Open Letter to Scottish Independence Parties – Guest Post

Despite being a life-long believer in Scottish Independence I find myself unable to vote for any of the independence-supporting parties standing in my ward: the SNP, the Greens and Alba, due to their “looking the other way” in terms of the moral bankruptcy of Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca.

For over two years I have been aware of Pfizer’s illegal human trials that they carried out on 200 children in Keno, Nigeria in 1996 and the disgusting way they conducted themselves in the resulting court hearings, after things went disastrously wrong. Then there is Astra-Zeneca’s defrauding of Medicaid, and similar government assisted health care organisations in America, which also landed them in court. These events were widely reported at the time so all the party leaders must have been aware of the bad reputation of these multi-nationals. My sources were: Herald Scotland, The Guardian, The New York Times and the US Department of State. Incredibly Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca have been granted indemnity – which means they are not legally responsible for their actions!

There may well have been a panic among political and medical leaders about how to effectively deal with Covid. However throwing principal to the winds in order to get “results” is not acceptable. At the moment my only option is to write a political message on my ballot paper thus “spoiling” my vote. Where I live in Glasgow there are no small parties standing.

Saltire flag: White St Andrews cross on blue background

Thanks to Icon0 for releasing their image Flag of Scotland into the Public Domain.

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Lenzie & Kirkintilloch South – guest post

(Election Day minus 14)

I was asked by a standing candidate to write about the local issues of Lenzie and Kirkintilloch South. I was reluctant, because I think local politics shouldn’t be about pushing our own views, but instead finding out from others what matters to them. However, it’s not long till the election, so apologies to all those affected by issues I do not mention or am unaware of.

ROADS

First is the absolutely criminal state of the roads. Some roads like Almond Drive, have been full of potholes for years, and others like Oak Drive are going the same way. It doesn’t seem possible to drive anywhere in Lenzie without risking another trip to the garage to repair the suspension.

The council clearly do not care what happens and, instead of mending the road, we keep finding more and more speed bumps, and double yellow lines. Also, what madness led to the reduction in parking around Lenzie station and especially spaces for pickup? Lenzie is a village built around the station, if people cannot use the station because they cannot park or pick up people, the station may moved, and what will that do to house prices around the station and in general in Lenzie? No, the answer is not to encroach more on Lenzie moss.

FLOODING

Isn’t it time that Lenzie Academy had a new building? My children regularly told me about the problems of the building throughout their time there and, it’s just got worse. Also, what a state the playing fields on the Greens are in! As for the total appalling debacle of the “playing field” (pool?) where they built the new houses on Lenzie Moss at Blackthorn Grove! That made an already bad situation worse, causing not only more flooding to the playing field, but also to the poor people who now have streams of water coming through their property – because the council put in huge numbers of pointless dams and drains on the Moss pushing the water toward the new houses. Then the developers blocked all the drainage so it had nowhere to go but over the path going to Laburnum Gardens and into the properties. As for the pitches, I think the council intentionally flooded them to stop them being used so the land could be sold off for more housing.

Talking of flooding, people in those houses along Boghead road next to N&S Motors also bent my ear about the frequent flooding they have through their properties which again the council was ignoring. I haven’t seen flooding in Myrtle Drive recently, but I better mention that in case, because that episode went on for years and that flooding and the potholes everywhere shows how little the Council cares.

PARK BURN & “SHARED SPACE”

Back to the Greens and the state of Park burn. Numerous trolleys, bikes and all kinds of rubbish have been sitting in the stream for many years. I’m not sure it is in the ward, but I will mention the “shared space” in Kirkintilloch. WHAT A DISASTER! What daft idiot in the council imagined that having most of the traffic going to the main car park crossing a supposed “pedestrian zone” was a good idea? Pedestrian zones can work, but they work when money is put in to take most cars away from the pedestrian zone by a ring road with good car parks and only when the traffic is reduced putting in the pedestrian zone. But as usual, the Council did it on the cheap and I hate it.

LENZIE MOSS

However, I agreed to write this so I could say something about Lenzie Moss. Lenzie Moss is a very rare example of a lowland “mountain moss”. It exists, because Lenzie has so much rain, that as most gardeners know, moss grows in abundance in our lawns. That is what is so special about Lenzie Moss: it sits on the top of high ground with relatively free drainage to all sides. Unlike the fens of Norfolk, where there is so little rain that even a few trees can dry them up. Lenzie Moss will never dry up except for a few weeks in the summer and that is not enough to harm it. So, unlike the fens which seem to be the council’s model of how to manage Lenzie Moss, trees are not a problem. I repeat: TREES ARE NOT A PROBLEM! Indeed, there have been trees around the central moss area from the oldest maps. So, what happened when the Council took over? They started cutting down the trees!!! Turning the once beautiful area into something that looks as barren as a municipal car park. A car park might look good to the council, but not to me, and it certainly makes it difficult for the deer to find places to hide from dogs.

LEAVE THE TREES ON LENZIE MOSS ALONE!

The natural form of these lowland bogs is that there is a central area of bog surrounded by a ring of trees. The Forth valley has many such bogs. Most are in depressions, whereas Lenzie Moss, once called “the Mountain Moss” is quite special as it is on high ground. As for the Council playing with their diggers in the sandpits around the moss, again, what is wrong with leaving nature alone to do what nature does best? If you have thousands of pounds of money to spend, spend it on repairing the boardwalk across the moss, and not on chainsaws, more plastic dams or excavators on the Moss. Lenzie Moss is a fantastic place, but the boardwalk desperately needs repairing, and let’s restore the Lady’s Mile walk to the south of the railway – where it used to run all the way to Glasgow, but that right of way was then ignored and blocked. What about connecting the footpath on the south side of the moss to the north to make a circular walk? Indeed, why are there so few footpaths to escape Lenzie? Surely there should be a path around the Gadloch?

BUS STOPS & NEW BUILDINGS

Back to Boghead Road and I want to mention the bus stops. We in Lenzie get charged a fortune to use them to travel the short distance to the retail park at Bishopbriggs, yet whilst Kirkintilloch road has had electronic information signs for years, Boghead bus stops have none. And, when the Special Needs school moves (as someone said was planned), please NO MORE HOUSING. The same for Lenzie Public Halls. Let’s have some business units, or shops, or a new Public Halls, I’d even tolerate Council offices. Please Council, use your imagination! Just stop making Lenzie into one massive monotonous housing estate.

HERITAGE

Finally, (and perhaps a rather personal passion) let’s get some of the history of the area recognised. The tunnel from the old Lumloch (now known as Gadloch from its habit of disappearing after the tunnel), is quite unique, and arguably key to the early industrial revolution in Scotland. Why is that ignored? If you don’t know where runs, it goes from below the railway bridge near Gadloch (where there was a distillery (and about time we got a new bridge there as well!) under the football pitches at the end of Boghead, where the hill to the back of the changing rooms is the spoil heap from the tunnel, and down into the dip in Boghead wood, where there used to be a Lint Mill, with ponds for lint processing. Then, there are the Bell Pit mines, probably for early coal mining, in the woods beside the railway. Again, part of the industrial heritage of Lenzie. (It would have been in my book, which I never finished, because I could never complete the map, because the Council kept dumping more of their largely pointless plastic dams on the moss.)

CANAL

Finally, the Forth and Clyde canal. What idiot thought it would be a good idea to have a canal that cannot be traversed except by phoning up the council to get through the bridges at Hillhead Road and Croy? Penny pinching (in terms of the total budget) has created another costly disaster. Something that could have created a lot of tourism as people used the canal for day cruises has fallen flat on its face, because the canal is effectively cut in two by the penny pinching.

VOTE FOR CHANGE

I’m sorry, If I sound sick to death with the local Council it is because I am. It doesn’t seem to matter who gets in, the story is the same. The potholes remain, the roads are in a mess, playing fields unusable and it basically looks like the Council doesn’t care about us. And, when anything is done, from the changes at the Station, to the “shared space” in Kirkintilloch, to the canal or Lenzie Moss, they seem to have a penchant for getting it wrong. I support the Freedom Alliance candidates: James Watson for Lenzie & Kirkintilloch South and Dr Alan McManus for Kirkintilloch East & North & Twechar. Freedom Alliance is a new party and, while I cannot absolutely guarantee they will be better, it would be very hard to be worse!

Mossy branches of trees lying in a bog

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image Trees Moss Wrapped into the Public Domain.

Promoted by Lance Burkitt of Freedom Alliance – Integrity, Society, Economy of P.O. Box 215, Clayton, West Huddersfield, HD8 1FF.

Universities in Scotland: Statements on Current Conflict

Of the 19 institutions of higher education offering university level degrees, Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, Robert Gordon, Strathclyde and the Open University have included Russian staff and students in those negatively affected by the current conflict in Ukraine. Aberdeen has “anyone affected”; Glasgow has “colleagues, students, applicants, and their families”; UWS has “students of all nationalities” and “colleagues affected by the current situation”. Glasgow School of Art, Queen Margaret and SRUC do not have an obvious statement on this conflict on their website, the Royal Conservatoire appears to have a password protected statement for students. Herriot Watt endorses the statement of Universities Scotland which includes Russian staff and students.

Robert Gordon is disposing of its Russian equity as are St Andrews and Edinburgh which also is “reviewing the honorary degree awarded to the Head of the Ruskiy Mir Foundation”. Mir means peace. Dundee is “reviewing [its] investment portfolio and other activities”. Glasgow has enacted “a suspension of partnerships with Russian and Belarusian universities”. Strathclyde has “raised the Ukrainian flag on […] campus and will be illuminating a number of our buildings in its national colours”.

UHI and St Andrews (my alma mater) are the most explicit in unbiased support for all staff and students:

The University of the Highlands and Islands stands united with the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association and all students across our partnership in calling for a rapid and peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine and to avoid further tragedy and humanitarian consequences.

We know the situation has created anxiety and upset for many, particularly our staff, students and those in our local communities from Ukraine, Russia and the neighbouring countries, whose families and friends may be affected.

We care passionately about our students and staff and the people living in our communities. We continue to engage with them, reminding them of the support services available, and are in direct communication with those students most impacted.

We have been in contact with our Ukrainian students and members of staff since the outbreak of war to offer practical support and advice. It is difficult to imagine how awful it must be to be far from home, and desperately worried about what is happening to your country, your loved ones, and friends. Your courage and dignity is humbling, and an example to us all, and St Andrews will do all it can to support you.

We have also reached out to our Russian students and staff to offer support and reassurance. The Russian people did not invade Ukraine, President Putin and the Russian government alone carry that grim responsibility, and it is important that our Russian friends and colleagues know that they remain welcome and safe here.

Stirling has an interesting policy blogpost by Professor Holger Nehring which gives detailed information on the complexity of the conflict. None of the other 14 universities with an explicit statement on their website has commented on this complexity. By failing to do so, they ignore decades of academic work in media studies on the political bias and hyperreal creativity in reporting of conflict. Most of them, despite some recognition of difficulties faced in Scotland and abroad by ethnic Russian staff and students and the public, have explicit statements of partial solidarity such as “We Stand With Ukraine”.

If universities in Scotland cannot resit the impulse to pontificate on foreign conflict, at least they should do so in an intelligent and ethical way that is in line with their stated values. I suggest the following 5 points:

  1. We recognise that the conflict in Ukraine currently widely reported is not recent, is one among many that are not being reported, and has elements of hyperreality (Eco, 1986; Baudrillard, 1995; Glasgow University Media Group, 1976)
  2. We express solidarity with all staff and students negatively affected by this media coverage and condemn any harassment of ethnic minorities in Scotland or abroad.
  3. We affirm academic freedom of thought and freedom of expression as inalienable rights.
  4. We value the cultural contribution of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to arts and literature as well as that of their scientific endeavours.
  5. We express profound sympathy for all innocent people everywhere who are caught up in conflict, including refugees.

Baudrillard, Jean (1995) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Translated from the French by Paul Patton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Eco, Umberto (1986) Travels in Hyperreality. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Co.

Glasgow University Media Group (1976) Bad News. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

“St Andrews Stands with Ukraine” design, with flags, drawn on the West Sands.

Photo courtesy of University of St Andrews Communications Office used with instruction to share on social media and tag the university in posts.

Backstage at the Panto

Backstage, during a pantomime, is an odd place. Actors rush up and down stairs, still putting on their costumes, and communicate with each other and with the stage crew in frantic gestures. No-one speaks. Everyone’s listening. Props and scenery are being whisked on and off, during blackout, and the Stage Manager’s word (or signal) is LAW! No-one questions her authority. There’s no time to renegotiate your entrance or your already-blocked moves. The Director isn’t even there. He’s up the back of the hall with Sound and Lighting. Worrying. You live for the applause, or the boos. They’re really the same thing. It’s the strength of the reaction that shows if the audience are enjoying the show. When I was playing the Baddie in Aladdin, a couple of years ago, at the end of Act 1 a wee boy in Row 2 audibly called me “a jobby”. I strutted back into the dressing-room exultant! Take that Olivier! I thought. High praise!

Caught up in the performance, with the doomed romance of the pretty Hapless Heroine (who probably does kickboxing) and the Handsome Prince (who’s a boyish girl), with the slapstick antics of the fools, all meticulously rehearsed, the exaggerated dramas of the Dame (who’s a man) and the carefully choreographed cries and dance routines of the Chorus, the audience forgets – or never realises – that backstage at the panto we’re all friends. Everyone’s working together. The Hapless Heroine helps me on with my heavy robe – before I go onstage and capture her. The main Fool (the Daftie in Scotland) has a degree in astrophysics and is best mates with his rival – who’s just about to plaster his face with a custard pie. The Chorus aren’t really shocked by my latest Evil Deed. They knew it was coming. They just want to do their number so they can troop downstairs (Shhhhh! says the Stage Manager) and grab a Coke and a KitKat before they’re back on for Act 3.

The conflict in Ukraine is a panto because everything in the Theatre of War is a performance. Right now, a young woman who’s recently been…

  • a beauty blogger
  • pregnant
  • bombed
  • twice
  • dead
  • queuing up for bread
  • a refugee
  • captured
  • freed
  • all of the above, simultaneously

…is now apparently safe and sound in Russia and confusing everyone on Twitter. Don’t ask me what the truth is. I don’t know. I do know that this is political theatre. It’s a panto.

Unlike a friendly neighbourhood panto, in the Theatre of War the participants risk more than a stubbed toe falling over a stage weight supporting the flats. Participation is usually not voluntary and even when there is an actual Baddie, the Goodies aren’t that good. Ask any older Russian what they think about the Yalta Agreement. Or ask an old German about carpet bombing. Ask yourself why you’re surprised that in WW1 the British Army shot shell-shocked soldiers in a pretty little Belgian town called Poperinge, surrounded by Flanders fields. And we all know about Abu Ghraib. No? Look it up. If you have the stomach for it. I’m not providing a link.

The fact that some Ukrainian battalions apparently have links to Neo-Nazi groups, that the persecution of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine has been going on for 8 years and that NATO is using this fake war to play checkers with China doesn’t mean that there aren’t real people caught up in it. I don’t know who those people are, clingfilmed to Ukrainian lampposts, beaten, stripped, raped and doused with water, left to freeze to death. I know that people have been reporting Russian deadly homophobia for years so before you jump to that conclusion – no, I’m not a fan of Putin!

There are wheels within wheels at play here. Suddenly all the slebs are focussing solely on this drama, ignoring the release of Pfizer data on adverse reactions and the conviction of smiling Ghislaine Maxwell – and all the political blackmail that went on with everyone on the guest list at Jeffrey Epstein’s island – as well as the long list of other countries in conflict: #Yemen #SaudiArabia #Palestine #Israel #DRCongo #Syria #Afghanistan #Ethiopia #Eritrea #Colombia #Myanmar #Algeria #BurkinaFaso #Cameroon #Libya #Mali #Mozambique #Niger #Nigeria #SouthSudan #Tanzania #Tunisia #Chile #Venezuela #Iraq.

Backstage at the panto, everyone is cooperating. They’re read the script and they’ve rehearsed the moves. Someone might muff their lines or dry up but that’s no problem. There are plenty more to take their place. People get cut all the time in this production. It’s not only the jokes that die onstage. There are trap doors and not everyone gets the heads up.

The Stage Manager is in charge. In agreement with the Director. No, I don’t know who they are either. But I know that they’re there. And I know that all they want is for you to sit back – and enjoy the show.

Just watch out for the forced Audience Participation. At the Finale.

Scary Clown Faces

Thanks to Circe Denyer for releasing her image Halloween Whispering Clowns into the Public Domain.