d’ etre for the creation of what has become the EU, it is understandable that there is nervousness about the rise of Nationalism in its borders. But the EU, has to understand that there is more than one form of Nationalism and be able to recognise it. Not every country which wishes to run its own affairs is driven by the Nationalism that is narrow minded, inward looking, anti migrant and therefore most likely anti EU.

There is the Civic nationalism of Scotland, outward looking and inclusive committed to social justice. In its simplest Brexit terms it is the difference between the pro EU position of Scottish nationalism, its supporters and its leaders  and the anti-migration, English exceptionalism, empire mythologizing of English nationalism and its leaders. Maybe someone can have a quiet work with Jo Swinson on the matter of differentiated Nationalisms within the UK.

Civic Nationalism is driven by the very same goals and values which has driven and must drive the EU in the future. And this is why, despite a rather cold shoulder in 2014, Scotland has kept faith with the EU; in its strong cultural and social bonds, it sees its future in Europe and in its peoples, it sees many more  who think more like us that our nearest neighbour does. Can the EU really afford to alienate its fan base?

But the EU can’t pick and choose the Nationalisms and self determination movements it is prepared to engage with. If it fails to tackle right wing populism and extremism head on or fails to mitigate its worst excesses other member states may find themselves being ripped out of the EU because of narrow nationalistic views held by the dominant culture in a country as had happened in the UK.

It is imperative that we present the EU as much as a social union as an economic and political one. We must rob the extreme right of its oxygen wherever we can. And Reform is the key. And the greatest Reform may be of membership itself so the third question I posed was does everyone in the EU need to sign up to everything? The so called Multi-speed Europe, where different parts of the European Union could integrate at different levels and paces depending on the political situation in each individual country, is growing in appeal. Indeed, multi-speed Europe is currently a reality, with only a subset of EU countries being members of the Eurozone and of the Schengen area. The existence of the EFTA countries is  also a form of differential integration. Differential integration would allow Stateless Nations to seek a closer integration with the EU which is not perhaps, in its first instance, full membership. And of course even current full members could opt for this sort of looser relationship therefore mitigating some of the requirements of membership which often create an anti EU feeling.

Allied to this new form, of integration needs to be a new form of  engagement. As well as operating in communities of place, roughly defined by national borders, the reality of life in the 21st century is that we must start acting in communities of interest if we are to survive.

A Community of Interest is a group of people who share a common interest or passion. Its members take part in the community to exchange information, to obtain answers to shared questions or problems, to improve their understanding of a subject, which is defined not by space, but by some common bond . This approach to problem sharing is of course already well used in the EU through transnational projects and links.

So in at number four was the  question, would Communities of Interest be a feasible alternative structure or contribution to dialogue? Could they be drawn  Social Europe, the third sector NGOs. They would then have a structure to bring expertise within Stateless Nations to the fore. Expertise which is often hidden from existing EU institutions due to lack of representation or formal channels of communication. It means the usual suspects no longer dominate and a community of interest, by its very nature is likely to be more diverse in thinking, politics and opinions.

Beyond Europe, Communities of Interest around indigenous peoples, for example, have had a big impact of health policy and understanding of the mental and physical health challenges that are attached by being an indigenous people. Properly resourced and managed there is tremendous opportunity for these communities to shape policy and drive change and implement reform. By putting the opportunity for change and reform into the hands of representatives of citizens groups, could some of the undemocratic accusations that drive people from the EU, towards narrow nationalism might be averted?

And for stateless nations who want to participate in the EU, who wish to contribute, offering them this way to engage. to have their voice heard, is compelling, especially if that voice is silenced normally by the representative the  Member States which control them.

Hearing different voices is long overdue in the EU. At one time the Committee of the Regions offered a potential for a real democratic engagement with other legislatures not in national governments. It has been suggested that it could have acted as a Senate of sorts (a second chamber) overseeing and contributing to policy and legislation from a regions point of view; but the unwillingness of national governments to give away power meant this never happened. So my fifth question was, is now is the time to change this? To push for full representation at EU and Commission level for governments and assemblies with devolved power, in decision making and negotiations where these devolved powers are crucial?

Fishing has been devolved to the Scottish Government since 1999; two thirds of the fishing industry in the UK is based in Scotland; we have 60% of the waters and land over 50% of the weight. Yet our place at the EU table is taken up by a Minister from Westminster. If the EU ruled that devolved legislatures with legal competence for these areas could negotiate directly with the EU Scotland could have had her voice heard on this crucial question.

If  National Governments could no longer keep Ministers of devolved powers away from decisions which will directly affect them; then some of the rancour about the EU that exists in the regions and devolved administrations, might dissipate. Introducing full recognition and engagement with devolved administrations and departments, fits the multi- speed Europe model well and in fact would make that model easier to bring about.

In the end the ultimate and final question of the two days was this: Are the requirements of a body like the EU – in terms of how it has to function, or wants to function, to meet its stated aims, compatible with giving more autonomy and a greater voice to smaller units within the EU?  I believe that is. I also believe that it needs to be. The drive for greater self-determination is not going to decrease. Organisations which remain too centralised, too rigid and too averse to giving up control, history shows us, fail. Such was the fate the great Empires of the past. The EU cannot afford to play the Empire game. Not if the EU wishes to maintain its place on the world stage.

If the EU says it wants to listen, then it must also learn to say less and let others voices be heard. These other voices have a great deal to say and their legitimacy lies in the fact that what they have to say represents the wishes and aspirations of a large % of the EUs existing citizens.

No-one is denying  that closer EU collaboration between National Governments and autonomous Assemblies and Parliaments is the greatest challenge facing the bloc, since its creation and expansion.

But Europe didn’t shrink from putting in place structures to try ensure that, in the future, extreme political ideologies would not rob its peoples of their freedoms and their rights again.

These extreme political ideologies are on the rise again, not from within the growing movement of self-determination – in the case of Scotland a movement that is growing in order to  preserve democracy, social justice and maintain people’s rights. But instead these ideologies come often from deep within the ruling elites of Member States.

A greater move for self-determination is not the enemy of the EU; but as facing it and dealing with this movement becomes essential; as facing it and dealing with this movement has the potential to drive much needed reform- then the EU has to realise that Scotland and  Stateless Nations like her,  may just become Europe’s saviour.

The EU has two options which are complimentary and not exclusive. Recognise and give more of a role to Stateless Nations within Europe and do not stand in their way of seceding and becoming full member of the EU if they so choose.

Recognition, Representation and Reform was my message. And the European Union need to know that I’m listening for their answer.

Drawn from a presentation given at the Coppetier’s foundation conference on Self Determination and Shared Sovereignty in the EU. I was representing  Women for Independence, a version of this blog has been shared to their website and is featured on the Coppetiers website too.

http://www.womenforindependence.org/wfi_at_the_heart_of_europe

https://ideasforeurope.eu/…/recognition-representation-and…/

 

Turns out BREXIT is about sovereignty and democracy after all….The shift of one and the death of the other.

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Maggie Lennon may have stumbled on the blueprint for Johnson’s recent actions. In 1997, the father of Jacob Rees-Mogg co-authored a book called The Sovereign Individual, addressed to the super rich which stated that from around 2000 a new age would dawn, one in which sovereignty would pass to super rich individuals and that the nation state would die.

 

When I hear the phrase post-Brexit I can’t help thinking Post-Apocalyptic. And like all post-apocalyptic futures we are rapidly moving to the dystopian model.

If ever there was case of knowing what we know, knowing what we don’t know, or not knowing (or recognising) what we do know, or even (and it’s just getting silly now) not knowing what we don’t know, then this is it.

Though what we do know is that it WILL happen. We can’t keep our fingers in our ears singing lalala go away. It now only a matter of to what degree will it happen, over what timescale and for how long will we have to measure the fallout, possibly, indeed most likely, in decades.

The British State is on the brink of a disastrous isolationist leap in the dark and to the right, and into the arms of Trump’s America with all chlorinated chicken you can ask for and all the privatised healthcare nobody wants, except Cabinet Ministers with shares and off shore investments in private health care.

The result? Well if I knew that I’d be a very smart cookie indeed. Without doubt at some point (and I’m not hedging my bets) it will see the break-up of Britain, not least because the current constitutional arrangements and devolution across all the devolved administrations isn’t working—quite literally in the case of the North of Ireland.

But the situation, as they say, is fluid, and until last week, the British state was balanced on a precipice as the rise of right wing populism looked set to push us over that cliff. With Johnson’s flagrant disregard for the constitution (yes, it’s not written down but we do have one, it’s just that it’s nigh impossible to re-enforce); possibly the law (and certainly its spirit if not the letter) and the very basic rules governing representative democracies, we have now tipped over the edge. Once Parliament is deemed irrelevant, even for a brief period, precedent suggests it will become so again until maybe that’s becomes its default position.

When the Brexiteers said they wanted to take back control, we now realise they meant for their own small cabal.

The triumph of what is claimed as the will of the people (however narrow a triumph) over the idea that you elect people to represent the best interpretation of that will, has led us to this sorry state.

But Power To The People is a catchier, sexier chant  is it not, than Power In The Hands Of The Elected Representatives Who Are Elected By The People. But then right wing populism in all its forms is an easier and simpler message to sell than left wing populism. Not least because for those proposing it – white middle class men of money, privilege and entitlement, whether new or old money, the establishment – are the ones who benefit for its outcomes. They have a vested self-interest in promoting it. While they always know we are most not certainly not all in it together, unless you mean the shit, they are in fact best placed to take advantage of deregulation, of tax tricks, of neoliberalism, of othering people to distract from the harsh economic realities of the policies they push. And they are the ones in charge. Unlike the working class women and men who have been taken in and who will at some point in the not too distant future – witnessing the erosion of their rights – begin to wonder what all that talk about the will of the people was. There’s a lovely scene in the film version of Doctor Zhivago when on discovering that the country estate has been sequestered by the will of the People’s Government, the old aristocrat picks up a shovel intent on smashing the lock and shouts “Well I’m one of the People now”. But just as Nikolai Nikolayevich discovers, the will of the people, doesn’t belong to the people any more. It’s been misappropriated for nefarious means.

Left wing populism on the other hand, which has in the past appealed and should appeal again to the masses, is targeted at exactly these bastions of establishment. So it’s fairly self-evident that an ideology that promotes the state over greed, that promotes wealth distribution rather than iniquitous wealth gain (that NEVER trickles down) is never going to get the support of the establishment especially an establishment who now more than ever have their grubby little fingers in the pies of the media, industry, offshore tax havens, self-interested policy making; in effect controlling how society works. So in times past in the UK, when the left have made advances, it’s been despite of the odds stacked against them. And so I really fail to see how we would ever see a socially democratic UK again, let alone a socialist one.

But I digress and let us be clear,  rather like Theresa May (remember her) used to say she was……

Brexit isn’t new; it isn’t even a result of a hard core of nanny boys in the Tory party rattling their sabres. It’s not about giving anything back to the people who voted for it, if it is about sovereignty it’s not about the sovereignty of the State and I’ll return to that in a minute.

There are 3 things that have driven this:

Firstly Brexit is the inevitable result of a project in certain parts of these benighted isles that goes back at least 80 years, with its toxic relationship with Europe. Because while we may have won the war, we most certainly didn’t win the peace and that is just not cricket. And if you  want a definitive guide to that relationship and to fully understand the relationship and all that has led to where we are today please read Fintan O’Toole’s masterly book Brexit the Heroic Failure

Secondly, it’s the inevitable outcome of the rise of neo-liberalism with its creed of deregulation, free market capitalism, individualism and the shift away from the “big state”; and if you want to learn more about that try Naomi Kline’s The Shock Doctrine, if that doesn’t make you angry, you best check you are still breathing. There’s even a chapter on Brexit!

And thirdly that old chestnut sovereignty. I turn to a little known book – outside extreme right wing think tanks – written by William Rees Mogg, father of Jacob, and hirer one presumes of the infamous nanny. In 1997 he co-authored a book called The Sovereign Individual, addressed to the super rich which stated that from around 2000 the big millennium projects weren’t going to be dome stadia or other legacy projects but in fact  a new age, one in which sovereignty would pass to super rich individuals and that the nation state would die.

“The nation state will not endure in anything like its present form it will starve to death as its tax revenues decline because the new elite have declared itself sovereign and thus are no longer taxable Mass democracy and citizenship will be left behind; it is only a matter of time before mass democracy goes the way of its fraternal twin Communism.”

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what Johnson has been up to, it’s the opening act of this Brave New World.

While Teresa May attacked citizens of the world as being citizens of no-where, that is in fact what the super-rich elites are, who run our economies. They operate outside of political and certainly tax jurisdiction boundaries

And there’s no room in the Rees Mogg vision for the workers, or for you and me. Just as gated communities are springing up as children from social housing in some parts of London are not allowed to play in some playparks, so the masses the citizens will be walled out…or walled in.

So when people say BREXIT is all about sovereignty and democracy remember what they really mean is it’s the shift of one and the death of the other. Boy that’s one millennium project with some legacy. Because if by some magic and the wishes of Unicorns BREXIT were to get stopped in its tracks, the threat of this dystopian vision of William Rees Mogg and co. won’t go away, it won’t go back in the butler’s pantry. We are the head of a juggernaut, it’s going to happen, BREXIT just makes it happen quicker and pulls off that most brilliant of political shape sifting….it’s made the electorate believe it’s what they want, its giving them what they say they want, it’s giving them the illusion of control while in fact taking ALL the control back to themselves. The turkeys literally are voting for Xmas

So far so disastrous. Have I told you anything you didn’t know? Maybe? Maybe not? But  at least I’ve given you some suggestions for a good read in the cold evening ahead when power cuts mean only reading by candlelight will be open to us as entertainment. You know what they say: You can take the girl out of bookselling, but not the bookseller out of the girl.

The British State is going rogue. It’s eating itself, and I for one, don’t want to be on the menu.

When Democracy descends to the level of conkers and football its time to leave the pitch

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The English version of democracy is broken, so tarnished, and so last century they have no moral high ground left on which to stand and wouldn’t recognise a truly democratic action if it bit them on the bum.

 

Twitter sphere and the Book of Face is close to meltdown today with the news that Boris Johnson is about to ask Mrs Windsor to shut down Parliament in what is, of course, a blatant attempt to close down any legal means of opposition to a No Deal Brexit. Well at least my feeds are. I have no doubt there are some parts of those worlds which remain untouched and that are still awash with pictures of people’s lunches, cats that look like Hitler (in Brexit land probably) and quizzes which invite you to discover what shape you aura is, or indeed what shape it is in (should be so inclined to find out).

Someone asked somewhat incredulously “Who saw this coming?” or perhaps they were being ironic – seeing as Mr J has been running it up the flagpole quite a bit recently, while Mr Bercow has in response, puffed himself up to his full 4 feet 10 and a half inches to say he will fight this with his last breath, preferably on a beach if he can find one I shouldn’t wonder. And that’s saying something for Mr B, given his breath is more usually reserved for the promotion of the sound of his own voice snipping and sniding at MPs, especially those light on the Unionist persuasion.

But finally it has come to pass. Responses against this move are  varied, ranging from  incandescent to very very angry indeed and all points in between. It’s making strange bedfellows of political opponents, and causing some (it is to be hoped) to temporary abandon firm principles. Republicans for example who wouldn’t give Betty Windsor (not to be confused with Babs of that name) the time of day are now demanding this most constitutional of Monarch, defies that very tenuous basis on which the whole bunch of them are tolerated (i.e. that they have no power anyway) and  that she tells Mr J that he is a very very naughty boy, and probably not the Messiah afterall.

That of course isn’t going to happen. Apart from anything she’s on her summer hols up in Scotland and probably just wants shot of the delegation of “senior cabinet ministers” braving the midges and Prince Philip’s driving to ask her permission. One wonders if Ma’am has considered Skype. After all she could claim poor rural Broadband speeds made the connection difficult, and that she didn’t quite hear the conversation and gave consent instead to suspending Arlene – not the Parly; and as broadband matters are reserved, it’s all the Tories fault anyway!!

Meanwhile legal minds are whirring away trying to mount challenges to this and that and all things Brexit related and much of MSM is appropriately Armageddon like in this assault on our democracy and constitutional outrage. Whether it can be averted, whether it will lead to a Vote of No Confidence, or a General Election is beyond me. Although it seems whatever happens Parliament will not be sitting for enough days to really stop this No Deal juggernaut which, after all, has been nearly 3 years in the making as opposed to a much more recent and flimsy coalition of opposition against it. Even without the prospect of prorogation (a deliciously cigar scented leather chair men’s clubby sort of word), Parliamentarians were still intent on having their long summer break and are still planning their self-imposed conference recess when everyone goes off to the seaside to preach to the converted and gambol about our EU awarded blue flag beaches. So if democracy is truly under threat. If we are suffering an unprecedented constitutional crisis are we now reaping what we have sewed? One thing’s for sure if this is allowed to pass unchallenged, we have crossed the Rubicon and future assaults on the rights and liberties of the people in these benighted islands could make this lot look like a picnic.

The simple fact is that people in the UK and especially in England have been sleepwalking into this, in a wholly mistaken belief that in fact fair play and cricket – and an irrational fear of things that aren’t cricket – are somehow in the national DNA. We have become a land of “Things like that don’t happen here”. Where as of course we can see, we are exactly the sort of place that these things happen. There is no great “decency” regulator in the sky that comes along and says just a minute here, that’s not how we do things. Just like Police people haven’t resembled Dixon of Dock Green for quite some time (they didn’t in truth even when that was on our screens) similarly the idea that public servants (both elected and appointed) have a   default “country before party/common good before personal gain” vision is woefully wrongheaded.

And the problem lies within the very structure of our democracy as it manifests itself in the fully national context. The Mother of All Parliaments with its First Past The Post two party dominated political landscape is of barren stock. Is no longer fit for purpose.

A political system that relies on an outmoded  system designed to  create and perpetrate dominance from only two parties, locked in mortal combat, has no room or mechanism for compromise. Without electoral reform to allow some sort of proportional representation, the middle ground, the smaller parties, the parties of special interest stand no chance. The real third party in the UK in the last 10 years hasn’t been the Lib Dems despite holding cabinet office, or abandoning long held cherished policies at the first whiff of the Downing Street cat’s litter tray. It has in fact been UKIP and all the subsequent manifestations of Farage. Not ever elected to Westminster yet spurred on by a fawning media, it didn’t need to be. It was allowed to effectively shape Conservative party policy, and therefore the destiny of 65 million people, without coming under the scrutiny of the British electorate. Had PR existed I have no doubt UKIP, or the Brexit party as it might have become earlier, would have taken seats and perhaps instead of their idiot elected reps being confined to local politics, or the Parliaments in Brussels and Strasbourg which are so ignored by the media in this country, then more people in more places might have seen them for what they are, been able to hold them to account and perhaps, just maybe, we wouldn’t have been in this mess in the first place. The biggest assault on our democracy isn’t whatever the current Prime Minister is trying to pull, it’s been the unfettered and unchecked influence of Farage and his cohorts operating outside of parliamentary process.

In the devolved administrations in the UK of course FPTP has been abandoned as the only way to elect our representatives and, as a result, in all 3 (while Stormont was sitting at any rate) we saw a rise of multi party democracies, with formal power sharing in the North of Ireland, only one outright majority in Scotland in a system that was deliberately designed to make that all but impossible. It also means that the voters have more choice, 4 parties minimum, each with a real and genuine chance of taking seats, with all the coalition, compromise, consensual politics that can and has meant.

Across the globe just over 60 nations cling to this British legacy, by far the largest proportion of them being former Empire colonies or members of the Commonwealth and, Canada, USA and India aside, the rest are small beer in terms of geo-political influence. But even those 3 don’t also have their democratic hands tied by an un-elected second house to boot. The farce that has become US elections doesn’t exactly make a good advert for FPTP at any rate. No EU member state uses it apart from Poland for elections to its Senate. Most EU members (not including those in the former Eastern bloc) having given it up in the early years of the 20th century. And the most recent country in the world to turn its back on FPTP was Lebanon in 2017.

But when so  called democracies rely on a system dominated by just two parties, it means that as often as not, voters are voting against things as much as for them, as the use of tactical voting makes clear. It is in reality a sort of disenfranchisement just as bad as rotten boroughs. It relies on the voters doing all the work. Unless fatigue or personality “turn off” occurs they have to make the shift away from policies they once found appealing, rather than parties turning towards them with policies which might persuade people to try a new lot based on a chance of improving the lives of a country’s people. In other words it puts all the onus on the voters and none on the policy makers. And just like football – that other ultimate game of sides, it relies on – and encourages – tribalism. It means that each major party doesn’t have to find common ground with the other, or the common good, it just keeps bashing away, taking even more extreme positions. Positions  which supporters both within and outwith the party structures feel that have to adopt just in case the other side wins. A bit like playing conkers in the playground. And we all know that cheating is the best way to play and win at football and conkers. Is it any way to run a country though?

And can we be blind to the move to the right? Can we deny it? The anti immigrant rhetoric, not from pub landlords only, but people in power. A home secretary openly in favour of bringing back the death penalty. Inhuman treatment of the poor, rape clauses,”protection” of paedophiles through lack of robust examination of historical cases  and so it goes on. Neo-Liberalism has its nasty little claws in us and there is no shaking it free.

Yet despite this we can see the cracks, the hung parliaments of recent UK GEs, suggest that perhaps the voter isn’t as content with the way things are done as they once were. Yet the inevitable horsetrading, the bribes, the deals, the endless “kingmaker” analogies of Clegg,  frankly seemed a complete mystery to European colleagues and friends who are so used to coalitions and politics of compromise they simply could not fathom why the UK seemed to be eating itself in 2010. Compare that with the SNPs brave decision to run a series of minority governments, relying on support at times cross party for policies.

So England I’m sorry you had it coming! Your stubborn rejection of a devolved parliament for England, your rejection of FPTP for GEs, your slavish following of red and blue has led to this. Ultimately few parties have all the policies for all of the people all of the time unless you are a rabid Tory or Labour person. So instead of trying to find alternatives, realising FPRT means that millions of votes are effectively wasted,  people turn off.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of all was the man who voted Brexit “as a protest” but he didn’t think his vote would count “as it never did in other elections”. Now leaving aside the acute stupidity of someone who couldn’t understand the implications of a binary vote, if your voting citizens are so mired in the belief that they and their votes don’t matter, can you really trust the system to deliver for those citizens at any time?  So is it any wonder they turn off. Get caught up with populism, slogans on and off  buses. I weep for friends down south who really have no alternatives. I’ve seen two major theatre events recently which were at heart bleating liberal mourning for the death of the Labour Party and/or Socialism, as of course they are no longer the same thing. But all the time I was screaming inside that doesn’t reflect where I live and at the end of the day is sort of unavoidable.

The devolved administrations have shown an alternative way forward. It’s a way some view with envy, might like to try, might even embrace with a change of scene. But it’s not really up to us to save England from itself  any more. Two of the three said a firm NO to Brexit. So let’s have no more nonsense about Scotland, Ireland or Wales wanting to choose a new future, as being somehow undemocratic, or their being no mandate for it. The English version of democracy is broken, so tarnished, and so last century they have no moral high ground left on which to stand and wouldn’t recognise a truly democratic action if it bit them on the bum. And as a result, England’s green and pleasant lands may very well be welcoming back dark satanic forces, if not mills: unless the way of doing business is changed. But now that the neo-liberal genie is out of the bottle, god alone knows what horrors are yet to come.

History repeats itself for a reason, and we ignore it at our peril

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History also tells us that governments like nothing better, when their backs are to the wall economically or politically to divert attention away from the mistakes of their own making, and to focus instead on the problem of the others. And history also tells us when Government think “the others” are a problem they also find solutions, sometimes final ones

 

Back in the day, I can remember a parade of eloquent and committed teachers, urging us to consider history as a subject for advanced study and maybe even a post school discipline. Among the many arguments the one that stuck with me, and which continues to have currency, is that a proper and thoughtful study of the past not only can help us make sense of the present (on the assumption that in most things there is very little new under the sun) but that with a critical and questioning eye it can help us avoid the mistakes of our forbears (if that is our bent) or indeed repeat their folly with alarming regularity (should we so choose). In either scenario knowing how certain courses of action have played out in the past, we can make a decent stab at how actions today will play out in the future. And like a hall of reflecting mirrors we can see that pattern repeat and repeat into infinity.

You don’t have to be a genius of physics or quantum mechanics to understand  that doing the same thing over and over again in the same fashion and expecting a different outcome, may indeed be madness, but is also just incredibly stupid and arrogant. Which is why Politicians and governments are the biggest culprits of this infantile belief in their power (or indeed god given right)  to do something truly original and different.

And so we  have seen in the last week or so a series of stories relating to the treatment and singling out of refugees and migrants that has chilling resonance back to  1930’s Germany. First asylum seekers in Middlesborough, it transpired, were being housed in accommodation with distinctive red doors, ostensibly so that their landlords the government contracted private security company G4S could find them! One might have assumed they had a list (and maybe some maps). But of course at the same time as their housing officers could find them so could other people in the city with an agenda of harassment and intimidation. And they did find them with alarming regularity, with the asylum seekers reporting graffiti sprayed on their houses and dog shit and used condoms pushed through their letter boxes. While G4S have agreed to replace the doors with a more neutral colour akin with their neighbours, their attitude in conducting this little social experiment in the first place is telling. Despite being paid to deliver a contract to provide safe and secure housing for people going through the  asylum process, they put the convenience and needs of their staff beyond that of those in their care. It shouldn’t have taken the media and concerned citizens and a directive from Her Majesty’s finest to make them stop the process, they should have just known it  was a bad idea. Stars of David on windows anyone?

No sooner had the red door debacle died down when Cardiff announced it was their intention to force asylum seekers to wear red wrist bands in order to get fed. When it was pointed out that the wearing of said bands was opening the men and women to racial abuse and hate crime, the answer was pretty much, tough. No band, no dinner! A similar outcry of the lily livered liberals amongst us (I’m getting in that slur before the Daily Mail does!) has resulted in that policy being “re-thought” and overturned. But the real question is who in heavens name thought it up in the first place. Pink triangles ring any bells people? Once again the interest of the asylum seekers and the duty of care the local authority have for them is way down the list of priorities

And we wake to today’s news that in a Denmark very very far away from the land of Borgen, Danish asylum seekers will have to part with cash or personal effects that they have brought with them be they family heirlooms or treasured possessions, before they get support, in order to “pay” for that support, although those good hearted Danes are allowing people to keep their wedding rings….for now. So far there doesn’t seem to have been a directive on gold fillings. Anyone who has visited Auschwitz  and Birkenau and heard the stories of the warehouses  called “Canada” (because it was a place of abundance) where personal effects were removed, sorted and distributed, might be feeling a little queazy at the moment. And there is absolutely no justification for this brutal action other than to humiliate, demonise, and punish people taking up their legal right to seek protection in a country nominally signed  up to the UN Convention of Refugees. Of course  EU member states the UNHCR are up in arms about this, but then the UK, Ireland and Denmark have an automatic exemption for ALL EU wide asylum policy guidelines and directives so frankly the EU can go on about it as much as they like, the UK, Ireland and Denmark will continue in their own sweet way thank you very much.

And  it’s not so long ago that the shadow of the transit trains fell across Glasgow. When the housing contract for asylum seekers was moving from the Glasgow Housing Association  – into which Glasgow Council’s owned social housing had morphed – to yet another private contractor, it looked like many asylum seekers across the city would have to undergo forced removals from one badly insulated, run down council house on a sink estate to another. They were told in a letter from the private profit driven accommodation provider – in a chilling parallel to  instructions given to Jews across Europe from 1939-44 that they could take “only up to two suitcases each” despite the fact many had lived here for years and had accumulated the same detritus of their lives that we all do. In the event the housing swap didn’t mean a move for most people, but all the same the callousness in which the instructions were given and the tone and content of the letter made  this refugee support worker and others write stiffly to the Home Office and the accommodation provider. We are still waiting on an apology for the insensitivity. But then where does sensitive handing of vulnerable people stand against the profit driven self interest of the people at the top of the procurement tree?

And we continue, in the UK, to ignore the recent history of refugee settlement (less than 40 years ago) in the most amazing way with the forced dispersal of the Syrians coming in from camps, to the far flung corners of the UK (over half the local authorities in Scotland for example) to places that in many cases have no specialist services, history of supporting or understanding of the issues facing traumatised vulnerable people. The numbers in each area are tiny, so people get lost in a system that wasn’t designed for them in the first place. The isolation they are feeling, the confusion and ineptitude of some local authorities is exactly what happened in 1979 when a then newly elected Tory Government in its first few months  of power (a co-incidence…I don’t think so) had to deal with the Vietnamese boat people. Instead of housing people near to areas of the country that have the services, expertise and support that is needed , people are being spread to ease in he Home Offices words the “burden”. (I’ve seen the poweRpoint!)

The outpouring of sympathy across the Europe for the plight of the asylum seekers coming across the Med and overland was extraordinary, and at that point people didn’t see “them” as a burden, But I said at the time  that this humanitarian response would  fade, and that in its place would develop self interested harsher regimes dolling out tougher measures all geared, not to support the vulnerable huddled masses, but the governments and local authorities  where they settled. even if only temporarily. And I said that, because history tells us that this is always the case. But history also tells us that the mass movement of people is a historical phenomena, that borders shift, and that some are no more than recent drawings in the sand. History tells us that  it has happened before and that it will happen again, so we need to get smarter, better and more humane in dealing with it. History also tells us that governments like nothing better, when their backs are to the wall economically or politically to divert attention away from the mistakes of their own making, and to focus instead on the problem of the others. And history also tells us when Government think “the others” are a problem they also find solutions, sometimes final ones.

And for those of you that think this doesn’t affect me. I’m not an asylum seeker or  a refugee. Well lucky you, but you might be old, vulnerable, poor, unemployed,  weak, sick or have people in your life that are. History tells us when governments want to demonise the other they start with the people that look different, sound different, dress different; then they move onto those that pass amongst us as one of us. A voice from the crematorium years of the last century should not be ignored

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

Maggie Lennon is founder and Director of the Bridges Programmes working to promote the social and economic integration and inclusion of asylum seekers refuges and migrants in Scotland

 

Aylan Kurdi’s very public death must not be forgotten when the social media feeds move on

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Seven years ago in July, and before social media was quite at the heights we “enjoy” today, several broadsheets in the UK ran the story of two teenage Roma girls washed up drowned on an Italian beach. The story wasn’t so much that once again people from a disadvantaged and persecuted race had been left to rot like so much rubbish; but that the bodies lay decomposing and lightly covered in full view of Italian families enjoying a family day out.

The picture (opposite) wasn’t widely romareproduced, whether out of a sense of decency or a collective editorial view  that the “victims” didn’t merit it, wasn’t clear; but the story had some coverage, but very little reaction outside of Italy. And nothing like the global outrage to the mass reproduction of the images of Aylan Kurdi. The girls it appears had been selling trinkets on the beach when they decided to enter the water, though it was unsure if either knew how to swim.

Seven years on and the public reaction to human tragedy of the loss of a young life in appalling circumstances on a beach in Turkey, that most of us couldn’t contemplate, has quite rightly caused horror and outrage; and appears to be having an impact on our political leaders in the UK, though by how much and with what strings attached, is way too early to say. The image of a child lying dead face down in the surf on a beach that many other 3 year olds were playing on, only weeks before, is imbued with such tragic irony that few could remain unmoved. For those of us with children, no matter how grown, it sears into us the primal fear of having a child die before us. And for people everywhere it’s the image that is the antithesis of hope, a life ended too young.

But Aylan isn’t the only child to die too young this week. In fact he wasn’t the only child to die on that beach. Aylan’s brother Galip perished too along with his mother and nine others including other kids. The thousands of children who have died this week across the globe, through hunger, poverty, disease, war and crime; won’t be the last. We know this and we know we know this, but in our busy lives it’s as if we need to know this, at a distance, removed from view, and not over the cornflakes thank you very much. With every capsized boat during this summer’s sailing season, with every group of a hundred or so refugees dying on our beaches, still the politicians turned a blind eye, still the right wing press perpetrated the myths, still most people turned away uncomfortable, uneasy maybe, but still unsure about “these” people.

Then came the picture. I said to someone yesterday that I thought the image was exploitative. The look of distaste on the face of this person who has, to be frank, come late to the party of humanity and concern was almost comic. How could I, of all people, say that? Didn’t I understand what was happening? Look at the impact it has had. And it is precisely because of the impact it has had that I stand by my claim. Exploitative in a general sense as no family member back home, I believe was consulted or asked about a having this image splashed across the world and exploitative because it was published with only one aim in mind, precisely to get the reaction it did. But saying that it is exploitative is not to condemn its use or to criticise the decision firstly to take it or publish it. Far from it. Though I would prefer that reason and argument and evidence of the needs of refugees and migrants were what shaped policy, I’ll take what I can get. The fact that our and other European governments, are immune to reason, argument and evidence is shocking and ultimately very worrying. So if it takes the image of a dead child to galvanise public opinion and make a difference then the use of it is justified but it doesn’t change the fact that it was a calculated decision. For those of us who believe that generally the end justifies the means, remember that that’s fine just so long as the ends are the ones we want. And remember of something is exploitative someone else is being exploited.

The fact that the media shapes public opinion rather than reflect it is something I have written and spoken about many many times. The fact that it is often in cahoots with government is something responsible citizens not only have to wake up to but to challenge at every turn. Yet on the issues of refugees and migrants fleeing impossible conditions for the last 15-20 years, both the media and many responsible citizens have not only been silent on, but deliberately misleading. The case of the Roma girls 7 years ago (not markedly different) proves that.

So let’s be thankful for the light that has been shone on the misery of our fellow human beings but let’s be wary too. The people in the boats, behind the razor wire in Hungary, in the camps in Calais and those yet to flee Syria or where ever will still be there when the papers carrying the pictures have  been thrown out, and when the social media chatter has slipped down our page feeds. One they are settled in communities they will continue to need support. They might become your neighbours, your workmates, use your health services, attend your schools, hell they might even get a job you apply for. And when that happens or when people think that will happen or the media tell us it will happen, how supportive will you be then?

I’m pleased and relived that hundreds of thousands of people are discussing the issues that every day as Director of the Bridges Programmes me and my team deal with. Let’s hope it makes our job of promoting economic and social inclusion and integration of asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland easier. Let’s hope more doors are open, less hostility is evident. Send your dry goods, warm clothes, toys, but also send you hope, compassion and humanity. But can I also ask you when the pastas been cooked the clothes distributed that you keep your hope, compassion and humanity flowing. That’s the only way to make sure politicians listen, to make sure that things will change. That is the proper legacy for the Kurdi brothers.

Maggie Lennon is director of the Bridges Programmes, based in Glasgow working with asylum seekers refugees and migrants http://www.bridgesprogrammes.org.uk

More Camels and less Comics

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There was a time in my life,  in the mid to late 1990s that I would spend about a week every early December in Nice, in the South of France. The climate was mild, the prices reasonable, the bar and restaurants quiet. Good for Christmas shopping and for several years host to an eclectic European Theatre Festival, that gathered experimental thought provoking and physical theatre and presented it with something of a flourish to discerning audiences.

One particular year a piece from the National Theatre of Slovenia, loosely based on some of the absurdities in Shakespeare, and challenging our relationship to the printed and spoken word through exquisite physical theatre, stood out. At the end of the performance a live camel was led onto stage where it sat down and surveyed the (largely jaw dropping) audience with an absurdist non-challence that was as eloquent as it was relevant to the piece that had preceded it. Half the audience absolutely “got the Camel” the other half didn’t. And since then I tend to divide the world into people who get, and are excited by, challenging concepts, philosophies, and art forms. People who are happy to look at the world differently, who are not content with being spoon fed their theatrical or life experiences. As you might imagine, I got, and continue to get, The Camel.

I’m just back from another long weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe, seeing work from artists I know and much from people and groups that are new to me. I have seen outstanding work and some that is OK. I haven’t seen anything dire, but then I like to think I have a pretty good radar. Some of the stuff that was OK had large audiences, some of the stuff that was outstanding had small (let’s say intimate) audiences. Some of the performers faced with that intimacy are theatre makers of such experience, sensitivity and confidence in their theatre making, that they can adapt the tone to develop a conversation with a smaller audience, one that leaves you feeling special and privileged that only a few people have had such an experience. These  are the theatre makers that deserve the larger audiences. But while that’s nifty for the punter, it’s less rewarding for the artist: it doesn’t put pounds in their pockets or beer on the table. And as the Fringe runs on and money runs out, a prodigious amount of beer is drunk

It’s fair to say that this year, I think more than ever, intelligent theatre is being squeezed out of the Fringe. I have friends who are openly saying they may not bring back challenging, well made, pieces to try out in Edinburgh, but instead go for the more popular option: a spoof, a parody, a ripping yarn, something guaranteed not to scare the horses. Or worse not come back at all. With even a modest show requiring a budget of between £15,000 – £20,000 to mount, including accommodation and living costs, you can begin to see why. But that would be a huge tragedy. Not only is the Fringe, when it’s working properly, a chance for writers, artists, actors, directors and producers to showcase their work to venues which might lead to a tour (to offset the inevitable losses incurred by a month in Edinburgh), it also means that  if that work is being developed outside of Scotland (and the vast majority of shows of course are conceived furth of these borders) then those of us who don’t have easy and regular access to other parts of the UK, Europe or even the States are denied seeing new and innovative work.

So what is to be done? Once again I find myself (against my natural instincts) thinking the Fringe is too big, with not enough quality control and with too much of an emphasis on the popular and the comedic. While it is absolutely not true to say that there is no quality control; some venues are after-all very sniffy about whom and what they will allow in. The general “come one, come all” approach benefits no-one except the venues. Looking in the giant fringe programme for an idea of what to see is the artistic equivalent of going to  Niagra Falls to get a drink of water. And the absurd star review system so meaningless to be almost laughable or even a turn off. Audiences are short changed with more bad shows than good and at an average of £10-£12  a show that’s a lot of change. Performers stand to make substantial losses, have their confidence kicked out of them and decide the whole thing is just not for them. Venues that say they don’t make a profit on the shows  – but only on the bars and food – are just fibbing. The split house percentage deals means the house always wins.

The ridiculous quick get ins and get outs, to maximise the number of shows for each venue, and the fact that shows often use house technicians, mean that many shows present with the minimum of set or soundscape. I yearn to see a well dressed, well set designed fringe show. After all there’s only so many black boxes a girl can take in a weekend. And ALL the main venues have to stop this crazy and self defeating curfew on theatre after 6.00pm. Who decrees that only comedy should rule the evening? It means local people and by local I mean people within a 60 minute commute of Edinburgh, can’t see much, if any, theatre, on the Fringe, during the week if they are working.

There needs to be something of a revolution, either a new venue with new rules and a new model of collaboration between artist and venue needs to emerge, (It’s been done before in Edinburgh) or stalwarts who every year see their returns diminish need to boycott or demand change.

But one thing is certain the Edinburgh Fringe needs too see more Camels on its stages than comedians and cabarets.

If not Edinburgh might find that  there are other places in Scotland which will grab the mantle of intelligent theatre and give the Fringe a run for its money.

So if you are looking for decent challenging and thought provoking shows with performers of high calibre then amongst the shows I have seen and can highly recommend are:

Venue  Zoo Sanctuary: Nicholas Collett, Nelson a Sailor’s Story; Gavin Robertson, Crusoe

Venue Assembly: Guy Masterson, Under Milk Wood (semi skimmed); Rebecca Vaughan, I Elizabeth; Le Gateau Chocolat: Black

Venue Traverse Theatre: The Christians

Venue Summerhall: Key Change (part of Northern Stage collection); Moon Fool, Titania

Venue Gilded Baloon: Sex Rated G

What price humanity? Ours is more fragile than you think

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Fleeing in fear of your life, fleeing towards a better life is NOT a criminal act

Tomorrow it will be seventy years since the end of the Second World War with the surrender of Japan. Not only is that important because it saw the end of the largest loss of life both military and civilian in a conflict, whose combatants encircled the globe; But because it was a war that witnessed the obscenity of the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; And a war that let powerful men play powerful games and start the cold war and the even larger loss of life in the pogroms throughout the former Eastern Bloc.

But it is important because it was a war that showed that it was actually possible to wipe out almost an entire race of people without much resistance if the fear of the other could be stoked and fanned. And partly because of that, it is also important for giving birth to the United Nations Convention on Refugees and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet 70 years on this same Europe at the epicentre of the conflagration, is facing the biggest migrant crisis in our combined and separate historie

And I use migrant crisis – not as our politicians do as an inconvenient chorus to their seemingly unstoppable capitalist neo-liberal drum beating dream. I use it in the sense that it is meant, a time of intense difficulty or danger, for the people going through it not for us standing at the sidelines.

From the Med crossings to the build up of human misery in Calais, to the unrelenting onslaught on people’s human rights during the journey and once they have arrived. The crisis of the migrants is also the crisis of our own humanity. For when we can speak of desperate people in terms of insects, when we can erode basic human rights just to get at them, then our humanity in Europe, that so many died for 70-76 years ago is in peril itself.

Yet this link between the founding of mechanisms to protect people fleeing from the aftermaths of conflict and what we are facing in the summer of 2015 is hardly being made. But it was today in a packed seminar in Glasgow arranged by Caledonian University and the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migrant Network (GRAMNET) called Responding the Migration.

No talk of dogs and how high the fence in this room, except to condemn them both. The discussions were led by one of the most compassionate voices I have heard in a long time, Lilja Gretarsdottir from The Council Of Europe. Not unaware of the mountain to climb to change government and public opinion, her message was clear, it’s down to us as citizens of Europe and citizens of our own states, to challenge the seemingly pervasive myth that we are under attack from the barbarians at the gate.

And while that might not seem like much of way to initiate change, it is, in all honesty, I believe all we have. When I speak about refugees and migrants, which I do a lot, I always start a speech by asking who in the room does not wish for a better life, an improvement in salary or prospects, or place to live, or more money in their pockets, better holidays, happy less stressed lives, children who thrive? It’s an odd group that doesn’t universally admit to that. So why is it that so many believe the better life is fine for us but not for them, the others? While we in Europe benefit from democratic (mostly) governments, an abundance of resources we control, or can afford to acquire (legally or otherwise) and a level of unprecedented social mobility in Europe since 1945; we forget with dangerous carelessness that the world is ill divided and most of the world’s peoples do not share in that good fortune. And so for them those goals are harder to reach.

Never mind that actions by European and American government since 1945 (and before in the case of the Middle East) have combined to ensure that countries are invaded, bled of resources, left with corrupt governments propped up in the name of trade “national interests” and that once stable states – and especially those not to our taste – have become failed states, with all the human misery that entails.

We cannot deny what is happening in North Africa, Syria, Iran and still in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know deep in our hearts that if it were us on those boats and in those lorries, that we would break laws, defy dogs, smash fences and risk our lives to save ourselves and our children. Because the need to survive is what makes us human. And we forget at our peril that every outstretched arm through a roll of razor wire, that every scream of a hungry child belongs to a member of our human race. Whether refugee or economic migrant whose own personal economy has been destroyed by things over which they have no control, fleeing in fear of your life, fleeing towards a better life is NOT a criminal act. Punishing sanctioning, vilifying detaining those who do however, is criminal.

In breach of so many parts of the European Human Rights Act, our governments’ joint and several actions trample their – and ultimately your – human rights in the dust. It is time to realise and acknowledge that the dialogue of then and us is empty. That how we in Europe and other developed countries deal with this and other migrant crisis, speaks directly to our own humanity and asks questions, serious questions, about the basic principles by which we live and bring up future generations.

Calais and the deaths in the Med are holding up a mirror to us and the image reflected back is ugly.

The detention of hundreds of thousands in conditions which would breach EU law on the keeping of animals goes unquestioned. The question from government isn’t how do we make conditions behind the fences better, but how high should we build them? It doesn’t really matter where this is happening but 146 people being detained for over 4 weeks in a cage 112 square metres, men and women and children mixed in with no access to clean clothing is medieval.

That 70% of global migrant deaths are happening in the Mediterranean, some within sight of beeches where as Europeans we go to distress, goes unremarked. The suspension of the Mare Nostrum project was on the dubious logic that if you rescued them, more would come. Yet there has been no let up in the numbers coming, so knowing that and doing nothing is tantamount to murder, surely?

By depriving people of their rights when they do make land, giving them leave to remain yet not leave to work what are we driving people to?

A woman at the seminar, a migrant herself asked quite simply why Migrants were now regarded by the UK government as the third biggest problem behind the economy and the NHS. And why such a ridiculous scapegoating was being promoted by the media.

That at least is an easier question to answer. One of the greatest myths of all is that governments respond to public opinion and the media merely reflects that; as if Pubic Opinion drops from the heavens above. The truth is far simpler and all the more chilling. Governments faced with the inability or the unwillingness to solve problems, create instead a problem that doesn’t exist and then helpfully suggest a solution – maybe the final one- and the media merely manipulates public opinion into that acceptance. Those would be the listening governments we are so sick of listening to. Scapegoats! Yet Europe from Nazi Germany to Stalinist Europe at least knows what scapegoating is, and what results, doesn’t it? Yet we seem not to have learned. The very reason so many people flee is that they are the scapegoats of their own governments and now become that when they arrive looking for safety. The irony is strong enough for even the most irony averse American to get.

But you, reading this are one of the public, you have an opinion. The wide outrage to Cameron’s inhuman labelling of the migrants in Calais, from many sources, was a cause of some hope. And if you don’t know how to answer those who are unmoved by the plight of wretched people in desperate straits. Try this. Tell them, “they are people, humans just like you, with children just like you, with bodies that break and spirits that can be crushed, just like you, and one day it just might BE you that becomes the other. the outsider”.

Compassion, mercy, they cost nothing yet are the richest gifts we can give our fellow men and women and the only way of showing that we too, are human.

Maggie Lennon is the Director of the Bridges Programmes an organisation in Glasgow that promotes the social economic integration and inclusion of Refugees Asylum seekers and Migrants.

On a positive shout out for the Sisterhood at least it’s good to know that excessive cellulite is no barrier to a career on stage…though I wish it were

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It’s not easy being a feminist. And I’m not talking about the big stuff, the right of women to have equal representation in public and political life; the right for a woman to dress any damn well way she likes and it never to be thrown in her face that it contributed to her attack, rape or abuse. The right to choose, reclaim the night, be awarded equal pay. No the big stuff is fine, we seasoned sisters can come out punching at the bell, arguments at the ready, soap boxes to hand. No the difficulty arises in the “off duty” moments, when you let the guard slip. That’s when the non-believers (and sometimes the zealots) come at you, all the time trying to trip you up. Someone says they went to the doctor and you ask with concern “what did he say?” And they are right on top of you. “Oh call yourself a feminist? Why wouldn’t you assume the doctor was a man?” “Because statistically” you say wearily, “that’s the most likely scenario”. Say someone throws like a girl and the hounds of hell are loosed. It can be exhausting; any veggie who’s ever snaffled a bacon sandwich to cure a hangover couldn’t be less despised from her meat free chums than a feminist who is ever less than on message 24/7.

Well I confess last night I may have slipped up, oh and big time. I may be asked to hand back my membership card; I may be stripped of my original and pre Elle “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” T shirt, my “What Have Women Ever Done for Us – Plenty” backpack may have to be handed back.

Knowing my love for all things Berlin and all things cabaret, my penchant for a spectacle and a bit of a torch song a chum took me along to Burlesque at the Theatre Royal. Neither of us had checked it out, weren’t really sure what to expect, but it was on at the Theatre Royal so maybe some parody, satire, mockery, extravaganza, bit of drama, bit of music; in other words sticking to its origins of “burlesco”. Sure we knew that in recent times it had become in seedy clubs a byword for strip joints so much so that a couple of years back a borough in North London insisted that places advertising burlesque needed adult entertainment licences; and burlesque lessons have become a bit of a hen night staple for the kinds of women who think pink rhinestone studded cowboy hats the go-to fashion accessory for every overweight bridesmaid. BUT we wouldn’t go to a striptease show, no, this was on at the Theatre Royal, not the Kings or even the Pavilion, Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety. Surely it would have a bit of class a bit of pazzaz

Early signs proved worrying. A number of the female audience, who ought to have known better, were wearing flowers and sequined headbands, there was a denier of fish net tights, and people with over 35 BMIs were tottering around in stiletto boots the downforce from which risked them sinking into the pavement. But we pressed on.

The theatre was far from full and our seats were worryingly near the front, and there were distinct signs of “girl’s night’s outs”. Parody and satirical commentary I felt were not to be on the menu. Instead a tawdry show with a small cast of women and a male “comedium” (comic come psychic medium – get it) proceeded to fill the first hour with dubious singing, and a succession of the dreaded and feared striptease turns that had all the charm and sensuality of a kiss me quick hat from Largs. It was like being stuck in a Benny Hill meets Dick Emery show with that scene from Carry on Camping when Barbara Windsor’s bra “accidentally” pings off during her morning calisthenics playing on a continuous loop. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t slick, it was cheap in every sense of the word! It was simply difficult to believe that this badly lit, hopelessly technical incompetent (long pauses while they got their tapes to play with whispering from the wings) touring rag-bag of tits and bums could actually be pulling in the paying customer in 2014.

Now I’m no body Nazi and I think women should confirm to no man’s or woman’s trimmed and airbrushed view of perfection dictated to by the advertising industry or popular culture. I’m with the Dove adverts let’s get a few more real women in our faces. So on a positive shout out for the Sisterhood at least it’s good to know that excessive cellulite is no barrier to a career on stage…though I wish it were. My ass has, I’m proud to say, not gone completely south but I know when to keep it myself. The same could not be said for our brave artistes. Think blancmange, think bag of fighting cats and you get the rather grotesque picture. Not so much Moulin Rouge more Milnathort or when Lesmahagow met Las Vegas! And not to be outdone showing themselves up, the show stooped to the cheapest and easiest version of entertainment, let’s get some hapless men on stage to make complete tits of themselves, and oh! how they loved it.

And perhaps this was the most worrying thing about the whole ghastly experience, apart from me and my chum EVERYONE seemed to be having a simply rip-roaring time, so much so that the woman sitting next to me positively glared at me when I didn’t clap, hoot, cat call or whistle when Tina von Titty or Betty la Booby teasingly (?) threatened to take off another layer.

I have no idea if men find striptease generally sexually arousing, or of they find looking at naked bottoms on stage a turn on. I can see, on the other hand, how a sensual removing of clothes in the privacy of one’s own bedroom might turn up the passion nicely. I also cannot imagine that straight women find the spectacle of women taking a mighty long time to take off their gloves, before taking off everything else, a titillation. So if it’s not for sexual gratification then they must be here for fun. But there was no charm in this, no tongue in cheek parody. This wasn’t some big spoof that we were all in on the joke of. This was just rather desperate, and if the audience weren’t laughing with them then they were laughing AT then and that’s what, as a feminist, I find so distressing: that the audience, who were mostly women, couldn’t see anything wrong or uncomfortable in what was happening in front of them in a provincial theatre. That women are still being paid to undress in front of men and that it is billed as entertainment, is not sending a positive role model to women and don’t give me all that crap about it being empowering. These women might indeed have had the choice but what about women trafficked into the sex trade who are required to perform this sort of act nightly not on the stage of a theatre but in the seedy back rooms of private clubs. When does one set of striptease become just a laugh out with the little woman for a night away from the kiddies and the dishes; and when does it cross over into something a bit more extreme a bit more controlling when just out with the lads on a stag night. Afterall the logic must go if a woman wearing a short skirt is gagging for it then a woman taking of her clothes and attaching tassles to her nipples is practically paying YOU for it, surely????

We can look back to the “Oh you are naughty but I like you” childish gender stereotypes of the 60s and 70s television shows that passed as popular culture, and watch with a sort of snooty grimace that how awful we used to think that funny. But no-one would ever dream of making shows like that again. On the Apprentice this week the team that designed a relationship game that re-enforced crass and demeaning stereotypes of women were quite rightly taken to task not least because the focus groups said that sort of presentation was no longer acceptable.

And yes we did leave at the interval so for all I know the second half were all about chaps getting their kit off. That wouldn’t have been any more appealing. Reducing anyone of us too a mere object of sexuality for profit IS a sort of prostitution. So before you tell me to “calm down dear” it’s only a bit of fun; just be aware that despite those that claim we live in a post-feminist world I can’t remember winning the war. If we don’t challenge sexual and gender stereotypes at every turn how the hell can we expect to be taken seriously. I wonder how many of the women their last night egging on their partners and the strippers complain about low wages, shit part-time conditions, having to do most of the housework and the kid raising. Well ladies I got news for you if you don’t respect yourself or your gender don’t expect anyone else to.

And before you accuse me of having no sense of humour I was secretly hoping to be hauled up on stage so I could say “My name is Esmeralda and I sew shrouds for a living” and watching the suckers lap it up.

Loneliness isn’t just for Christmas and for some the social disconnect is damaging to us all

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It’s that time of year again, and we are being bombarded by images of the perfect Christmas, lots of happy people, in groups, usually large groups all positively bursting with seasonal joy. Or if it’s not that it’s the saccharine sweet nonsense of CGI’d residents of the Antarctic looking for love! What upsets me most about John Lewis’ offering this year, isn’t the bad acting (the kid obviously, NOT the penguin… it’s not real!) or the perfect middle classness of it all, or even the shameful promotion of the stuffed Emperor penguin which can be yours for only £129 from a John Lewis near you , along with another 177 penguin inspired gifts! It’s the underlying message of the advert that you (and more importantly those around you)  can’t possibly have a happy Christmas, or be fulfilled if one beggar at the feast is loveless and without a significant other to pull their cracker. Now I suppose it could be the penguins long lost brother or sister popping out of the hat box, maybe it’s a  subtle plea to the Home Office about the importance of the right to family re-union; but giving all the shots of snogging (elder snogging too!) we have to assume that the visitor is definitely the love interest.

Now this is not the “poor me whining” of someone who is not expecting (or seeking) much misteltoe action this year. I have enough experience to tell me that I don’t need to rub noses with someone to make my Christmas special, or any holiday or any special occasion more special. But what concerns me slightly is the subliminal message that if you are alone, or on your own at this time of year (or possibly any time of year) somehow you  are seen as a bit odd, a bit sad, that you are not keeping your end up, not playing the game, you are spoiling it for everyone else.  Popular culture, advertisers and retailers are singing from the  same carol sheet and that carol simply says that Christmas is about being happy, and being happy requires you to be a surrounded by large groups of people and above all Christmas means love and romance. Whereas we all know the horrific reality of Christmas with large groups of relatives, we know that Christmas is about over indulgence of the wallet, senses and stomach and that the divorce rate soars post-holiday season.

But aside from all of that it completely ignores and diminishes those people who ARE lonely, on their own, sometimes by choice but not often. We are urged to chap up elderly neighbours and bring them a cup of festive cheer, invite them to lunch. We are coerced into giving to charity, brought face to face with people “less fortunate than our selves” and in the 6 week run up to the big day (with Children in Need as the official starting pistol)  we are expected to find a compassion for others that most of us find completely absent the other 46 weeks of the year. And all of it to make us feel less guilty about those people who don’t fit the happy norm and whose presence amongst us and whose plight might make us feel a bit bad about the extremes we go to.

But like the puppies, Loneliness isn’t just for Christmas.

And bang on cue a journalist chum emails me to say her magazine is doing a feature on loneliness at this time of year. No, she’s not asking me to write about the emotional desert of being partnerless that I navigate every day (!) or the horrors of having to go to Christmas parties on my tod. She, to be fair, works for the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work and she wants to know about the impact of loneliness on asylum seekers and refugees. That it’s “this time of year” I’m pretty sure is the hook but it does show some understanding that sometimes people who are lonely are not being lonely just to spoil the party for everyone else.

It’s surely one thing being lonely in a city you recognise in a culture that you connect with and in a language you speak, imagine then, the crushing sense of aloneness you might feel if these things missing are as they are for asylum seekers and refugees. The latest dispersal cohort of asylum seekers to Glasgow (the only city in Scotland to house them) are mostly men, single men. Without families and with no realistic chance for re-union any time soon, they are housed in some of the poorest areas of the city, where markers of social deprivation are off the scale, and amongst the indigenous population, weighed down by poverty and illness, there’s not much energy for welcoming the stranger.

A subject of research just now, into the impacts of these lack of social bonds and bridges, this community paint a bleak picture. Unable to communicate well, they fall between the cracks of service provision; their health, physical and mental, is poor, their motivation to engage with support – which might lift them out of poverty-  once they are granted leave to remain, is low. With contact to family and a previous life restricted to emails and skype on the rare occasions they can access a computer, when their stories are generally not believed by the authorities, and they are living with a dread of the “knock on the door”,  being alone is tinged not just with sadness but with fear and anxiety.

A growing trend in Glasgow is to see these young men, forced to spend time with others in a similar position, but in no way people with whom they have formed friendships necessarily, congregating on street corners. There’s no money for coffee and going for a pint is out. But in gathering like this,  being mostly from the Middle East, and  in this political climate, they become the subject of fear and suspicion, further removing them from the chances to make connections which might tum them from social pariah into contributing citizens. For this group loneliness is more than a poignant tug on the heartstrings at Christmas, it’s a dangerous and debilitating disconnect which needs to be addressed, because not to do so risks affecting social cohesion in Glasgow and in other cities in the country where the same sad scenes are played out. And it is, in turn, this break down of social cohesion which ramps up racial tensions which can spill over into violence, this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, Fill British cities with disconnected and un-engaged migrants and see what happens cants the Daily Mail. And I’m not seeing too many calls for people to pop round and bring an asylum seeker a cup of festive cheer.

Elsewhere in the migrant community with, punishing immigration rules on family re-union and temporary leave to remain becoming the norm rather than let people settle permanently when they might put down roots, get an education, work and contribute, loneliness abounds. I stopped long ago asking clients if they had any children, when one African woman looked me in the eye and said “Maybe”. The chilling realisation that for many of the people we work with, the reality of family life is the not knowing where they are and if they are still alive. How much would they revel in a typically fractious, argumentative, tired and emotional relative filled Christmas day?

We have all experienced at some point how you can feel lonely in a room full of people, so take a moment and think about people you know who might not be surrounded by loved ones, or  who are a significant other, light, but who will be doing their best to survive the lovebombing onslaught that is December in Britain. They aren’t worth less than you, they are not flawed, they are not trying to spoil the party, they are not to be feared, they are not to be pitied, they are to be accepted and celebrated for the people they are, for the lives that they lead, however difficult they may be at times. Diversity is a wonderful thing!