Townhead Public Meeting 15 September

Townhead 2

Everyone within easy reach of Glasgow city centre on Monday should get themselves along to Townhead Village Hall on Monday at 5.30pm for a public meeting on what Scottish independence can do to protect the NHS! Speakers include Catriona Pagliari, a consultant radiologist, and Willie Wilson, founder of NHS for Yes.

Monday 15 September, 5.30pm

Townhead Village Hall

60 St Mungo Avenue, Glasgow, G4 0PL

We Are All Scotland

togetherBy Wayne CuthbertsonWayne is a PhD researcher at the University of St Andrews and is currently examining the work of the Scottish Privy Council from the perspective of the novel problem of governing the multiple kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland after the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

As I listen to all of the economic arguments about independence and to those who argue that Scotland wouldn’t be able to support itself,  I often think that there is another way to look at this problem. Ask yourself this: ‘should England be an independent country?’ Because when you listen to a lot of No campaigners talk, and especially to a lot of their economic arguments (which they always place such emphasis on), the answer would have to be No as well. For the structural issues, the debt, the deficit, the demographic challenges of the future, the issue of EU membership, the problem of a massive trade deficit, and crucially the enormous uncertainty (can you imagine all the unanswered questions there would be in terms of negotiations with Scotland, Wales and NI about division of assets and liabilities?), these would all apply to a potential independent England. Yet, people would instinctively laugh at this; moreover, many English people would – rightfully – feel personally insulted at the suggestion.

The point I am making here is that so many of the arguments against an independent Scotland are on closer inspection arguments against independence simpiliciter. The biggest myth perpetuated in this campaign is that size equals strength and stability, makes public services more affordable, and pools and shares risk. Yet, the entire evidence of recent history, not to mention comparisons with other Western democracies, proves this argument to be fallacious. Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden all have much better public services, better education, better pensions, more equality, and have much more secure financial institutions than say France, the UK and Spain.

Like my straw man Englishman, I often do feel personally insulted by a lot of the arguments that are made against independence. To accept them you would need to believe that, of all the nations of the world, Scotland alone was incapable of meeting the challenges of the future. What are we saying to our children? What are we saying about a future Scotland? That it doesn’t matter how well educated you become? That it doesn’t matter what human potential you have, you will always be incapable of governing yourself successfully, of meeting the economic, social and political challenges of a changing world?

I refuse to accept that. If the result of 307 years of political union is such that Scotland is incapable of surviving on its own and its people doubt their very ability to do so, then that shows the measure of the failure of the Union. Where people see uncertainty, I see only vast potential. I’d rather put my faith in the people of Scotland to meet those challenges. I believe that all that people require to have over the next week is the confidence to believe in nothing more than their own potential the potential of the future which they will contribute so much to.

Of course, I will accept whatever is decided next Thursday, as any democrat should. I find the level of political engagement in Scotland at the moment to be inspiring. Whatever the final decision, our politicians – of all parties – have a duty to try and maintain that level of interest, for it is clear on both sides of the debate there is a desire for political change.

We are all Scotland, and whatever we decide next week, Scotland will still go on. So I say to you all in this last week: be good friends, be good neighbours, be respectful debaters, interested onlookers, and decide for yourselves. Whatever you decide, you will have my full respect always.

Look at the Nice Colours

By Stephen Bowman

The British Government has taken decisive action in an effort to counter the perceptible rise in support for votes for women. After more and more women have expressed their desire to participate in the democratic process, His Majesty’s Government has decided to fly a purple, green and white flag above 10 Downing Street. It has also urged male householders across the Empire to do likewise.

A Government spokesman explained that it was hoped that this would show that the male political establishment had women’s best interests at heart and that they knew best. The spokesman said: “Women don’t need to worry their pretty little heads about anything. We of course understand and appreciate their wish to create a new, fairer and more democratic society. That’s why we’ve decided to fly their colours from our flagpoles. I’m sure when they see all those nice colours fluttering in the breeze they’ll realise that there’s no need for representative democracy and that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.”

In other news, Joseph McCarthy has urged the US Government to fly the Red Flag above the White House in an effort to show communists that they have nothing to worry about.

The NHS in the Union: from its cradle to its grave?

yes_nhs_dennisBy Fiona Bowman – Fiona is a nursing student based in the North East of England and is a former National Treasurer and Vice-Convener of the Federation of Student Nationalists.

Well doesn’t time fly! Only one month to go until Scotland votes on whether or not to become an independent country. One of the main discussion points at the moment is the future of our National Health Service, something I would like to touch upon here.

As a future NHS worker I do think there are real fears over the outlook of the National Health Service. Firstly, no-one can deny that all institutions need to continually evolve and face the modern challenges of the day. We should also recognise that conditions now are vastly improved from the decades and centuries past. But I live in England and when I sit in my local doctor’s surgery I’m baffled every time I see the prescription charge up on the pharmacy wall, which currently stands at £8.05 per prescription (due to increase to £8.25 next April). It makes me question the society we live in. I keep a quote from Aneurin Bevan, the Health Minister responsible for establishing the NHS, on my desk to remind me of the inequalities that still exist today. It reads:

‘My heart is full of bitterness. For when I see the well nourished bodies of the wealthy, I also see the ill and haggered faces of my own people.’

I like this quote as it gives me a constant reminder of one of the reasons why I wanted to be a children’s nurse; to give every child in our society the best opportunity of a healthy and happy start in life. After recently spending time in the community on placement, I have also developed an interest in public health nursing. It is here you get a real sense of the inequalities that exist in society, going from visiting families in privately owned new builds to mould-ridden council houses (which the NHS cite as a trigger of childhood asthma). But this is also where I’ve seen the ways in which government policies and investment can make a real impact on living conditions and wider social determinants of health, such as providing better housing and safe community playgrounds for children to play in. Government intervention can make a difference and I believe we can make more effective interventions in an independent Scotland.

No-one can promise that in an independent Scotland health and social inequalities won’t exist, but it is about reducing the ever-widening gap. Since the Black Report in 1980, successive Westminster governments have failed to deal with the widening health inequalities that exist. It is true, however, that health inequalities can not only be solved through improved healthcare. Indeed, the Marmot report in 2010 (commissioned by the Department of Health, England) put forward the argument that health inequalities emerge from social inequalities indicating that governments have a deeper-rooted problem to solve. Through these types of reports over the decades it has been asserted that there needs to be an overhaul of how inequalities are tackled and funding put in place.

This has not been happening in England while the union undermines our attempts to do this is Scotland. An independent Scotland would give us the opportunity to radically change how society deals with health and social inequalities. By having the constitutional and financial capabilities to commit to substantial transformation of health and social care provision, Scotland can build a fairer and healthier society.

This, in my opinion, cannot be achieved by staying in the union. Through the Barnett Formula, reduced public spending in England means reduced public spending in Scotland. This could directly impact on the health budget in Scotland resulting in cuts to services. More than that, I don’t believe that Scotland in the Union can withstand what will become a growing ideological pressure to follow the trend of privatisation south of the border. The collectivist ideology that may have existed within the Labour movement when Aneurin Bevan introduced free healthcare in 1948 does not exist today and shows no sign of returning.

An example of the routes being undertaken by the NHS in England includes NHS foundation trusts (which we don’t have in Scotland) competing against each other for services. This has been seen recently in the North East of England with children’s heart surgery services between hospitals in Leeds and Newcastle. I understand the need for specialist centres, for example Great Ormond Street, who can care for rare cases but I do not think reducing the availability of this type of surgery in regional areas benefits families. Major hospitals can already be a fair distance away from the family home, so to then make the family travel an extra 2-3 hours would be a detriment to their experience. Currently nursing focuses on two main approaches, holistic nursing and family centred care, and I believe that privatising the NHS and reducing availability of services it makes it harder for the NHS to deliver these approaches. By increasing travel time this may force families to be split up for lengthy periods, especially if the child requires substantial recovery times. Parents need to compensate for many things including work and childcare for other siblings. Scotland has an opportunity to protect the NHS from this reduction of services and privatisation. The level of free healthcare currently provided in Scotland can be guaranteed, but only by the inclusion of this principle in a written constitution of an independent Scotland.

Protecting the NHS in Scotland is only one reason I believe in an independent Scotland. The other key reasons for me include removing nuclear weapons from the River Clyde, returning a government that Scotland votes for through a proportional voting system – not the out date first past the post Westminster system – and having control over our own finances and ultimately our own destiny.

Hopefully this is not new to anyone but it is important to emphasise that this referendum is not solely about the NHS, currency or even Alex Salmond and the SNP. It is about each and every individual voter questioning what kind of country they would like to live in. Vote for the country you would be proud to live and work in. Vote for the country you would be happy to bring your children up in. Vote for the country you would be proud to call home.

I’ll finish on one of my favourite and inspiring slogans of the campaign:

If not us then who? If not now then when? Vote Yes on 18 September 2014.

Vote No to Foodbanks, Trident and Platitude – Vote Yes for Independence

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By Stephen Bowman

Dan Snow annoys me on multiple levels. For one, he is a TV presenter masquerading as an historian. I’ve still not recovered from reading his article on the BBC website back in February in which he set out to ‘debunk’ ten ‘myths’ about the First World War, and in which he made the mundane and mildly offensive argument that some soldiers enjoyed taking part in the conflict. I’m sure some did, but presumably not those who were cut to pieces by machine-gun fire.

Be that as it may, he’s annoyed me this week by leading a love-bombing campaign of Scotland by some well-known and not-so-well-known celebrities opposed to Scottish independence. Don’t go, they tell us in an open letter published on Thursday. They love us too much. We’ve achieved so much together (presumably including fighting and dying in imperialistic wars). The signatories of this letter include such Scottophiles as David Starkey, who loves the country so much that he’s previously labelled it – along with Wales and Ireland – as ‘feeble.’

In fairness, I’m sure other of the signatories of the open letter – most of whom appear to be based in England, including Scots like Ronnie Corbett – are genuine enough in their affection for Scotland. My main problem with their letter, then, is that it entirely misses the point. Scotland doesn’t feel unloved or disrespected. It doesn’t want to be told how much it will be missed by other parts of the UK (as if it’s actually going anywhere after independence). Despite the content of an article written by the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers, Scotland doesn’t need to be reminded that it has impressive scenery (which most people can’t afford to work or live near to in any case) or a good ferry network. This is all mundane, trivial and platitudinous.

No, the rest of Britain needs to realise that the referendum is not about identity nor about how we want other parts of the UK to think about us. Nor is it really about Anglo-Scottish relations, even if the UK Government and the main Westminster parties seem intent on making it about that through their intransigence on the currency union question. No matter what the Unionist press say, Salmond is correct to argue – as he did in last week’s televised debate with Alistair Darling – that the pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to the rest of the UK. Scotland can and will use it as it pleases. To argue differently is to argue for a very one-sided conception of Anglo-Scottish union.

Moreover, to argue against a currency union is to argue against economic stability in both England and Scotland post-independence. While I fear that some in the English electorate will welcome the UK Government playing hardball with an independent Scotland, it would be in nobody’s interests if it did so. Not only would Scotland refuse to take a share of the UK debt, but the disruption caused by cross-border transaction costs in the event of a veto on a currency union would damage businesses in England and in Scotland. In which case, the UK Government would be entirely to blame.

So the time may yet come when Scotland does indeed feel unloved by the UK, though I hope it doesn’t come to that. It remains likely that the UK’s opposition to a currency union will disappear in the event of independence. Regardless, the real essence of the independence debate is about policy and democracy. Scottish independence is about how Scots want Scotland to be run. For me, this comes down to three things.

Firstly, the UK Government’s ideological assault on the welfare state. This is something that has resulted in a massive increase in the use of foodbanks and is not something that Labour will reverse if (and it is a big ‘if’) it forms the next UK Government. Scotland needs to leave a Union that is failing utterly to help the poor.

Secondly, Trident. Independence will mean that these weapons of mass destruction will be removed from Scottish waters, and will force the UK to rethink its commitment to keeping nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, EU membership. If Scotland stays part of the UK it will be voted out of Europe against its will when the UK holds a referendum on EU membership in 2017. This will be a disaster for Scotland, as it would threaten its ability to trade with, and receive investment from, Europe. It would also make it more difficult for Scots to travel freely across the continent.

We’re now very close to the referendum. The Yes campaign has had to compete with a hostile and biased press, yet increasing numbers of Scots support independence. The press on Wednesday morning was never going to report that Salmond ‘won’ the debate with Darling. The mainstream media doesn’t like Salmond and it doesn’t like independence. That’s why it totally ignored the snap poll taken after the STV debate which showed a 4% swing to Yes.

Independence will not be won by newspaper editorials, press releases, celebrity letters or TV debates, but by the very real grassroots movement that is leafleting, canvassing and discussing its away across Scotland every day of the week. If you’re undecided, and I know some of you are, please really try and question what’s being written in the press. Chances like this don’t come around very often. Vote Yes.

A Message from England

England Flag

I’m not sure what kind of response there’s been to David Cameron’s call for the rest of the UK to ‘love bomb’ Scotland into submission ahead of the referendum, or whether Scotland will ultimately abandon its claims to independent statehood in response to Ross Kemp’s and Tony Robinson’s heartfelt, and Labour-sponsored, waving of cardboard signs.

But just in case the sight of wealthy, (reasonably) well-known people saying how much they love Scotland inclines you to vote No in September (who wants a proper welfare state that doesn’t force people to use foodbanks anyway? – all you need is love), I wanted to highlight an alternative voice from south of the border. Here it is here, on You Tube.

Now, the video isn’t as swish as the Ross Kemp one is – largely because it wasn’t done by a professional production company – but it does show an English person with no political connections explaining why he thinks Scotland should be independent. His name is Guy Mankowski and he’s a Newcastle-based novelist and PhD researcher. Cheers Guy!

From Belfast to Yes

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By Meadhbh Maguire – Meadhbh is a Partick-based Transport Planner. A native of West Belfast, she recently completed a Masters degree in Urban Planning in Queens University Belfast and then returned to Glasgow, where she had studied as an undergraduate. Her research interests include Soviet and post-Soviet era transport infrastructure and also the role of memorials and contested histories within the contemporary urban landscape.

When I came to Scotland from Belfast in 2008 to study, I was desperate for a change of scenery. My plan was to travel the world and Scotland was merely the first stepping stone – months before the course began I was already researching the links with foreign institutions that would enable to me undertake a year abroad and even looking at postgraduate courses further afield. I never expected to connect with Glasgow, or to come to consider it my home. The idea of taking an interest in civic life or becoming involved in Scottish politics was well beyond my plans.

Looking back now I am amazed at how ignorant I was when I arrived here. I didn’t know Scotland had its own devolved parliament or who was running it. I didn’t know Scotland had a nationalist party or an independence movement. I’d never even heard of Alex Salmond. I knew the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was Scottish, so I assumed he would be popular in this new city I had landed in. I knew next to nothing about oil, Trident, shipyards, Thatcher’s legacy in Scotland, the labour movement, New Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems or what any of them stood for.

My political upbringing in Northern Ireland had occurred at a time of transition between the last years of the Troubles and the peace process; a murky and frustrating time to learn anything. The lens I was looking through was cracked and smeared with all the opinions of others shouting to be heard, demanding justice, pushing for independent inquiries and that lens had simply been given a wipe so that it would look presentable for those born in the 90’s, as if we were growing up in a normal society. I knew that, at least in an Irish context, I was a nationalist but couldn’t coherently explain why.

I spent my first year in Glasgow surrounded by a very international circle of friends – not a single Scot in my group – and I wasted a lot of money on Bath St bars, pakora (which I’d never had before I came here) and taxis back to my student accommodation. Having scraped through my exams, I made it to second year where everything completely changed. I moved into another flat with, again, another very multicultural circle but this time half of my new flatmates were politically engaged, and 2010 was election year. Many discussions to the early hours of the morning were had, mostly on how bad the Tories would be if they got in but on the other hand how useless Labour were; how the SNP (now that I knew who they were) had done a decent job at Holyrood (had heard of there too now) but that the risk of the Tories getting back in was looming large in the minds, in no small part thanks to Labour’s tactics in Scotland.

I voted for the first time in that year and watched in horror as it became clear that despite Scotland having voted almost entirely against the Tories they would be getting governed by them. I rang my Mum in Belfast who seemed unfazed by how the election went in NI, resulting in another deadlock of 50/50 results and I knew then that I was becoming a very different person. When the map of results emerged showing that Scotland had voted exactly the same way in both 2005 and 2010 I remember being distinctly confused as to why that had made so little difference to the overall result.

By the time the 2011 Holyrood election came around, I was paying attention. I watched the debates and saw Iain Gray roll out the ‘now that the Tories are back at Westminster, we need Labour at Holyrood to protect our public services,’ message and I could see that it wasn’t selling. For the first time I was watching a debate where the audience wasn’t split 50/50 by religious upbringing or needed another audience of 50 million others south of the border to agree in order to return the results that Scotland wanted, and it was empowering.

I had so many discussions with people in the lead up to polling day and met people campaigning for different parties, but the general sense I got was that the SNP would win with an increased vote than in 2007. When the landslide results came in, I was so excited to have taken part in something that produced the results that people voted for and where this wasn’t (as is the case in NI) a deadlock between 2 main parties with largely incompatible aspirations.

When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed and the Independence Campaign started in earnest, I took little convincing. It was as simple as this: I don’t want an event where a government gets elected regardless of Scotland’s votes to be considered our ‘national election’ or to continue listening to the same breaking news from another supposed economic expert stating to what extent Scotland is subsidised by Westminster. This government has demonstrated that they aren’t even willing to subsidise a spare bedroom, why on earth would they subsidise an entire populace of 5 million people?

Having tried to engage with and find some answers from Better Together as to what would happen in the event of a no vote, my accent sparks the, ‘whereabouts in Northern Ireland are you from?’ I sense that many of this ilk are simply trying to identify whether or not I’m an Irish nationalist, and if I am then they assume I’ve just transferred any anti-British sentiment into becoming a Scottish nationalist and am therefore a lost cause.

Looking back I realise that the politically ignorant, disengaged person I arrived in Glasgow as back in 2008, is exactly what Better Together are banking on. The Unionists want as many apathetic, disengaged, confused and fearful people as possible and there still are plenty of them about. I only come from across the water and it took me over a year to become engaged in political life here, and even then I had to endure the experience of witnessing a government get elected without any influence from Scotland whatsoever. I imagine it is much harder for those from further afield who come to live here and contribute to the diverse society we have here in Scotland. We must engage with everyone we can, taking into account that the nature of politics where they come from may (as in my case) give them the kind of lens that I was given.

Having graduated from Glasgow Uni in the summer of 2012, I’m still here. Thankfully, I have travelled a lot as I planned to and through my travels my views towards independence were cemented. I’ve been to many small countries within Europe and I’ve seen things done differently. I’ve been to countries with barely any resources in comparison to Scotland and yet they do just fine. They don’t waste money on aircraft carriers and nuclear missile systems while struggling to feed their people without the help of foodbanks. They don’t punish people for having a spare bedroom and they don’t fight tooth and nail with every new piece of European legislation and get up every other countries backs in the process.

Walking through the streets of Bratislava, Tallinn, Stockholm and Prague, I envisage an Edinburgh which serves as the capital and gateway to a modern, healthy and wealthy, forward-thinking and sovereign nation.

 

Independence “Threatens Threats”

By Stephen Bowman

A spokesman for the Better Together campaign has warned Scots that voting Yes in September’s independence referendum will threaten threats about the future of the country. The spokesman suggested that Scotland currently enjoys a greater level of scaremongering per head of population than do other parts of the UK. He said that there was no guarantee that this level could be maintained if Scotland voted to leave the Union.

The spokesman said: “Scots need to realise that independence presents a real threat to our ability to make threats over things like pensions, academic research funding and the economy. If Scots vote Yes they’ll soon discover that all of the threats we’ve been making have no foundation in reality and will ultimately stop.” He went on, and on, and on: “As part of the UK, Scotland receives large subsidies of fear. But these will dry up if Scotland votes Yes. There’ll be nothing left to fear if Scotland becomes independent, and there’s no point running back to the UK complaining about it.”

This intervention came on the same day that Scottish Labour MPs expressed fears that independence could lead to job losses amongst Scottish Labour MPs. In other news, turkeys have called for people to say “No Thanks” to Christmas.

Scotland’s Zeitgeist

By Stephen Bowman

The Proclaimers have a pro-independence song called ‘Cap in Hand’, one small part of which neatly sums up what it is to be Scottish. The line ‘We boast – then we cower’ captures the essence of a nation that spends half its time bragging about its distinctiveness and its achievements, and the rest of the time suffering from a crippling lack of self-confidence. “Sure I’ve got ‘Scotland Forever’ tattooed on my backside, but we’re too wee and too stupid to become independent. Can’t I just listen to the bagpipes and wax lyrical about how pretty the mountains are? All this self-government stuff…”

It’s the kind of mindset that sees us apologise for our accents and sees one of our national football managers play with no strikers against a mediocre Czech Republic team. It’s also an attitude that results in too many of us meekly laughing when people say how dangerous and unhealthy Glasgow is, when, really, it’s a place that, yes, has its problems, but which is also an outward-looking, cosmopolitan, big and big-hearted European city in ways that most people – including those who live there – don’t fully realise. It is, moreover, the kind of mindset that Better Together hope will result in a No vote in September.

The Unionists don’t really believe that Scotland can’t become independent. The reason they’re so scared of independence is they’re scared Scotland will make a success of it. But Better Together know that a lot of people in Scotland lack confidence, both in themselves and in their country’s capacity to improve. This is less true, I think, of the younger generation, which has grown up with the Scottish Parliament, but it’s certainly true amongst large swathes of the population. Older generations have had a lifetime of Project Fear.

It is because of Scotland’s traditional lack of confidence that the Unionists have fallen over themselves in their excitement at Barack Obama’s comments on independence this week. There’s something depressingly sycophantic about a press statement that says that ‘the overwhelming majority of Scots share the view of the president of the United States Barack Obama that we are better together’, which is what Scottish Labour said this week in response to the news that a Labour MP in England was now supporting a Yes vote. Heck, Barack Obama must be right. He’s the president of a country that isn’t Scotland.

Whenever Better Together use Obama’s comments – and they won’t ever stop – they’re displaying a sycophancy which is itself symptomatic of a lack of self-confidence in themselves and their vision for Scotland, while simultaneously cynically trying to play on Scotland’s traditional anxieties and insecurities. It is, in short, pathetic.

It’s time, however, for Scots to start taking responsibility for themselves. A Yes vote in September is one step along the road to doing that. A Yes vote will show that Scotland has rejected the type of sleekit politics that thinks it’s okay to court outside influence – be it from big business, Barack Obama, or Vladimir Putin (and all three have been attempted by Better Together) – on an internal democratic process.

Though I doubt it’ll make much difference to the outcome of the referendum, I am angry at Obama’s intervention. I am familiar with the US and have undertaken research there. I think it’s a great place with warm and open people. It’s a country with a tangible can-do attitude which I’ve always wanted Scotland to emulate. This week doesn’t change that.

But it’s a reminder about who the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US is primarily for. In large part, it’s a relationship between the political and commercial elites of London and the political and commercial elites of Washington D.C. and New York. That’s why Obama thinks from ‘the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well’ in the UK. For people like him and David Cameron, or people like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it has worked pretty well. With Trident in mind, and with the Scottish soldiers who will no longer be available to fight in illegal wars in places like Iraq, Scottish independence is certainly not in the military and strategic interests of that elite. It is, however, in the interests of the Scottish people and that – despite the skin-crawling sycophancy of Scotland’s Unionists and the majority of its press – is all that matters.

 

The Special Relationship

By Stephen Bowman

We are positive. You can’t erect barriers to our neo-liberty.
We are positiv. You can’t lift your folk from poverty.
We are positi. You can’t build a better democracy.
We are posit. You can’t stop our bombs.
We are posi. You can’t say yes we can.
We are pos. You can’t have money.
We are po. You can’t change.
We are p. You can’t prosper.
We are. You can’t.