Some highlights from an amazing sea eagle safari near the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway. And yes – the second one is a passing talon plus fish!!
A worrying situation is developing in Glasgow for artists. A small section at the end of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Scotland Act 2010 (which brought in community payback orders) changed the law on entertainment licences. Glasgow City Council has interpreted this to mean that all free cultural events need a licence (prices vary from £26 to £7500). The protest group Scrap Public Entertainment Licence Fees say it can take 6 months to apply, the fee is non-refundable, penalties for performing without a licence are a fine of up to £20000 and/or 6 months in prison. They worry the state and unelected persons in Glasgow's licensing dept now have the power to censor cultural events inc poetry readings, cafe exhibitions and free music events. Ironically enough 2012 is the year of Creative Scotland. Nice.
Even more ironically the Arts and Humanities Research Council have recently awarded £122,500 to the Glasgow School of Art to study the phenomenon known as the "Glasgow Miracle" - the overwhelming success of spontaneous, community-based art in Glasgow. Artists in Glasgow have taken empty warehouses, factories, shops, offices and transformed them into vibrant, productive spaces like Wasps and Ironbratz Studios, based in an empty Merchant City office. Glasgow's resourcefulness in using unconventional spaces to host events with local and international talent has been amazing. Now these artist-led initiatives need to apply for licences to host free events. It's daft.
The application fee for a Public Entertainment Licence last year was £120 to £7500. Months of notice must be given to the Council and 21 days of public notice via signage posted at the location. Artist collective The Mutual, for example, don't have permanent premises and hold exhibitions in a variety of venues, each of which would require licensing under the new law. It would almost certainly end the "pop up" exhibition in Glasgow – using empty shops between leases as temporary exhibition space. Glasgow's art community has produced a number of exceptional talents, and notably the last three Turner Prizes have been awarded to artists with connections to the city – this means income from Glasgow through profile, visitors and tourism. The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art has been so successful it's used as a model for similar events in other cities and countries. This kind of success is built on a strong foundation of artist-led initiatives and independent exhibitions – how will they survive such nit-picking, expensive and pointless new rules?
And it's not just artists -- community organizations, clubs and activity groups, students, charities and performers of all types will all feel the restrictions imposed by this licensing change due to come into force on April Fool's Day this year.
This does seem so daft I asked the Scottish Government why the new regulation was brought in. It seems they think Glasgow Council is making an issue where there is none. They changed the law to tackle raves where there was the prospect of disorder and local authorities couldn't control what landowners wanted to do. You could certainly argue whether that's needed – but there is apparently a flexibility built in to differentiate between a commercial rave and everything else. No other council as far as they know interprets the law as Glasgow plans to do. The govt say the distinction is clear in the legislation and the guidance attached to it. Seems Glasgow is making a mountain out of a mole hill and failing to do what others are just getting on with.
Well – what's the truth? Are artists and community groups in other areas facing this problem or is it just Glasgow? Does the Scottish government need to issue new guidelines (a la petition here) http://www.change.org/petitions/the-scottish-government-scrap-public-entertainment-licence-fees or do Glasgow councillors need to stop worrying about the forthcoming elections and sort this problem out on Thursday when they can postpone application for 6 months pending a review. Or indeed just take some quick legal advice. Or call the Scottish Government to clarify and withdraw the licence rules? Too simple?
Watch this film clip and put problems in Scotland back into perspective. www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZtKB_KuASc In India, an epidemic of farmer suicides has claimed over a quarter million lives. Every 30 minutes one farmer in India, deep in debt and unable to provide for his family, commits suicide. The film Bitter Seeds asks if industrial agriculture is giving peasant farmers across the world a fair deal. Companies like Monsanto claim their genetically modified (GM) seeds offer the most effective solution to feeding the world's growing population, but on the ground, many small-scale farmers are losing their land. The film is about a young woman who is investigating the causes of Indian farmer suicide. If you'd like to do something more come to the screening and discussion with myself Chairing at Edinburgh Filmhouse 6pm on International Women's Day March as part of the Take One Action Film Festival across Scotland (patrons Ken Loach and Paul Laverty) – tickets normal price and bookable via http://www.takeoneaction.org.uk/calendar/details/697/. There's another screening on March 7th at the GFT in Glasgow.
Hello there again. We seem to have had some problems getting this week's podcast to some folks.It seems like an intermittent issue; I can listen to it on my Mac but the PC just displays the picture and just hangs there. So, below is a link to listen to the podcast right here. Enjoy! ( If this doesn't work then by all means - tell us ! @lesleyriddoch or @chrisg_smith on Twitter )
In this week's podcast, Lesley comments on the aftermath of the David Cameron speech, the implications of a new report by Alan Sinclair and shares some readers' letters.
Thanks to a number of posters and tweeters who've been sending links to blogs and articles on the concerted effort by the Westminster government to suppress Prof Gavin McCrone's report on oil and the case for Scottish independence in 1975 (left). Here's a link to a good summary from the Independent when the report was finally unearthed in 2005 after Freedom of Information action http://tinyurl.com/3snn2h and here's the actual document from the Scottish Government website http://bit.ly/xVB3Pn . In his report Gavin said discovery of oil was a total game-changer and made the case for Scottish independence irresistible. However the Prof also listed underlying problems for Scotland inc persistent poverty, inequality, under performance etc. His report was just one report – albeit a compelling one – and his optimistic prognosis was written (and suppressed) almost 40 years ago. So it may prove that Scotland was denied information about the credible case that could be made for a better, independent, oil-fuelled economic and political future then -- but it may not prove Scotland can now depend on those depleted oil and gas reserves alone to overcome our structural economic and social problems. Important documents like this should be in the public domain and read by all Scots – so do have a read and make your own mind up. Another interesting related article is http://tinyurl.com/6rkqkl4 -- a Scotsman piece from Feb 2012 about the Attorney General's refusal to release documents about a Cabinet devolution debate in 1997on the grounds it would "undermine the operation of government." Only second time such a refusal has occurred. Hmmm. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder what's being kept from public view now.
Politics can sometimes be confusing. So let's look at the current David Cameron v Alex Salmond spat as if they were gang members arguing over territory.
DC -- Ok, Big Man I agree with you after all. You can have a referendum when you want, minus the 16 year-olds (but come on you don't really care about them) and I agree – we should only have one question. That is what you want isn't it.
AS -- Well yes Posh Boy – we want independence. But supposing other people want something in between?
DC -- Ah that's OK. If they vote no, in between will come later. Maybe. The important thing is clarity, clear choices, removing uncertainty da de dah de dah….
AS -- Well strangely, posh boy, I agree with you. If in betweenies vote no to independence we'll also count that as yes for more powers… as soon as you like. Wee Labour Johann and Libdem Willie think the same.
So why not just put it on the ballot paper?
DC -- No – how could we? There can only be one question because the important thing is clarity, clear choices, removing uncertainty da de dah de dah….
Aye right. Strange isn't it – everyone fancies Devomax, the strangely named option sitting in the corner -- but no-one will officially ask her up to dance in the name of clarity. So she'll be stuck on her bahookey for the next two years. Don't ya just love democracy?
Interestingly though after Cameron's speech yesterday no-one (except Ruth Davidson) thinks the status quo is good enough – but IT remains on the ballot paper. So let's just recap. David Cameron wants clarity. So he's offered a third invisible question in the Indy Referendum that reads;
Do you want me to consider giving you some powers I cant name at a time I can't specify ..but later? Mmm. Does he have a giant pet rabbit called Harvey?
Guardian column here….
Straight off the presses……….
Today David Cameron made his Support of the Union speech against the back-drop of Edinburgh Castle – the place where Alex Salmond launched the independence referendum document a fortnight ago.
Clearly symbolism was important– the PM's crew had also examined possible locations in the Scotsman building and New St Andrew's House. Cameron's message seemed to be – I'm humble about being a Tory in Scotland but I personally care about the UK, Scotland could go it alone (with difficulties) but it is possible – other small countries have been successful, I feel positive about the Union, I'd like Alistair Darling, John Reid and Gordon Brown to step up and start doing some heavy lifting to support the case for the Union and if the Scots vote no in the referendum a better (maybe devo-max) deal will be along later.
Has Cameron put the cat amongst the pigeons with his suggestion that more tax-raising powers (devo max) might be considered at Westminster if (and only if) the Scots first vote no in the independence referendum? Well, we've been here before with the 1979 devolution referendum and Alex Douglas Home's wobbly promise of a better devolution Bill later. And what happened to the "think again" pledge on voting reform after the failed AV referendum. Later never comes.
But the speech had humility, acknowledging that Tories are less numerous in Scotland than Pandas.
A strong section of his speech emphasised that the choice was for Scots alone to make and that Scotland was perfectly capable of running its own affairs.
"I'm not going to stand here and say the Scots couldn't make a go of it on their own. Small states operate well. But an independent Scotland would need to confront some big issues. "
He listed the volatility of oil, big movements in the banking system, and the possibility that national independence could leads to greater international dependence.
Then in a clever adaptation of the "I come to praise Caesar not to bury him," argument – having listed all the problems that would face a new Scottish state Cameron concluded, "these challenges are not my point today." Of course Scotland could govern itself. So could England. But we do it so much better together. The union is not a deal -- it's a precious thing.
Cameron praised Scots contribution to the UK – its freedom and inclusiveness, and drive to stand up for freedom and democracy round the globe, creating a welfare system and championing the vulnerable. He argued that the UK is not monoglot and monocultural. The Union he said, has never been about shackling different nations. It's a free partnership often driven by Scots like Bill Gammell and Ian Wood today – and by Liberals like Jo Grimond, and humane radicals like John Smith and Donald Dewar in the past. He said Brits have turned a bunch of offshore islands into a success story and claimed the ties of blood are growing stronger not weaker. More Scots are living in England and vice versa than ever before.
He was on weaker ground with claims that the UK makes all of us stronger, richer and safer. The UK does have a permanent place on the UN Security Council. Scottish pilots did help free Libya. But trying to talk up our policing expertise after some of the recent scandals surrounding the Met – not really. Richer because Scotland is part of a market with no borders? I don't imagine the Irish feel hugely disadvantaged by border issues. Mention of the shared welfare system is also a bit rich as the Lords have chucked out Cameron's proposals and welfare systems are the most visible ways the two countries have diverged.
He talked about aid budgets – and is clearly sincere. "We have the second biggest aid budget in world" – but the world's biggest aid donor by GDP share is tiny, independent Norway.
The section where he talked about the emotional and practical reasons for union was also wobbly.
He said, "I understand why Scots want to express identity and control lives. I want a Scotland where more Scots own their own homes, keep more of their own cash, have business that can innovate and bring down barriers to enterprise" – this is a softened version of the Tory agenda that has been rejected time and again by Scots.
Then he moved on to deliver the "big tease" suggesting the Scotland Bill hasn't had the attention it deserves and can give Scotland the powers it needs, like raising tax revenue for the first time. He observed, "Our union is living free and adaptable. After the referendum we can consider if further powers need to be devolved – but that's a question for after the referendum."
I notice the word "promise" was missing here. Cameron will simply consider more powers for Scotland post referendum. He quoted Burns (again only this time didn't mangle it in Scots) and concluded dramatically, I am ready for the fight for my country's life.
The Times Scottish Editor Magnus Linklater asked "how is it fair to have the uncertainty of your possible devo-max settlement hanging over the constitutional debate for the next two years?" Cameron ducked the question, suggesting further devolution wouldn't be such a huge issue for the whole of the UK and the two years was a timescale of Alex Salmond's choosing – not quite the point. Devo max – where Scotland had different tax rates, tax powers, social security arrangements not to mention control of oil revenue would clearly have a huge impact on the rest of the UK – though if it were structured properly further devolution to Scotland might finally kick start some local control in England too (Simon Hughes argument). But clearly David Cameron hasn't thought any of this through at all. He ducked a similar question from the Guardian asking if devo max powers for Scotland would prompt a rethink for the rest of the UK. Meantime he said he'd tell Alex Salmond it would be absolutely wrong to have a "devo max" question on the ballot paper.
Speaking straight afterwards – and perhaps not having heard the speech, Alex Salmond said, David Cameron's positive tone was a change for the better and he welcomed the Prime Minister's acknowledgement that an independent Scotland is viable. But he questioned Cameron's priorities – a seat on the Security Council is not of immediate importance to someone losing disability allowance, he said. The G7 isn't the politics that matter – politics is about the people not about prestige. And he criticised the "vote no – get devo max later" offer – how can we have an independence debate and vote when David Cameron has another proposal up his sleeve.
But Alex you all do!!! Devo max appears to be the love that dare not speak its name for every party involved in this constitutional debate – so why is the biggest democratic effort we'll see for a generation about everything ELSE?
Watch out – David Cameron's about. So all the big political beasts of the jungle are in Edinburgh today. I spent this morning in the BBC's Edinburgh studio hopping from a radio studio with Times Scotland Editor Magnus Linklater for a piece at the tail end of the Today programme to a TV studio to do the same thing on BBC World. Having just come back from the deep snow of sub-zero in Munich last night I wasn't exactly dressed for the piece – sweltering away under the TV lights in my fur lined boots. But it's exciting to be in the midst of it all. Cameron is apparently off in a not-to-be-disclosed location in Fife at the moment which could be the Quaker Oats factory in Cupar (porridge – Scots geddit??) and will come back for a press conference in a Grassmarket hotel which overlooks Edinburgh Castle (where Big Lec launched the independence referendum document a fortnight ago – geddit!)
Clearly symbolism is us today. Or – as Scotsman Assistant Editor Peter McMahon observed after a Sky interview outside the Scottish Parliament (see the folk you meet sailing past on your bike?!) he's meeting cheese with cheese. A wee reference to Alex Salmond's predilection for slightly corny venues. Anyway I'm not sure how easy it will be for an independent, freelance journo to get into the Cameron gig, but I'll give it a go. A few things strike me about the Cameron visit so far. If Alex Salmond doesn't get smug or act belligerently towards Cameron today then it's bound to be a victory for him – however Cameron performs. The status the Prime Minister's visit gives the cause of Scottish independence is immeasurable. The unionist strategy of ignoring "separatism" until it goes away is now clearly over. In the long march of ideas, another phase generally follows. As Gandhi observed "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
Now the rather rotund Alex Salmond is now Mahatma Gandhi. Scotland is not India. Colonial rule in the subcontinent last century (often presided over by Scots) is not the same as devolved governance here in the 21st. But I'd say Cameron is definitely trying to match ideas with ideas.
Look at his choice of words today. He's suggesting the British people are "better together" –obviously derived from "we're all in this together." Strange that he thought it worked forst time around – but there you go. His other choice of words is more interesting. A "shared home under threat," is a direct lift from the Swedish, Folkhemmet (the people's home) -- a political concept that helped Sweden emerge from WW2 as the world's most successful social democratic nation. Ironic isn't it. But when Goran Persson (the last Swedish SD leader) came across to London a few years back during the dog days of the Brown government it was Cameron and his entourage and Not Labour who spent time talking with the former Nordic leader and learning about the "Middle Way" Sweden's conception of a folkhemmet underpinned as midway between capitalism and socialism. The basic vision is that the entire society should act like a small family, where everybody contributes – ring any bells? Big Society anyone??
I've a feeling the Tories have taken more than Free Schools from the Swedish model – just as Alex Salmond has taken his Oil Fund from the example of Norway. Sadly there is so little working knowledge of our Nordic neighbour's recent history that the Nordic connections go largely unobserved and unchallenged.
But a couple of things are for sure. Firstly, you can't just copy the odd policy or slogan from another society – Nordic feelings of family-like solidarity and involvement in governance are not accidents. Actions speak far louder than words, and the Swedes and Norwegians acted in the 1920s and 30s to make equality the lynchpins of their society, changing tax structures, pay rates, the welfare state and educational systems to make sure that happened. Do David Cameron – or indeed Alex Salmond – plan to copy that? Every Swedish workplace is part run by a works council composed of trade union, co-operative and management reps who meet every week at least. Do Dave and Lec want that? Hmm. Thought not. And what about grassroots power – the key feature of Nordic life – where meaningful local communities (of between 3-20k people) largely run themselves. Their tiny but powerful municipal government contrasts with our big, clunky and remote "local" councils whose average size is a whopping 162,500.
Sorry – ranting again!
Anyway – not sure Scots will agree with Cameron that they are safer in a UK that conducted an illegal war in Iraq or insists on spending £100 billion on a replacement for Trident. The idea of leaving the "economic success story of Britain" ought to be equally laughable. The UK maybe the 6th wealthiest nation on earth in GDP – but who is at number one? Not massive China but tiny independent, oil-rich Norway. And yet the banking collapse and Alex Salmond's Arc of Prosperity parallels with Iceland scared the living daylights out of everyone in Scotland. Particularly the sober, sensible folk who were brought up in the traditional Scottish way never to be in debt.
Och it's a long complicated business trying to figure out the mood of a nation, isnt it? Anyway, I'm off now to try and gatecrash the Cameron gig. I'll pass on the cheese.