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Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Crowd of Hearts - #indyrally 2013

One thing I have learnt over the years I have been marching, shouting, protesting; pushing for change, is not to trust the police and media estimates at demos and rallies. Though not all of the time. And there are ways to get to the truth. The odd estimates by the press and police for the number of people at the huge demonstrations in Edinburgh for Scottish Independence last year and yesterday did nothing for trust of the Police nor our "national broadcaster." 

My photo essay is here - these words describe some of what I snapped.

Bizarre figures of 8000 plus or minus a few hundred by the BBC (who were very obvious by their absence in the press pit on Calton Hill) and by the Scottish Police will only serve to add to distrust of these organisations in the emerging Independent Scotland next September.  The tens of thousands of ordinary people who traveled to Edinburgh by bus, train, car, bike or hoof yesterday are quite aware of how big that crowd was. And it wasn't a decent crowd at a Clydebank vs the Buddies match. That crowd that snaked along The Royal Mile to Calton Hill was a crowd that would have made a double bill of the Manic Street Preachers and The Boss very happy.

I have ways I gauge the size of a crowd. These methods are not very scientific, but based on experience and on "intelligence gathering." 

Setting off from Bearsden yesterday was an unusual experience for a seasoned protester  When my wife and I settled on the train, we noticed people who were obviously dressed for a day of shouting Yes to power. Badges, banners, teeshirts and kilts marked out those who want a better life for their children and future generations. As someone who has made that journey to demonstrate against ridiculous, vicious and bullying Westminster policy like bedroom tax, Trident, war and austerity for years and NEVER have sat with so many "comrades" setting out from the usually politically quiet Bearsden before. By the time we arrived in Queen Street, we had spoken to a Labour for Independence person, a few SNP'ers and a woman who wasn't going to the demo, but on hearing we were SSP members, asked for material to read and to give to her fiance.

Queen Street station was pretty impressive. SSP, Women for Independence, SNP, Bravehearts, politicians, Labour for Independence, Radical Independence, conspiratorial whispering SWP's and lot's of families, children, pensioners and workers smiling, hopeful and positive.  So even at this early stage I knew what was happening was really big. Not since the days of socialists in the Parliament had I saw so many hopeful, positive Glasgow crowds pack on to Edinburgh trains.

The scene that greeted us in Scotland's centre of political power was incredible. Tourists videoed and photographed the huge crowds as they gathered and the buskers and street performers joined in and pinned Yes badges and flags to their attire and instruments and props. For a few hours yesterday, Edinburgh was politically the centre of a dynamic, new, confident nation. A nation of people looking out for each other and a nation that with speaker after speaker on stage calling for "a better nation" where prosperity was measured by the inclusion of all- the betterment of all -the will to stand shoulder to shoulder as sisters and brothers.

As the  crowd, late because of its unprecedented size, snaked down High Street, I spoke to Police Officers, some of whom officiously wouldn't give a view, but some willing to in politically veiled language give the thumbs up to what was developing in Edinburgh and across Scotland- ie, the slowly emerging revolution overturning Etonian and Aristocratic hegemony that has been led by Westminster and led to desperate poverty and dreadful inequality in this kindest of nation. Some were willing to reveal how they were briefed.

I always recall a lefty friend of mine, who as a teenager was an economic British Army conscript. He told me how in the eighties, his battalion of Engineers were drafted in to 'protect' Greenham Common from anti-war, anti-nuke protesters.  As he helped shove the protesters back over the wire fence they had demolished and as he was punched, kicked and spat at he shouted, "I agree with you!" And it was there his realization of just what the power of the economically strong investors in Nukes, arms and oil really was. Yesterday, the Scottish Police were briefed they were corralling between 10-15k people- but officer after officer told me the figures had been an underestimate.   How many young officers unable yesterday, professionally, to give me a point of view on the referendum have realized today, with the official figures, just how powerful and lying the Westminster Etonian share holders are? How many of those extra  officers who were drafted in late in the day to close roads during the crowd dispersal have thought, "this is power - this is manipulation- this voice that has spoke does not represent what I witnessed." 

How many if those officers will now vote against those lies? How many will now vote yes because their professionalism has been undermined by a Tory/Libdem/New Labour diktat to their commanders? 

The best part of being part of an emerging, new, free, democratic, pro-equality nation is the fact that our "stars" and top politicians do not care for top tables. Artists, new Scots, writers, First Minister, classroom assistants, call centre workers, Post men and women, Deputy First Minister, disabled and able bodied,  retired workers, MSP's, MP's mingled, discussed, laughed, shook hands, shared sweets, chased children and patted dogs. An emerging nation that say Yes to equality and fairness and no to the present reality so eloquently laid out by Alan Bissett from the stage.

The SWP, late comers to the Independence cause, though through their memory hole style of politics have 'always fought for Scottish self determination' did their usual evangelist, sniping at the majority of the rest of the crowd and inserted themselves right in the middle of the Radical Independence crowd, shouting rival slogans and trying to outsell each other's wee handful of their recent edition of their specially covered London produced Socialist Worker and spouting that all 30 or so of them knew the true path of Trotsky/Leninist Marxism and all other versions were Murdoch/MI5 plots. 

They were a welcome sideshow. 

The legitimacy and urgency and fairness and socialist argument needs even them. Other micro-socialist cults sneered and shoved and growled at each other and they gurned when socialist and social democrat, one after each other; confidently led us to a Scotland the SWiPs still cannot grasp- one in which we walk together, listening to each other; supporting each other and acknowledging difference but holding our principles beside those yet to realize that the argument is not about flags, Marxist micro-interpretation, Bravehearts or kilts.

Colin was impressive.  Colin summed up in a few words the thoughts of many in that crowd.  Colin's speech is HERE

But socialists... as one twitter conversation said, 

"Where are you?  I'm on the Hill."  

"I'm over beside the socialists!"  

"That's not helpful; there are socialists EVERYWHERE!"

Socialists everywhere.

Behind the scenes, Elaine C Smith put her shoulder to the grindstone levers, manipulated the programme to ensure all were represented and the singers, writers and comedians tempered the serious, inspirational messages that the politicians urged us to believe.  And I was proud of Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie, Allan Grogan, Elaine C,  Hardeep, Tasmina and Patrick. I was moved by Eddi Reader and her uncles flag. My emotions went from anger to sadness to hope with Alan B's poetic comedy of errors. A comedy of dreadful,greedy, cap doffing errors that will end next September.

The crowd, that cheering, smiling, hopeful air punching, teeming mass of understated sister and brotherhood were much bigger than the 7000 CND march in Glasgow earlier in the year. That rally nearly half filled George Square. It was bigger than the 7500 who didn't quarter fill Calton Hill back in 2005 when socialists and republicans snubbed the Royals in the new Parliament and signed the Declaration of  Calton Hill - when my wee boy sat atop my shoulders watching Rosie Kane, Alisdair Gray and Colin Fox light the fire that led us to Calton Hill 2013. 

The crowd was bigger than the 20000 I sang, punched the air and danced with in Wembley arena at an eighties New Order gig. 

It was smaller than the 100000 who walked to the SECC to listen to Jimmy Reid and others berate the Westminster New Labourites for declaring war on Iraq. 

It was smaller than the 80000 I sang along to 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday' with in 1985' s Croke Park U2 Gig.

Ron is an inspirational man. Part of that crowd and 90 years young this year, he has been a life long socialist who puts many's a young comrade to shame in his activity and his actual LIVING what he fights for. A man whose father and grandfather dedicated their lives to equality and peace and of whom Ron said, "I saw no point in rebelling against their communist kindness and principle and belief in social justice. I gladly lived with the principles I grew up amongst."  A man of amazing principle and kindness- and a man who socialists and others in the world are indebted to. He and his generation fought for and brought us the NHS, freedom from Nazis and strides forward in the real fight for equality. It is an honour to know such a man.   

And Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister said of, "it is a privilege to stand with Ron." 

I watched as Debs painted flowers and saltires in fresh, clever, loved and hopeful children's faces. 

I watched Margo Macdonald, a woman with huge strength and who is respected across the political spectrum, greet stage hands and politicians and young people as equals. I watched bus loads and bus loads of people from across the country sing as they passed Citizen Alan Smart sing about the dreadful Bedroom tax; pandas declare for independence and  tourists clap and cheer and join our ranks.

I know crowds. And this one defied BBC, Westminster and Murdoch figures and nuclear, oil and bullet share prices. 

This was 25000 or more hopeful, kind, hearts walking on behalf of a nation who want a better world.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Published!

My SLF/mid-Ulster teen drinking "Bits of Kids" piece has been published by @SabotageTimes

HERE

@RigidDigits

Tories and Better Together- a strange mix

Tories really are odd characters. Especially so those in Bearsden/Milngavie. One (while giving out no campaign - Better Together - leaflets) sieg hieled me in Milngavie High St a few weeks back and another who id'd herself as a Better Together activist threatened stand beside us and shout at punters if they took Yes  leaflets from us outside Hillfoots Station this morning. She walked off angrily shouting when one of the Yes guys calmly said, "you are welcome to, but you will be interfering with the democratic process..."

And the Lib Dems... jeso. The most distrusted party in Scotland. Thank the stars that lot will disapear in the coming few years. They would sell their granny for a bit of power and publicity. Apparently Jo scowls at Yes campaigners in Westerton Station. Hardly civilised.

Labour Party... you are welcome to be together with that bunch of swivel eyed loons... but I want way from them asap.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Free School Meals: Universalism when it suits them

I wrote this today for my SSP branch blog on the Lib Dem announcement this evening... HERE

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Australia, Murdoch, Sturgeon and Sarwar

My cuz Ian just reminded me that in Australia it's compulsory to vote. He went off to vote this morning and was annoyed that the polling station sausage sizzle was no longer free of charge. Such is the ever increasingly neo-liberal world. The death-throes of capitalism are wrecking community and social interaction across the world.  A symbollic sausage sizzle indeed as Australia adopts a coalition that will, like the UK coalition, wreck all that makes life bearable for workers and those alienated by ultra capitalism.

I used to think compulsory voting was a good idea. But when the choice is narrowed to blue ,red and yellow tories, and the media skewed to supporting which one of them is the most vicious, I've changed my mind.

Compulsory voting only works with an educated electorate- an electorate who understands the issues fully - and who understand exactly what politicians stand for, beyond their curtain covered words.  And an electorate not reliant on state propaganda and billionaire owned newspapers and Murdoch media outlets.

This weeks Scottish Independence debate  between Anas Sarwar and Nicola Sturgeon on STV really showed up the vested interests here.  The pundits and media commentators who apparently watched the same debate as me, certainly didn't report the one I saw.

Now, reading this knowing my view on independence you might well say, "you are hardly neutral." I'm not neutral - neutrality can only fully be achieved in this instance by someone who has no view on independence and in fact, no view on UK politics including the various political parties.

I have a view on independence and a view on the political parties. My political view on the SNP and the Labour Party is- tacit support for fair policies.  It's a pity the Ponsonby's and "political pundits" and "neutral journalists and commentators/information interfaces" are not forced to declare their's before being allowed to influence public opinion. Because influence it they do in the absence of politicians who choose not to, or are forced not to, speak the truth because of our media lense that has been skewed by rich and powerful vested interests.

So, I started (late) watching the Sturgeon/Sarwar bust up as a Scottish Socialist Party supporter and a supporter of independence as a vehicle towards a fair Scotland and a fairer, less belligerent and invasion prone rUK.

I was also interested in how both of these parties, come 2014/15/16 proposed to protect working people, disabled, job-seekers, the old, parents, those born into poverty and those seeking a new life in our country.

I won't bore you with a blow by blow account (click on the link above to watch it). Sarwar's dreadful, bullying tactic of constantly talking over Sturgeon did not make comfortable TV. If he represents today's Glasgow Labour Party, it makes me very sad.  The party I was once overjoyed to be able to vote for when I first moved from Northern Ireland to Scotland back in the early nineties, are hardly even a shadow of their former selves. The destruction of Labour Party internal democracy - most lately by further breaking their union ties- has led to Sarwar (a millionaires son and 'hereditory politician') and Lamont in Scotland. 

Sturgeon, although clearly unhappy about the corporation tax view from the right of the SNP -a party coalition for independence, answered questions about social justice. She clearly stated her party's belief in the gains of free prescriptions, a free NHS and other pro- working class gains. Sarwar, unable to move from his dreadful script, rang prevaricating alarm bells over just what a future Labour Government would be. Tory Lite.

I was heartened to hear a work colleague (my work colleagues steer clear of politics to the point of open hostility towards me if I mention it!), who had been until now saying she was 'undecided' over yes or no to independence, say, "if there was anyone watching that who had been a no voter at the start, there isn't now!"

Perhaps people are beginning to see through the punditry and bias. We can hope- or we can demand openness from our media.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

'hanx

Class. Just class.

Yesterday afternoon one of the nicest things to happen to me in quite a while, well, happened.  I was contacted by Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers.  He had read my wee piece about a carryout in Banbridge in 1983, and enjoyed it.  What's more, he posted the link to my memory of a Friday night in small town mid-Ulster to the SLF facebook website.     

The comments both on the SLF page and by private message have been brilliant. As someone who likes to write, when people acknowledge they have read your stuff is food.  Sustenance. Fuel for future pieces.

I think the surprise for a few people when I talk about Northern Ireland is that yes, sectarianism and bigotry and guns and bombs did enter our lives; but we were teenagers doing what teenagers do everywhere - rebel, drink, look to the future with fear/ lack of confidence and dread that this control by outside parties never ends... but kicking and screaming at the chains and walls.  And thats what we did, and most of us got through it. Most of us.

I've been going through a bit of a lull in my writing.  This is because I've taken on too much, I feel. But hopefully things quieten down and I can get a bit of thinking time.

Yesterday evening cleared one thing up, but opened up a new question. 

I was almost convinced Joe Strummer had joined SLF on stage in the Ulster Hall back in the late eighties on one of the couple of times I had saw the band around that time. I was able to ask Jake and he replied,

"Afraid the old cider must have been playing tricks with you, Neil. Sadly, we were never joined on stage by Joe." 

So- that clears that up- but I am convinced I saw Strummer play with another band in Belfast or Dublin in the eighties or early 90's.

Anyone have any ideas?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Bits of Kids...

We drank our tins of Satzenbrau shivering on the school roof looking across the streetlit mid-Ulster valley that was my hometown of Banbridge.  Another Friday night without a care. 

Out of the six of us, I was the only one working. The others were all still in High School. We all loved the new found freedom of youth, drink and music- and some weekends, before we hit whatever pub we wanted to go to that week- or whatever youth club or nightclub, we listened to music from a mono battery powered tape-recorder and debated the merits of the synthesizer and its impact on guitar music.

Alex had eclectic taste- BA Robertson, Rod Stewart and chart stuff. Colin was into Jim Steinman in a big way. I was into my post-punk stuff, Joy Division, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire... The Mod was into the Jam, The Kinks, The Who and the likes and Roger and Jackie, the only girl with us that night, were into Punk. We took turns with tracks, but it was The Mod's stereo. The Jam blared through the cool night air. The noises of the town wafted up to us, inviting us to join the laughter coming from the streets where the Rollerdrome, smoke filled and full of the confused noises of disco and Donkey Kong, Space Firebird and Defender vied for our attention with The First and Last, Campbells, The Coach, the "big church" youth club, Gowdy's or just hanging about on the streets "gaunching" with people... asking about unseen pals; gaping,  stuttering at girls; feeling inadequate as Lutton took to the dancefloor and never stuttered once. Or playing snooker.

My favourite part of the night was the carryout. A few cans of beer and a bit of craic, usually freezing in a hedge, at the side of a gable wall or a school grounds.

The music was my freedom. It promised much. A world before us. A world we would change. The Mod dressed in his mod clothes, "target" on his back. Roger in jeans and grey denim jacket. Colin in a burgundy bomber, Alex in a fleecy, furry tartan jacket, me in black baggies, boxer boots, a flaming cross teeshirt and long trenchcoat- fashion victim extraordinaire- and Jackie in her forbidden makeup, pvc trousers and punk top she stashed in a bag in a friends house so her ma and da wouldn't see. 

We were ready for a new world- or at least a few more beers, a chip and gravy from the chinese and another box of fags.

Then it was Roger's turn to play his tape.

The music didn't thrash out in the way his choice usually did. It wasn't California Uber Alles or Pretty Vacant. The guitar sounded almost like a sitar. The opening vocals  almost whispered.

"It was nothing like that in my day, not here in my town
We didn't get things all our way till we were full-grown
Now they go into pubs and you're gonna get mugged in my town..."

We stopped speaking over the music.

"It's SLF's new one."

We knew of SLF of course. Alternative Ulster. Suspect Device.  Barbed Wire Love. Wasted Life. Tin Soldiers.

Loud shouts about the shite of  our wee world. This world we knew. One that visited this valley from the outside now and again. Driven in deliveries of mayhem that couldn't and didn't differentiate between catholic and protestant children, women and men. A world in which music had been a "legitimate target" when after playing our local big venue, the next big thing, The Miami were blown to bits and shot to death.

This was music that told the truth about murderous "sides."

At the time through my rejection of the local version of rebellion- hard rock; meaningless Billy Idol lookalikes and Doctor Martens that did nothing to Kick Over the Statues, but instead marched to them to salute, I rejected punk.

Outwardly. To suit my image.

My "post punk" *self* image, because no-one here really gave a shit about how I looked nor did they care for the hopelessness of Joy Division or the inaccessibility of the lyrics of The Bunnymen.

Secretly, though, SLF touched me through the nonsense of being told, about my best friend, "but do you know Mickey's a catholic?" And through the fear of the threatening phone calls my joiner dad got from paramilitaries for doing his job in their territory, SLF comforted me that others thought "sides" where nonsense.

Mickey's mum's Sacred Heart pictures on the wall were no reason to hate. And my rejection of religion didn't make me a protestant for others to hate. 

"So you read about it every day, in the headlines
How they take and take and drive away, sex and late nights
And it's gotta be wrong, because they're so young..."

My childhood was happy. A mother and father who worked hard to give us Blackpool once a year and a great Christmas. A childhood my society tried to steal. The big men who forced my father to hand over the few quid "protection money" from the corporation he worked for. A low paid worker forced to be the middleman between the multi-million pound rehousing project in Belfast and the Shankill Butchers.

After the cartoons, I watched Gloria Hunnyford tell me why my da' might be late... "incidents" in Belfast, Lisburn or the Maze.

Our family were not outwardly "kissy," but we loved each other. Our livingroom curtains could conceal me as I stood behind them looking down the road, waiting.  And on seeing the yellow Farrans van drive down the road my heart would leap, but I would control my relief and shout into the kitchen where my mum kept the dinner warm, "he's home!"

"They're only bits of kids, they're only bits of kids
It's always bits of kids today."

"This is class, Roger." Jackie loved it, so we loved it.

I wished we drank slower. But out of booze it was time to hit the town and to try to make the fiver stretch to a few more beers and a chinese.

"Where do yiz fancy going?"

We climbed down from our sniper nest and walked down the leafy lane to the main Newry Road. A road that took everyone from this end of town to work in Belfast, Newry, the Shoe Factory or the town.  I looked up the hill towards the factory where I would end up working in a few years time- a place in which there were sectarian quotas which were met through predominantly catholic offices and predominantly protestant offices; catholic run lasting lines and protestant run sewing machines. All controlled by English General managers sent to oversee us.

Roger and Jackie walked on. Jackie oblivious of the fact she had legitimised this meeting of nerds by her presence. Roger, Embassy Regal hanging from his mouth, and Jackie disapeared to somewhere cooler than The First and Last.

We walked passed the nursery school where I had been painting Humpty Dumpty's for the wee ones on the windows when the bomb went off; passed the empty shell that was once Stevey Shepherd's motorbike shop, across the bridge under which the controlled explosions were executed; past the shop the eleven year old boy died of shrapnel wounds and through the side door into the lounge.

A "catholic bar" where both religions relaxed, played "Crazy Climber" and snooker, and we were never questioned about our age. A few more pints into a world of gaunching with our mates.

" Broken cities 'n' broken hearts, bits of people who fall apart
In my town
It's always bits of kids today
Bits of kids, we're always, here in my town."

Stiff Little Fingers are a band I have loved since. A band under valued. A band who, along with their rivals The Undertones and the others from the Good Vibrations camp and along with The Miami and The Shankill Butchers, bomb sales, parades and catholic and protestant quotas, shaped me.

Another track of my years HERE