Tag Archives: Scotland

Write the Word ‘Sectarian’ Upside Down

In 1941, the Austrian Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein decided to quit academic life to be involved in war work; he took up a role as a porter in Guy’s Hospital in London, where he very quickly progressed to the role of Lab Assistant, mixing ointments for dermatology.

During his time at Guys, Wittgenstein met Dr Grant and Dr Reeve who were carrying out clinical research on ‘wound shock’. Noticing that there was no agreement on the symptoms of ‘shock’, Wittgenstein suggested that Grant and Reeve write the word upside down in their final report to emphasise its unsuitability for correct diagnosis of the injuries they were confronted with.

One of Wittgenstein’s key contributions to philosophy was his recognition that if we fail to be clear about the correct use of everyday concepts, we are in danger of making significant mistakes in understanding certain aspects of human life. The danger is quite apparent in connection with the use of psychological, sociological and political concepts, often leading us down the wrong line of enquiry where we feel compelled to propose theoretical or legal solutions to non-existent problems.

When it comes to understanding the concept of sectarianism, I think we need to pause for a moment and take stock. It is too easy to jump on the bandwagon of describing certain forms of behaviour as sectarian, followed by a public declaration of how offended we are by that behaviour. It is too easy to assume that sectarianism is the problem we have come to think it is in Scotland, when it is rarely anything of the sort.

A sect is defined as a group of people with a different set of religious beliefs to those of a larger group to which they belong; sectarian is an adjective that denotes or concerns a sect, and sectarian behaviour is therefore behaviour conducted by a person who is following the doctrines of a sect.

Seems clear enough to me and unless we are referring to a sect whose doctrines specifically call for hatred, conflict or violence towards individuals not belonging to their sect, then it is difficult to understand why sectarianism should be regarded as wrong. And in this respect, the very idea of being anti-sectarian seems a bit odd – what right do we have to oppose another person’s non harmful religious beliefs?   

The problem in Scotland is that clarity is lost at precisely this point. There was a dark period in our history during which those preaching Protestantism officially demanded discriminatory behaviour against Roman Catholics, the latter being described as a menace to society and a threat to the Scottish race. But we need to be very careful that we do not allow our thinking to be influenced by such angst ridden, contextualised interpretations of religious doctrines that are no longer recognised as valid today.  

Behaviour motivated by prejudice against another person’s religion is typically described as sectarian by politicians, journalists and the man in the street. We all agree that it is right to condemn that type of behaviour and judge it to be offensive and illegal; but in doing so, we are incorrectly describing it, unless the prejudice in question is demanded by the first person’s adherence to the doctrines of their own particular sect, which is highly unlikely.  

On the other hand, we hear people describing manifestations of religious faith as sectarian in certain contexts, usually footballing ones; we rightly judge them to be inappropriate to the situation, and although most would defend themselves by saying that there is nothing sectarian about their behaviour, and that it is simply an innocent expression of faith, our use of the term sectarian in these instances is actually more likely to be correct than its use in the former.

The use of the word sectarian in the latter case is entirely correct, even though the behaviour it is used to describe is quite innocent; the use of the word sectarian in the former case is incorrect, even though the behaviour it is used to describe is offensive and illegal. We seem to have become confused in the way we use the word sectarian in Scotland and as a result we make erroneous judgements, and start to think up equally misguided laws and solutions to deal with what we perceive to be the problem thus characterised.

Perhaps we should do well to take Wittgenstein’s advice then, and turn the word sectarian upside down to remind ourselves of its unsuitability in analysing what is going on here. Sometimes what we are confronted with is racism. Often it is just unthinking hooliganism – witness the number of individuals unable to rationalise their behaviour after the event. Sometimes it is about religion, and when it is we need to be very clear that sectarian behaviour is not wrong or unlawful in itself, and therefore need to stop talking about it as if it were. It only becomes so if the sect which legitimises its description in this manner demands hatred, violence or discrimination of others on the basis on not belonging to their particular group, and I can’t think of any doctrines within Catholicism or Protestantism that would do so in Scotland today.

Bizarrely enough, there may actually be a sense in which behaviour motivated by hatred of another individual’s religious beliefs could be described as anti-sectarian, in that it is contrary to that individual’s right to freely express and follow the good doctrines of his sect. Whilst that may be a very specific case, and require certain conditions to be in place, it illustrates how confusing this concept can be and how confused we have become in using it.

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Opting into Scotland

Generations of workless families; undernourished children living in poor quality housing; the choice between eating a healthy meal, or heating your home; low educational attainment, low life expectancy and ill health; alcoholism and drug addiction; theft, violence and vandalism; corruption and exploitation; sectarianism, racism and bigotry.

This is the state of the country we live in today. It is neither great, nor is it united. Unashamed adherence to neoliberal economics, the reckless pursuit of individual wealth and the preservation of elite privilege, hereditary power and status at the expense and misery of others, have created one of the most unequal and unethical societies in the developed world.

To commit Scotland to the United Kingdom is to commit this depressingly sad future to the absolute supremacy of Westminster with its London centric policies and its belief that granting Scotland the right to develop its own taxation and welfare systems in the manner best suited to addressing a raft of social inequalities in Scotland, would be inconsistent with being in the union.

In other words, there is no clearer indication that we will never be able to address Scotland’s social and economic problems whilst part of the United Kingdom than that the policies required to do so are simply not compatible with the terms of the union and the Westminster agenda.

The specific powers required to introduce the right type of social and economic policies for Scotland cannot be devolved without radically disrupting the primary focus of the union, a scenario which has been mockingly referred to as the ‘race to the bottom’, by the Better Together campaign.

The decision to remain in the United Kingdom is therefore the decision to opt out of regaining the full range of powers needed to make Scotland a fairer, more progressive and more socially just nation; it is the decision to opt out of Scotland, to leave this country forever at the disposal of a Government with no real ability to make our society any better than it is. The union doesn’t work for Scotland’s benefit.

The set of skills which enables the majority of individuals to engage meaningfully and respectfully in a wide range of social and cultural activities is the set of skills which will only ever take root and flourish within a new type of political, economic and moral framework that genuinely values education, equality and social justice over wealth generation, global positioning and military clout.

It will be up to the people of Scotland to make sure that, in the event of independence, the newly acquired powers are used to bring about the changes the country actually needs. It may take a couple of generations to reshape our damaged society.

But in doing so, we would be addressing problems specific to Scotland using powers previously reserved to a Government that has always had an entirely different focus – which is to get what it needs out of the union, rather than to get the best out of Scotland.

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Some Thoughts on Margaret Thatcher

I think it is too easy to forget that the set of policies and values that define what we often disparagingly refer to as ‘Thatcherism’, would have probably come to pass anyway, regardless of whether Margaret Thatcher herself had been their instigator. Global market forces would have ensured that.

For this reason, it is arguably the case that Margaret Thatcher ought to be accorded a certain amount of respect, given the incredible foresight she possessed and given her rigid determination to see the inevitable changes through in the face of fierce criticism and widespread condemnation.

Perhaps she ought to be credited with having instigated the uncomfortable changes that were long overdue and absolutely required in the country’s prevailing economic and political philosophy; perhaps she ought to be credited with recognising that if Britain hadn’t undergone dramatic change at that time, if the stranglehold of the unions hadn’t been broken, if the state hadn’t been shrunk back, we may have fallen too far behind in the global race to ever catch up again. She was probably right.

Be that as it may, Margaret Thatcher triggered a change in Britain – and in Scotland, particularly – that plunged many individuals, families and communities into unbearable poverty and despair. Her uncompromising neoliberal attitude that entailed that we all must learn to fend for ourselves and not blame society for our ills gave her the moral space she needed to rip the heart out of many communities, the effects of which still linger today.

To dismantle the heavy industries she did was to create the impetus for a positive change in direction; to dismantle them in the manner she did created horrendous hardship and misery. To affirm that the individual would just have to look after himself (because of her changes) was unforgiveable. She believed in obligation before entitlement, but created a framework in which fulfilling any sort of obligation for many became psychologically and economically impossible.

It has been mentioned already, but perhaps if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been so determined to impose her stern policies across the key industries and communities that defined Scotland at the time, the Scottish psyche may not have come to harbour so many negative sentiments against the absolute sovereignty of Westminster.

Devolution may not have happened and an independence referendum may not have been in the offing. For that, we should be thankful. Had it not been for Thatcher, 18th September 2014 would just be another day in Scotland…

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The Enduring Importance of the Catholic Church, Despite Everything

It is difficult to know what effect Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation and the allegations made against him will have on the Catholic Church. According to Professor Tom Devine, the Catholic Church is now ‘facing its gravest crisis since the Reformation’.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/in-full-professor-tom-devines-reaction-to-cardinal-keith-obriens-resignation.2013029228

In a respectful article, Tom Devine expresses sadness and concern for Keith O’Brien, the man; but also points out that there are difficult questions to be answered if Catholicism in Scotland is to move on from what Devine describes as a ‘tragic affair’.

But he also refers to the ‘powerful resilience of a global faith’ that has endured for more than two millennia as the reason why the Catholic Church needs to be seen as being so much more than its hierarchy of leaders; it is this type of perspective that is easily lost in the midst of this type of crisis and why the Catholic Church will survive.

It is worth thinking about what this powerful resilience consists in and whether the perspective that Devine calls for may contain a valuable lesson about the enduring importance of the Catholic Church when compared to some of the other deeply flawed institutions within our society today.

Granted there are major problems within the structures that govern the Catholic Church. That fact cannot be denied. Nonetheless there would appear to be something deep within every human being that drives us to seek comfort and purpose through each other – and for many people across the world this cannot be understood independently of having faith in God.

It is this deeply human set of emotions and commitments that will endure when the structures and hierarchies of the Catholic Church are scrutinised, criticised and challenged. Despite this, it is dangerous to be complacent and recent events should serve as a wake up call.

Thinking about this in perspective also reminds us that when we place our trust in individuals in whom we actually know very little about, and in the institutions they represent, there is a tendency to assume that their entire being will always be consistent with our expectations. Situations like this tell us it is not. They too are human, all too human, and are liable to make some very bad mistakes.

It is not just the Catholic Church. We have recently witnessed the slow and painful unravelling of many of the highly regarded institutions that define our society. In some cases, we are finally starting to recognise that these institutions are nothing more than monuments to a compelling story that probably never was.

This unravelling has not only opened our eyes to a whole series of uncomfortable truths about the characters in whom we entrust the safe keeping of our affairs; it has also forced an abrupt change in our perception of some of these institutions, from that which supports everything that is decent, dutiful and democratic, to that which blocks our view from the deceptions and duplicities permitted to occur unchallenged in the background.

Across the worlds of journalism, television, banking, policing, sport, politics and industry, we have encountered this unravelling in spectacular form, from faceless traders to brazen celebrities to executive figureheads; yet for the most part, in spite of this, we will have no option but to carry on regardless; business as usual.

The survival of our society in its existing shape depends on our continued commitment to the traditions most of us were unconsciously trained into from the earliest opportunity, a commitment which will probably still endure, but in a much weaker form.

Whichever shape the Catholic Church takes in generations to come – and it obviously needs to eradicate its fundamental flaws – one certainty is that its underpinning faith will endure; there is something far deeper, more powerful and more global within the latter, than there is within our diminishing commitments to the many other flawed institutions that prop up the rest of our society.

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History, Myths and Value Systems

An article in today’s Herald reports on the decision of the Scotland Office to temporarily block the publication of certain files relating to the Scottish devolution process, with Whitehall ministers having the final say on their release. SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn describes it as “cheating Scotland of its history”:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/westminster-blocks-moves-to-release-secret-devolution-files.19837622

It is unsurprising that this would happen, of course, given that the independence referendum is not that far away and there are likely to be vital pieces of information – which quiet deals were made, when and by whom, who gave away what and why – that could have an effect on how the people of Scotland vote in 2014.

One of the difficulties we have when trying to make sense of key political events today is that their causes, and reasons for occurring, may be inextricably linked to certain people and events in the past, the motives of whom, and the significance of which, are not always easy to understand.

The problem is not necessarily that we are poor at understanding occurrences in the past. Sometimes it is that we are simply unable to arrive at a true account of events because of inherent ambiguities and compelling alternative interpretations, with no means of corroborating any of the versions given.

Other times it is because the truth – as in the case cited above – has been deliberately withheld for political reasons, with lighter and more digestible accounts of events offered up to us in their place through carefully controlled press releases and media coverage.

All of which can make it difficult to fully understand why certain political decisions are being made today – or why some key ones were made in the recent past – and therefore deny us the opportunity to make informed judgements about our country’s future.

The sickening part is that it is perfectly legal for our ‘democratically elected’ Government to manage the truth in this manner on our behalf, and as a result, through the variety of institutions in which we are immersed, control the history we think we lived through in the past, and manipulate the present we believe we are experiencing today.

Almost on a daily basis we have representatives of the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments accusing each other of peddling dangerous myths about independence or otherwise and attempting to mislead the people of Scotland through their own particular slant on events.

Whilst the passage of time will help to loosen the grip of the political and economic myths we build our lives around today, we may never achieve complete transparency in these matters until it is too late for the truth to make a difference. That’s just how this country operates.

When we elect a Government, we are not simply authorising politicians to make decisions on our behalf; we are also gifting them the right to manage the truth behind those decisions. And when a Government appoints itself, as the case may be, we may find that the value systems they carve out from the truths they have been entrusted with begin to diverge from our own in drastic fashion.

In 2014, Scotland’s choice is not simply about where the ultimate seat of political and economic decision making for this country should be. It is about choosing the values that best reflect Scottish interests and the needs of the people of Scotland.

It is about choosing Scottish priorities, such as free education and welfare policies to support social justice, over Westminster ones, such as dismantling the NHS, engaging in illegal wars and keeping Trident out of harm’s way of London.

But the problem is this: these values are easily lost in the mix of dangerous myths and historical inaccuracies we are asked to accept as fact; they are easily promoted by clever rhetoric as the root cause of our economic problems and the reasons behind many of our social ills.

When you manage the truth behind political decisions, you ultimately manage the country’s value systems. And when you manage that, you are a short step away, not only from ‘cheating a country of its history’, but also depriving it of a better future.

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On Whether Sectarianism is a Form of Racism

The question of whether sectarianism is a form of racism is an important one.

Not only does it have a bearing on how we ought to understand instances of sectarian behaviour and how such instances should be dealt with from a legal point of view; it also has a bearing on the most appropriate way of managing sectarianism out of our society.

At the 2012 Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament, Professor Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University put forward the view that sectarianism in Scotland should indeed be regarded as a form of racism. Whilst I am not completely convinced that this is correct in all cases, I do agree that there are benefits in this position.

Firstly, it helps us break away from the narrow understanding of sectarianism in Scotland as nothing more than religious bigotry rooted in certain working class communities. In addition to this, thinking about sectarianism as a form of racism helps deliver a more accurate account of the origins of sectarianism in Scottish society.

But more importantly, understanding sectarianism this way might help bring about a structural shift in our thinking, such that instances of sectarian behaviour begin to be perceived differently, with greater social stigma attaching to them than perhaps would have been the case under popular understanding of what the term denotes:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/politics/political-news/professor-in-bigotry-plea-to-holyrood.18593624?_=079fcb03b8a50fd66f926ba473b88aa3ad530c50

In Scotland, sectarianism tends to be popularly understood in terms of the bitterness and hatred between two Glasgow football teams, the divisiveness and triumphalism of parades and marching bands, and the controversial existence of faith schools.

These are some of the automatic associations many of us make. However as Professor Finlay notes, the problem runs much deeper than this, and cannot be disconnected from an underlying anti-Irish sentiment which has prevailed in Scottish society for generations, particularly from the 19th century onwards.

On the other hand, Patrick Yu, Director for the Northern Ireland Council of Ethnic Minorities, has previously been on record to argue that, in Northern Ireland at least, it would be unwise to conflate issues of sectarianism and racism. His belief is that doing so would draw the courts into the wrong types of dispute, for which separate provisions already exist in law.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-14636076

So is it correct to argue that sectarianism is a form of racism? Does each country have its own distinctive brand of sectarianism, with only some instances meriting description as a form of racism? Could sectarianism be a form of racism in one country, but not in another? Would that even make sense?

Or would it be more accurate to argue that there are instances of sectarian behaviour that sit outside the scope of internationally recognised definitions of racial discrimination, and therefore should merit different legal and social treatment? It is a difficult one.

Whatever the case elsewhere, there are obvious connections between Scotland’s brand of sectarianism and the racial prejudice historically displayed towards those of Irish Catholic descent living and working in this country. It has just rolled on since then, in greater or lesser degrees over the years, and taking different forms at different times.

So whilst I see the reasons behind Professor Finlay’s thinking, I am still not entirely convinced that it would be correct to say that sectarianism is a form of racism. I completely agree with the idea that it would be socially expedient to think of sectarianism in this way, if doing so helped change the way we manage instances of offensive behaviour motivated by religious hatred.

But what I also think is this – and it is why I believe we should exercise caution in seeking a closer alignment of the two – treating sectarianism as a form of racism could force a fundamental redefinition of prominent world religions that would diminish the universal nature of their core beliefs by localising them to a people, a time and place.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, if sectarianism is in fact a form of racism, then arguably we are also holding the view that tolerating another person’s religion is the same thing as tolerating his race. We need to be careful how closely we want to tie these two concepts together –

Because not only would this seem to threaten the autonomy of religious belief with respect to race and ethnic origin; I think it could also make it very difficult to rationally debate and logically criticise belief systems promoted by other religions – as should be our right – without running the risk of making implicit criticisms and unintended negative judgements on issues of race and ethnicity.

And having built the good part of the argument on the premise that racism is inherently wrong in the first place, this could prove to be dangerous territory to wander back into.

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Definitely Better Together

The Edinburgh Agreement confirmed that a section 30 order will be laid in the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments to allow the Scottish Government to hold a referendum before the end of 2014 to decide the country’s constitutional future.

With very good reason, it has been billed as the most important decision the people of Scotland will have had to make in more than three hundred years.

Notwithstanding the fact that the ordinary people of Scotland had little or no input to the original decision that established the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, the decision to be made in 2014 will indeed be momentous.

Public opinion appears to be divided. Many people in Scotland feel that their strong emotional and cultural ties to the United Kingdom, together with the perceived economic benefits of being part of a larger entity, means that the continuation of the Union must be achieved.

Many have a strong belief in Scotland’s right to determine its own future and regain the autonomy it gave up when it entered into political union with England three hundred years ago; the crux is that only by doing so will the country be able to maximise its own resources and build a stronger economic and social future than it would have if it remained within the restrictions of the Union.

Others are still to be persuaded either way and are likely to delay their decision until more precise details are provided. They may be waiting for quite some time. For most, the decision will be an emotional one and the Yes Campaign and Better Together Campaign will build their arguments around that fact.

It has been said that one of the problems with the Yes Campaign is that it still needs to create a clear and credible account of what an independent Scotland would look like. We are told that the detail will be worked out in due course.

But in the meantime the Better Together Campaign is likely to trade on this lack of clarity and create a feeling of uncertainty around the very idea of independence. It will exploit the fact that many of us are subconsciously reluctant to take a chance on moving towards the unknown, when what we already have is a feeling of security within the Union. We know our place.

Ironically, this is the fear that also lies at the heart of the Unionist agenda – the current economic status, political stability and national security of the United Kingdom will be challenged by the removal of an economically significant and politically important part of the equation.

Facing up to the daunting prospect of having to dismantle the United Kingdom is likely to cause a great deal of anxiety in Westminster. It is likely to throw up many difficult challenges with very few experts around to guide the process. It will be horrendously complex. It will be ridiculously expensive. And it will be psychologically unsettling.

And going by the scare mongering tone of the Better Together Campaign’s arguments, this is the angst that has been shaping their view from the beginning. Their arguments against Scottish independence would seem to reflect their own concerns about dealing with the aftermath, and protecting what they already have as career politicians, rather than a genuine concern for Scotland’s best interests.

The deciding factor for me is simply that every country has the right to self-determination. Through regaining that right Scotland will enjoy the same opportunity that almost every other country in the world enjoys – to make its own decisions and shape its own future; and this includes not knowing all the answers. It includes making mistakes and getting things wrong. That is part of the life of an autonomous nation. It is not to be feared.

That said, I think there is a sense in which we are definitely better together. But I am not talking about the sense promoted by the Unionist campaigners. I believe that Scotland will be better when the people living in this country come together to achieve a common purpose. It is the purpose of making this country better than it has ever been before.

That is the true sense in which we are better together.

Together in an independent Scotland.

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Glasgow’s Split Personality (Thoughts on the Proposed Famine Memorial)

Like many cities around the world, there are ways in which Glasgow exhibits signs of having a split personality, which it often finds embarrassing and difficult to deal with.

Perhaps none are as obvious as its inability to reconcile its world renowned sense of humour, warmth, openness and generosity of spirit, with its sometimes cold, angry and hateful rejection of individuals of different race, religion or ethnic origin.

To an extent, the sociological roots of this problem can be found in the effects of large groups of people from different backgrounds shifting around in response to mass industrialisation, economic booms and slumps, and seeking refuge from unemployment, abject poverty and devastating hunger.

All of which has a tendency to heighten the territorial dimension of the self-preservation instinct, increasing suspicion, distrust and fear of individual differences; that new comers have arrived on the scene, from different areas and with different traditions, languages and beliefs, to seek a share of local jobs and resources, can sometimes be perceived as a cause for concern.

When that concern is leaked out in the form of discriminatory behaviour – and openly encouraged as a matter of policy or principle – the roots of racial and religious bigotry are very quickly sewn. That an individual is of this ethnic origin, or of that religious denomination, was thus deemed a sufficient reason to exclude them from obtaining employment with certain companies, for example, or grounds to verbally abuse them in the street, and much worse.

In the late 1840’s, the potato blight that spread across countries in Northern Europe led to widespread hunger, poverty and disease, in Ireland and parts of Scotland, a situation that was aggravated by a slow and ineffective response from the Government in London.

Despite being warmly received by many, and despite making a significant economic and cultural contribution to the city, the subsequent rise in the number of Irish arriving in Glasgow to seek refuge would have aggravated some of the religious, racial and ethnic divisions already taking shape ever since immigrants started arriving in Scotland from countries across Europe.

Amidst this, in 1888 Celtic Football Club was formed by Irish Marist Brother Walfrid for charitable and social purposes to help alleviate poverty in Glasgow’s East End parishes.

And whilst starting off on amicable terms, the club’s rivalry with the other Glasgow team, Rangers FC, was corrupted by the media’s determination to create a racially tinged sense of competition between the teams that would endure to this day – Rangers would be the team to challenge ‘the Irish men in Glasgow.’

In more recent times this racially motivated sense of rivalry has evolved in an entirely negative manner, and has been expressed in many different ways, including in the lyrics of ‘The Famine Song’. It is a song that asks the descendants of those who sought refuge in Glasgow to return home to Ireland, as their presence in the city is no longer necessary: ‘The Famine is Over, Why Don’t You Go Home’.

At the same time, the proposal to build a memorial to the immigrants who arrived in Glasgow from Ireland seeking refuge in the late 1840’s, whilst being a fitting commemoration, would also be a focal point of much of the cold hatred towards those of different ethnic origins living their lives in the city. Sadly, much of that hatred is inherited, completely irrational and almost irreversible once engrained in the psyche.

The famine memorial would be a reminder of the devastating impact of hunger and poverty on human life, then and today. It would be a reminder of the importance of compassion as a timeless and universal quality. It would be a reminder that the people of Glasgow have an unparalleled generosity of spirit.

But it would also be a reminder that there are times when Glasgow flourishes and flounders on the same point – those who believe it is acceptable to harbour racially motivated hatred of those of different ethnic origin, and oppose the very idea of such a memorial, are likely to be those who would give their very last penny to a friend in need. And herein is found the essence of Glasgow’s split personality.

And the fact that the Famine Song is deemed by some to be nothing more than humorous banter, whereas to others it is deeply offensive, and blatantly racist, tells you that perhaps Glasgow’s split personality isn’t quite ready to be reconciled.

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Precariously Pinned Together

Whereas Alistair Darling previously threatened that voting for Scottish independence would be like buying a one-way ticket to a deeply uncertain place, Gordon Brown this week warned that it would signal the start of the race to the bottom.

For some people retaining the union is about having an emotional commitment to a tradition and a history. And that is absolutely to be acknowledged and respected, whether we feel the same commitment or not.

But the rhetoric of the likes of Darling and Brown, which unashamedly exploits this emotional commitment, clearly shows that what lies at the heart of the no campaign is neither decent political debate concerning the true interests of Scotland, nor sound economic argument relevant to the country’s financial standing before and after independence.

Rather it is about a deep rooted unwillingness to lose control over the critical variables – mainly the fiscal levers, as they have been occasionally described – that could potentially damage the wealth, privilege and position of certain elite groups of individuals, and undermine the competitiveness of certain other economic areas across the United Kingdom.

Ensuring that Scotland’s right to determine its own social, political and economic future is not granted is therefore their priority, rather than creating a progressive unionist strategy to improve the quality of life, educational opportunities and employment prospects across the whole of the United Kingdom as it currently stands.

The problem is that such a strategy has never been viewed as an integral component of the unionist campaign. It has simply been about blocking a movement for change, for selfish reasons, whereas it should have been about recognising that the motivations behind that movement are signs that the United Kingdom is predicated on a union that is not fit for purpose.

Grasp that simple fact and the unconvincing frontmen like Darling and Brown could have had a better chance of gaining credibility for their paymaster’s position, and perhaps significantly more support.

But those of an independent mind needn’t worry. That is never going to happen. It just doesn’t figure in the thinking of those who run the United Kingdom government that the fundamental political and economic structures precariously pinning the country together need to change.

So in the meantime we can happily let the better together campaigners continue their efforts to persuade the people of Scotland that it is in their interests to stop looking for change. That it is in their interests to stop seeking the right to make their own decisions, just so that the status quo continues to deliver its cosy benefits for a small pocket of people spread throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

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Is it Disrespectful Not to Sing your National Anthem at the Olympics?

The question of whether Olympic athletes should sing their country’s national anthem has divided opinion among many sports professionals, media commentators, and others, particularly with regards to certain individuals opting not to sing ‘God Save the Queen’.

Some regard it as disrespectful to the country they are representing, and the other athletes in their team, if they choose not to sing the national anthem, whereas others regard it as a matter of personal choice and no big deal.

I think the issue has perhaps become slightly more contentious, certainly in Scotland anyway, given the political debate surrounding the Scottish Government’s planned independence referendum.

But putting the independence debate to one side, I think there would always have been some form of conscientious objection from a few athletes coming from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, countries which have, often justifiably, felt of secondary importance to the perceived London centric policies and preferences of successive Westminster Governments.

Whilst the athletes will clearly acknowledge that they are representing Great Britain at these Olympic Games, nevertheless there will be a strong sense of nationalistic pride in their distinct countries that means some of them would be unwilling to sing an anthem widely used as an English national anthem, which is lyrically antagonistic to the Scots, and which supports a monarchy that feels utterly alien to their cultural identity, politics and social circumstances.

On the other hand, there is a sense of legitimacy about the criticisms levied against these athletes. They have voluntarily agreed to represent Great Britain; and whether they agree with it or not, the national anthem of Great Britain is ‘God Save the Queen’.

If the organising committees deem it disrespectful not to sing the national anthem, and have instructed the athletes to do so, then arguably it is right to criticise those opting out of this part of their involvement. They had the choice to decline their selection in the first place, regardless of whether this would have left them with no alternative.

But my position is this: I do not agree with the view that choosing not to sing the national anthem is disrespectful; nor do I think that it diminishes an athlete’s sporting commitment to his country or to the rest of his team.

For the athletes, their respect for the team, and for the country financially supporting their opportunity, is displayed in the honest hard work, discipline and training in the years leading up to the event, and in their attitude and performance on the day.

Perhaps if one of them were to stand on the medal podium, scratch their arse with one hand whilst gesticulating randomly to the crowd with the other, then we could say that they were being disrespectful.

Or perhaps if one of them had been guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, whilst ‘respectfully’ singing along to their national anthem, then we could rightly levy this criticism against them; and let’s face it, there have been many athletes representing many countries who have done that sort of thing in the past.

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