The First Minister's Diary
The First Minister's Diary courtesy of the wits at firstfoot.com.
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Today is tidying up day at perspective. Small changes being made here and there throughout the day. So that is why things might look a bit odd.
• Made the body text on posts more legible.
• Got rid of the old comments system, which only archived comments for 3 months. Switched on bloggers comments system to give it a try. Unfortunately this means comments on old posts are lost, but they would have vanished eventually anyway. Sorry if you lost your musings, nothing personal. Also comments won't work for posts older than today. But they should from this post onwards. (EDIT - they do actually)
• Switched to individual archived posts with a sensible name. As you will see if pressing permalink below.
Fascinating stuff, huh?
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:: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 ::
Europe: mixed results for the left as voters punish their governments. An article from me in this weeks Scottish Socialist Voice.
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You may say that, I couldn't possibly comment.
Russell makes his case for leadership - The Herald "He added: 'I will not lead a party riven by a rabble of narrow sects, determined to impose their views on the majority, no matter the cost. That is not democracy. It is more like a soap opera.'
Asked if his comment that the 'men in grey kilts' should tell John Swinney it was time to go was a prime example of 'disabling dissent', he said he had voted twice for Mr Swinney as leader and was not going to get into a slanging match now."
Hilarious stuff. Mike Russell is the archetype of the sleekit politician.
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:: Monday, June 28, 2004 ::
Get on the mic, Mike
"I think it will take five years." Winnie Ewing's timetable for Scottish independence. Time for a lie down I think Winnie. Remember "Scotland free in '93", and that at least was coined at a time of rising fortunes for the SNP and the biggest ever opinion polls in favour of independence.
Meanwhile it looks like former SNP Chief Executive Mike Russell is to stand for the leadership post. Russell is one of the sharpest operators in the SNP but seems to lack that vital political skill of getting on with the others in his own party. Mike sounded rather like Emperor Palpatine when he said of John Swinney "he's a nice guy who has always put the party first before his own interests" - translation "you're weak John, resign now". This saw him condemned by Swinney at the weekend in rather forthright terms.
You could almost say the opposite of Mike "he's not a nice guy and always puts himself before the party."
Mike couldn't win a winnable place on the SNP list for the last elections and so missed out on a seat in the parliament. So not much chance of Mike winning the leadership. Pity, it would at least be entertaining.
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:: Friday, June 25, 2004 ::
And did these feet...
Euro 2004 - Altogether Now? Another comment on English nationalism, British nationalism, football and all that stuff from Andy Newman at the Socialist Unity Network. A little late admittedly following the dramatic events of last night (sales of toblerone plummet in England.)
The other thing worth remarking upon is that what is being celebrated is English and not British nationalism, and this has been a development of really just the last 15 years. This is a complex phenomenon that needs separate examination; however it is my view that English nationalism is not necessarily more reactionary than Welsh or Scottish nationalism. Certainly the myth that England supporters are more right-wing than Scottish ones needs to be punctured, I have heard Scottish fans chanting "there's only one Bomber Harris" at the Germans.
English nationalism is arguably a less virulent strain than British nationalism, and perhaps is more racially inclusive. I have been surprised to see so many young Asian men wearing England replica shirts this year. England as a concept is also strangely linked to football, rather than the imperial legacy or pre-industrial myths about Robin Hood and the "Norman Yoke". I am making no claim that it is progressive, but it is a new development that needs more than a knee-jerk reaction. Many of the people displaying England flags will be opposed to the war in Iraq, and anti-racist.
So if you like sport, enjoy the tournament. If you find the excessive show of nationalism oppressive, welcome to the club! - But it is not the return of the third Reich.
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:: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 ::
Faster than a speeding icepick
Mark Millar, Scottish comics author and current writer of the likes of spiderman and x-men on his alternate Superman 'Red Son' story.
I was raised in a very politicised working-class home in Coatbridge, with more than its fair share of left-wing literature lying around. My father was a union guy with a sympathy for communism and one of the earliest stories I remember writing to please him was a Soviet superhero thing. America had Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, etc. But who did Russia have to patrol the rooftops? KGB spy satellites? What I created in the pages of an old school jotter was the Soviet answer to Superman, his costume based on the flag of the USSR. Just as Superman stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way, this guy stood for Stalin, International Socialism and the glorious Five-Year Plan.
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:: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 ::
Mr Swinney has left the building.
BBC NEWS | Scotland | Under-fire SNP leader to quit
Hold the front page.
Swinney has been made an offer he couldn't refuse. The men in grey kilts have popped in for a cup of tea. The 'bradford and bingley' nationalist has closed his account.
So who will replace him?
Nicola Sturgeon? Highly capable and practically runs the party anyway, but generally regarded as having a limited public appeal. An element of sexism amongst voter perception there unfortunately for Nicola.
Alex Neill? Will probably stand, but shouldn't hold his breath.
Rosanna Cunningham? The frontrunner, has moved to the right and away from her 'republican Rosanna' image. Good with media. Broad appeal despite being a treckie.
Kenny MacAskill? God help them if they select this balloon.
Mike Russell? Not an MSP and has probably got up too many people's backs. One of the party's senior thinkers though.
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:: Monday, June 21, 2004 ::
Sincerest form of flattery
BBC NEWS | Scotland | Fitness test plan to beat obesity
"The SNP also wants wider entitlement to free healthy school meals and for provision to be trialled for all pupils in the first three years of school."
Where on earth did they get that idea from I wonder ; )
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Further to the post and discussion below, whether or not you can 'claim' the St. George Cross is a controversial debate on the left. I recall a recent exchange between Billy Bragg and Labour MP Martin Linton in the Guardian. When Tommy Sheridan suggested that the left could claim that flag he was met with a stony silence at a Socialist Alliance meeting in London.
Personally I don't care too much for waving national flags but if black and Asian englishmen and women want to wave that flag, then I don't have a big problem with it.
The bigger question is claiming the real history of England as a history of ordinary folk. The Communist Party history group did a lot of work on this with historians like EP Thompson and Christopher Hill showing the real radical history of the English people from the peasants revolt to the civil war to the general strike and battle of Cable Street.
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:: Thursday, June 17, 2004 ::
Reading an interesting analysis of the European elections and the UKIP (What is the Significance of the UKIP? on Marxsite) I wondered about the following assesment of England supporters and nationalism.
These reactionary tendencies have led to a resurgence of English nationalism, represented by the hundreds of thousands of English flags, (the Cross of St George replacing the bloody Butcher’s Apron, the ‘Union Jack’), flown from cars, pubs and houses during football matches featuring England. This is not a neutral phenomenon but part of the culture of white, male-dominated, bone-headed English racism and xenophobia – a culture deeply hostile to multiculturalism and ethnic diversity.
I'm not entirely convinced by this. When I was in Brixton to see the Pixies, the local shops all had displays of England flags etc. A friend tells me this was not the case during the world cup.
Is it not the case that English black and asian supporters are now more comfortable waving the St George cross?
As a recent Guardian article by an Asian journalist put it:
My patriotism is based not on blind faith or intolerance but on reason and rationalism. I support England - in football, if not cricket - because England is my home. I like the country that we can be, and each time I or anyone on the progressive left wears or displays the flag, we are helping to change England, to make it more a country that can revel in benign and inclusive patriotism, and less a nation of racists and bigots. When I was younger I agreed with George Bernard Shaw on patriotism; now I am convinced he was wrong. Patriotism need not be left only to the scoundrels. But it requires others, and not only Muslims, to say: this is also our country, and this is also our flag.
Not actually living in England I may have a skewed view of the subject. I would be interested in the opinions of English readers in the comments.
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:: Monday, June 14, 2004 ::
Scottish Euro Results
Results from the BBC
5.2% for the SSP in Scotland 6.8 % for the Greens.
So no seats for either in the euro parly.
For the SSP this is an increase on our percentage at the last European election but down on our nationwide percentage at the Scottish Parliament elections. With the loss of a seat we needed around 10% of the vote to get in, never a very likely proposition.
Turnout in our strongest areas was substantially down, hitting only 10% in Pollok. I would say that our support just didn't see the relevance of voting and stayed at home. So a disappointment but not a disaster.
The big story in Scotland is the disaster for the SNP. Despite Labours woes and their anti-war position they still saw a 7.5% drop, the worst performance of any party. The men in grey kilts will definitely be coming for Mr Swinney. For his part Swinney was pinning the blame on "fringe parties". I might have thought he meant the SSP (I'm sure they lost some votes to us) but may also have meant the UKIP whose anti-European stance may have gone down well among the fishing constituency.
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West End Girls and Boys
A day of unbroken sunshine in Scotland is unusual enough. But in Glasgow, unheard of. What's more it was the occasion of Schools Out - Belle and Sebastian and Friends at Glasgow's West End Festival.
As you can see it was a full but very relaxed and happy crowd who came to see a line-up of bands including mother and the addicts, the james orr complex, v-twin, camera obscura, trash can sinatras and of course belle and sebastian.
Camera Obscura (above) were the best of the support acts. The website I have linked to is down at the moment, hopefully as a result of the interest generated by this gig. Hope you like the posterised pic.
Belle and Sebastian didn't disappoint. They made a couple of mistakes, but that is kind of their style. But all in all they were the kings of the west end. It seems that they are having to pay some royalties to the Shadows for one of their songs. I would have thought that David Bowie and Thin Lizzy stood a better chance of getting a cut of a couple of songs from their last album...
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Edinburgh People's Festival News
Edinburgh People's Festival News
The Edinburgh People's Festival has started blogging its news. I used the default Zeldman template for this, needs some tweaking.
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:: Friday, June 11, 2004 ::
English/Welsh Council Results
There is a list of left results here
As you can see Cymru Ymlaen/Forward Wales have won a seat, maybe more to come. Well done!
Three for IWCA in their Oxford stronghold.
Respect didn't make a breakthrough but polled very strongly in Preston.
Bad day for Tony. And there is more to come on Sunday and Monday when the European results come in.
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:: Thursday, June 10, 2004 ::
Don't Forget to Vote
Polling day is here. Hope you remembered to vote if you are living in the EU. The European elections might turn out to be more interesting and unpredictable than most of us thought at first. The surge in support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a right-wing anti-European party, has taken most commentators by surprise.
I must confess to predicting that the UKIP stood zero chance in Scotland. In the last euro elections they got just 1% of the poll here. This time they look likely to take substantially more. Some are even predicting a Scottish seat for UKIP. But the interesting question is the effect this will have on the rest of the parties. If UKIP eat into enough of the tory vote we will see a divided right. There are certainly plenty of factors to ponder. Even if turnout is low (and it doesn't look like being as low as some feared - my polling station was doing brisk business this morning) then the number of hardcore voters each party can get out will be a major factor. For the SSP and Greens this means whether our Scottish Parliament vote can be mobilised to come out and vote again.
The result in England will determine the fate of Respect one way or another. I think the benefits of a united and serious left outweigh the disadvantages of the politics put forward. A defeat for Respect will put the prospect for a united workers' party in England on the back-burner for a whole period. This would be disastrous.
Mr Howard looks like having a bad day. I think Tony Blair will escape once again with the Tories problems taking the attention away from his.
Or I could be completely wrong about everything. It has been known.
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:: Tuesday, June 08, 2004 ::
The new issue of Frontline is available. Check out most of the articles here. There are a couple which are still to be put online but that should be done.
In this issue articles on SSP strategy, the prospects for Respect and the English left, the miners' strike, the national question in the Basque Country and more.
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:: Monday, June 07, 2004 ::
SALUTE THE GLORIOUS ACHIEVEMENTS OF JUAN POSADAS
The British Posadists are widely considered to be the holy grail of obscure, tiny left wing groups in the UK. So imagine my excitement upon finding a new copy of their paper the Red Flag in London. It consisted of 4 pages of closely typed and clearly manually pasted up material, but at the bargain price of 30p. Two of those pages were articles by the late Juan Posadas himself (on science and Michelangelo).
Possibly the Revolutionary Workers Party - British Section of the Fourth International (Posadist) is cashing in on a recent article in the Fortean Times.
The Posadists are famous primarily not for being yet another dogmatic sect but for their particularly eccentric theories. Most famously they believed that flying saucers were evidence of socialist societies in outer space (because Marxism 'proves' that capitalism cannot develop the productive forces needed to reach the required level of technology). More worryingly they were rather keen on the idea of a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the imperialist powers by the USSR and China.
Certainly they are still using the same sort of slogans mentioned in the article "Such appeals for pre-emptive nuclear strikes by the Communist superpowers were accompanied by a techie fanboy’s admiration for the latest Sino-Soviet nuclear hardware. The pages of the British Section’s paper Red Flag were filled with the praises of the Workers’ States’ newest nuclear weaponry: “WE SALUTE THE LAUNCHING OF THE CHINESE MISSILE WITH AN ATOMIC WARHEAD, AS A GREAT SCIENTIFIC ADVANCE OF THE WORKERS’ STATE AND A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE WORLD MASSES.” "
This time the call is to "SALUTE THE GLORIOUS ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE CHINESE ASTRONAUTS".
There is no website listed for the RWP BSFI (P) nor are there details of subscribing to their paper or joining their group in "red flag", but there is a PO BOX in Birmingham.
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:: Friday, June 04, 2004 ::
Off to see the pixies in London this weekend. What more is there to say?
Guardian review of the first night contains this classic line
"despite singer Frank Black's claim that the band has reformed "for the money", he has clearly not spent the past decade starving"
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:: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 ::
Food: The New Tobacco
Harvard Magazine: The Way We Eat Now, Ancient bodies collide with modern technology to produce a flabby, disease-ridden populace.
More on the debate around food and obesity. The article above provides some astonishing facts particularly focusing on the obesity explosion in the US. It points to Mediterranean countries like France and Italy as healthier examples, which they are with their 'slow food' culture and greater consumption of foods like olive oil and fresh fish. However the trend even in these countries is towards increased instances of childhood obesity.
The article points out that weight runs a close second to tobacco in the 'cause of death' league tables. And the poor are the worst affected.
"All demographic segments are fattening up, but the growth in adipose tissue isn't random. "The highly educated have only half the level of obesity of those with lower education," Willett says. A recent paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition argued that the poor tend toward greater obesity because eating energy-dense, highly palatable, refined foods is cheaper per calorie consumed than buying fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. At the Oldways conference, Foreyt noted that 80 percent of African-American females are overweight, and that Hispanic women were the second-heaviest group. he last to fatten will be rich white women," he observed."
The shortage of time available for food preparation in families where both parents are working is another factor. Now the likes of Norman Tebbit and the right argue that this places the blame with women, who are going out to work instead of staying at home to look after the children and make a nourishing meal for hubby like God intended. In fact if both parents had more time then this could address this problem. One start would be to introduce a 35 hour working week - like the have in France. The Mum and Dad would have more time and be less likely to join the queue at Burger King.
And what about TV and advertising?
"But the most powerful technology driving the obesity epidemic is television. "The best single behavioral predictor of obesity in children and adults is the amount of television viewing," says the School of Public Health's Gortmaker. "The relationship is nearly as strong as what you see between smoking and lung cancer. Everybody thinks it's because TV watching is sedentary, you're just sitting there for hours—but that's only about one-third of the effect. Our guesstimate is that two-thirds is the effect of advertising in changing what you eat." Willett asserts, "You can't expect three- and four-year-olds to make decisions about the long-term consequences of their food choices. But every year they are subjected to intensive and increasingly polished messages promoting foods that are almost entirely junk." (Furthermore, in some future year when the Internet merges with broadband cable TV, advertisers will be able to target their messages far more precisely. "It won't be just to kids," Gortmaker says. "It'll be to your kid.")"
We have already seen this in the UK with highly sophisticated marketing campaigns aimed at kids by makers of sugary cereals. The advertisers are just doing their job. Maybe the politicians should start doing their job. And maybe we all should play our part too. You don't have to knock over a McDonalds like Jose Bove, but fighting for more equality, better access to healthy food for kids through free school meal and other programs, and more control over the food industry and advertising is a start.
Maybe we need to do something before we become even more like the League of Fatties from Judge Dredd!
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The 'Is it fair' campaign had a protest against the council tax last Saturday in Edinburgh.
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:: Tuesday, June 01, 2004 ::
Live at Edinburgh Usher Hall
28th May 2004
The awesome voice from Cape Verde was in town on Friday. Support came from Modeste Hugues, just guitar and a percussionist. His guitar style reminded me of Dick Gaughan of all people. Good stuff and you can check out some samples on his website.
Cesaria Evora from the poverty stricken Cape Verde islands, plays barefoot on stage to remember the worlds poor. But the evening was about enjoyment. At first I thought it might be a bit of a stilted gig, with an older seated audience and in a venue that is anything but intimate. But the lighting (yes I'm talking about the lighting) managed to create the atmosphere of a smoky little bar in Lisbon. The audience too surprised me, with people actually getting up and dancing at the front of the stage. Yes, in Edinburgh, at the Usher Hall. Whatever next?
Cesaria was extremely cool. Announcing in Portuguese that she was having a break she sat down at a little table on stage and smoked a cigarette whilst the band played an instrumental. Same routine with the encore, she wouldn't come back on till she finished her ciggy. From a look at her website it seems she has had a pretty interesting life with three kids with different fathers. She had a bit of a struggle with the bottle until 1994 "when I ordered a whisky in a bar and heard people making remarks, I'd order another one, a double, so at least they had something to talk about."
The only down point of the night was the fact that the Usher Hall swallows up camera flashes. The pic above was the best I could do.
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