:: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 ::

100th British Soldier Dies in Iraq

Rapture Your Ass, originally uploaded by azulkali.

Time to go.

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:: Thursday, January 26, 2006 ::

Labour and their Lib-Dem and Tory Pals Bottle It

I wanted to get down to the parliament yesterday to take part in the lobby for the bill to scrap prescription charges, but I was feeling a bit under the weather. Unsurprisingly, Colin Fox's Bill to scrap prescription charges won the debate but lost the vote. New Labour's only argument seemed to revolve around their opposition to the principle of universality, although they would never question this in education or the NHS (just gently erode it.) The executive have been forced to compromise however, and more people will have free prescriptions than before. So something to be proud of, as was Colin's skilled steering of the bill through parliament.

Some extracts from the debate I liked:

Colin Fox's opening speech:

"Finally, I want to touch on the party politicking that is going on in the chamber on the question of prescription charges. Scottish Socialist Party policy is to support the abolition of prescription charges and to support the bill, and that is the position of the Greens and the Scottish National Party. The Liberal Democrats will go into the 2007 Holyrood election calling for the abolition of prescription charges, but they will not vote for it today. The Labour Party policy in Wales was to abolish prescription charges, which, much to its credit, it did in 2003. However, the Labour Party in Scotland refuses to abolish charges—it hasnae got the bottle.

Some cynics have suggested that Labour would back the bill if it had come from a Labour member, but I could not possibly comment. Labour MSPs intend to vote against the bill, while the Labour Party in Wales championed the abolition of prescription charges. The Scottish Executive offers vague propositions in a consultation that begins today, yet there is a bill before the Parliament that would abolish prescription charges and introduce fairness and equality in the national health service. That is the choice for Labour back benchers. Members should support the bill, which I have pleasure in commending to the Parliament."

An intervention from Alex Neil (SNP):

"I found it incredible that Frank McAveety had the cheek and audacity to quote Nye Bevan. If Nye Bevan had been sitting in the public gallery listening to the speeches that have been made by the new Labour members in the debate, he would have been disgusted. It was Nye Bevan, a Labour minister, who introduced the principle of free prescription charges. If those new Labour people had been in the House of Commons in 1945 they would have said to Nye, "You cannae introduce a free health service, because it will help the rich." Is the logic of that that the rich should not get access to a free hospital bed, a general practitioner service, a free operation or child benefit because they are rich? Have Labour MSPs never heard of the principle of universality for certain key services so that we can create a society not just in Scotland but in the rest of the United Kingdom in which we have genuine equality?"

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:: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 ::

Trauma on Loan

You can get Joe Sacco's new piece on Iraq as a pdf from the Guardian.

It is another captivating work from the author of Safe Area Goradze and the rest.

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:: Saturday, January 21, 2006 ::

Suited and Booted

suited and booted, originally uploaded by alister.

Some graf spotted on this weekends flying visit to Amsterdam.

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:: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 ::

Fresh for '06

There are lots of grim and serious serious things in this world to talk about. Like for instance the research on the connection between poor diet and poor mental health. See us Scots? We eat deep-fried Mars Bars, we're pure mental. Literally. Or the research today that indicates that those living in poverty are more likely to experience SIDS.

But maybe its time to cheer ourselves up with some music.

Been checking out a few new music blogs recently, looking for some new sounds for '06.

camera obscura

Check out this wonderful review of Camera Obscura (pictured above at the West End Festival, Glasgow 2004) playing at Edinburgh University (totally missed that one) at Said the Gramaphone.

Said the Gramaphone seems to be a Montreal/Edinburgh collaboration. Montreal is such a great city for bands, lots of them quite arty and experimental. I've been told this is because lots of big business pulled out of the city during one of Quebec's constitutional crises'. Rents were cheap and lots of artists moved in. Both the Francophone and Anglophone scenes are strong. Broken Social Scene are another band from that scene who I have been listening to a lot recently.

A great review of the year at Monkey v's Bear

Rarities and interesting things at The Torture Garden.

Been liking Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Particularly the song 'The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth'. They're playing in Edinburgh in February but I could be lucky to get a ticket, even entered a competition on (the great) Radio 6 Music for tickets. Although I hear they are not a great live band anyway.

Loved the ridiculously catchy Nth Degree from Morningwood.

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:: Monday, January 16, 2006 ::


Billy Bragg, Kelvingrove 1986, originally uploaded by alister.

A while ago I posted about Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow which had an uncertain future. This venue had seen a wide variety of protests and concerts and is an important part of Glasgow's social history. My own experiences there include the Billy Bragg concert for the Labour Party Young Socialists in 1986 pictured above (more on what this was about here), and the two massive anti poll-tax rallies at the end of the 80's.

Now campaigners to save the bandstand are organising a gig to save it.

In an e-mail to Friends of Kelvingrove Park about the bandstand, Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, wrote: “It’s such a fantastic Glasgow landmark and it’s a great wasted opportunity. It’s in such a beautiful setting and restoring it could really enrich the city’s cultural scene.”

Stuart Murdoch, of Belle and Sebastian, added: “I look upon it as one of the spiritual parts of the west end. It’s got a magical atmosphere.”

Teenage Fanclub chose the bandstand as the site for a video for the song Dumb Dumb Dumb from their 2002 album Howdy!. The bandstand and amphitheatre can accommodate 3,000 people seated or 7,000 standing.

Bands who have promised to help include Franz Ferdinand, Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian. Pretty much the royalty of the weegie music scene. Sounds like several benefit gigs to me...or one really good one. Reserve me a ticket please!

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:: Friday, January 13, 2006 ::


It was nice to see Margo McDonald on Politics Now (STV) last night. She looked well and was still doing what she does best, cutting through politicians bullshit. One of the things she did was to express her support for Colin Fox's bill to scrap prescription charges.

Like Margo I was delighted when the Scottish Parliament Health Committee voted to back the bill. In the course of my duties with the Scrap Prescription Charges website, I have been reading through the proceedings of this committee. Colin won the argument on it hands down and tore the executive case to shreds. The committee congratulated him on the quality of his submission. The system as it stands is full of anomalies that no one defends. The Welsh Assembly have already begun scrapping the charges.

The Scottish Executive's main case now is their standard argument against universal benefits. But making a benefit universal is proven to dramatically increase uptake. It is the founding principal of the welfare state and in particular the NHS - universality. The Executive had no problem with it when it introduced free personal care for the elderly. And when you means test a benefit, that needs an expensive bureaucracy. At the very least the time taken to administer charges could be used more effectively elsewhere.

Naturally the Executive will do everything they can to derail the bill. They may have to conceed that the system needs to change. But if just a few lib-dem or labour members break the whip then it will make all the difference. So write to your MSP, write to the papers.

The bill is also an interesting example of the choices posed by devolution. To follow Westminster, or a better example in Wales? What's good for Cardiff is good for Edinburgh.

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:: Thursday, January 12, 2006 ::

No Comment

This blog has never discussed Big Brother. And it's not going to start now.

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:: Monday, January 09, 2006 ::

The Funeral of Allende, Santiago, 89

I've blogged his stuff before, but this is a must see. Marcelo Montecino's pictures of the reburial of Allende in 1989 are powerful and moving.

Salvador Allende was the democratically elected socialist President of Chile. He died in the Presidential Palace in Santiago as Air Force jets bombed it. I visited this site last year. Now it is a working government office again, although bullet holes can still be seen in the walls.

After lying for 16 years in a friend's unmarked tomb, Allende was given a State Funeral by the new democratic government.

Despite the recent and very welcome renewal of legal proceedings against the dictator Pinochet, Chile as a society hasn't really got over the dictatorship and won't until it dumps the rotten constitution imposed by Pinochet.

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:: Saturday, January 07, 2006 ::

Western Sahara

Flickr: Photos from Saharauiak I don't know much about the Western Sahara, a stateless nation currently part of Morroco. But these pictures of beaten demonstrators on Flickr are shocking in anyone's book. I think they are from a Basque Saharan solidarity group.

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:: Friday, January 06, 2006 ::

Why is Scotland sick?

It seems that every day new figures come out exposing the atrocious problems of health, poverty and inequality in Scotland. First came the devasting report in the Scotsman, which compared health figures in different postcodes. Last night Channel 4 News reported that Britain faces a huge rise in cirrhosis of the liver - a potentially fatal condition which can be caused by the consumption of an excess of alcohol. And guess where was soaring ahead of the rest to the top of the cirrhosis charts? You guessed right. Scotland.

It makes one thing clear. Scotland is not one happy nation all gathered round the saltire. We are a nation that is dramatically divided on class lines.

If you come from the poorest areas of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and many other places then there is a good chance you will not be in work, you will smoke and eat poor quality food, drink too much and die younger. Men in the poorest area of Glasgow will, on average, be dead at the age of 54. FIFTY FOUR YEARS OLD. This is a figure that would be shocking in Latin America. It is a figure that would be bad for a developing country. Yet we live in one of the richest nations on earth. We live in a country that is home to the Royal Bank of Scotland who made a record £8 billion in profit last year.

To put this figure into perspective. Only in sub-saharan Africa is the average male life expectancy below 55.

And if you are wealthy in Scotland you are doing well. The wealthiest areas have an average male death rate of 88 years old. This is the highest in Europe, surpassing even Scandinavia. You could be one of the healthiest people in the world.

To quote the Scotsman article "Most ominously, life for the poorest seems to be getting worse. The average life expectancy for those in Third Scotland fell by eight weeks since the last sample in 1992 - over the same period, it rose by two years for Scotland as a whole."

So why do we have this inequality. Why are our poorest citizens so sick? In fact, why do we have so many people still living in poverty?

The issues are complex. Quite clearly the poorest in our society smoke too much, drink too much and eat far too unhealthily. Poverty is at the root of this. In the poorest postcodes a large majority live in workless households. In some areas two-thirds of people are on invalidity benefit. If you live like this then it is harder to find fresh fruit and vegetables. Corner shops in the schemes are not well stocked with them.

In many parts of England you can get access to street markets. This is a great place to get cheap goods, including locally sourced fruit and veg. You can see this type of market in most of the poorer areas in London and in most smaller towns too. For some reason in Scotland we don't have this. Yeah, it's nice to go down to the farmers market here in Edinburgh if you can afford it. Nothing I like better. But most people can't afford to pay £15 for an organic chicken when they can get a factory produced one for £2.50.

If money is tight then you need to make sure that the food you buy is cheap and filling and will not be wasted. So a trip to somewhere like 'Iceland' (cheap frozen food store) is one option. You can buy a huge bag of frozen food made from processed meat or potatoes and covered in batter for maybe £1.50. You know it will be eaten and that your kids will eat it too. Yes, it will give you heart disease, make your children obese and shorten your life. But worrying about that becomes a luxury for the rich, or at least those with a regular wage.

In the first half of the Twentieth Century George Orwell commented about the British working class obsession with gardening. My family mostly came from the mining community and they were all into their gardens. They grew and ate their own vegetables and this was in the centre of industrial areas. But if you come from some schemes its just not an option. Living in a tenement, a flat or tower block? Then you are unlikely to have access to a garden or allotment. By the time it gets to the second or third generation without access to a garden, then the awareness is gone.

The post-war housing scheme (and the pre-war slums) have a lot to answer for and this is just another one to add to the list.

Eating chips and deep-fried whatever alongside pies and crisps and fizzy juice and sweets has just become the culture for working class Scots. Education is part of the answer, and it is what the Scottish Executive (our government in the Scottish Parliament) is relying on. But serious effort and direct action is what is needed now. Healthy, nutritious and FREE school meals for all children in Scotland, regardless of income, in a necessity now. More support for things like food co-ops is also vital. Many communities do things like this. These are small things. Things that can be done cheaply right now if there is a political will. I think more drastic action is needed to tackle the problems in the long term, but this would be a start.

Drinking and smoking are also big killers. Alcohol problems are becoming something of an epidemic in our society. We keep ourselves numb to get through life. When there is nothing down for you, when you live in poverty, then you need it even more. Drink and fags are a coping mechanism. When your skint it is harder to cut down on the booze and fags. I support the ban on smoking in pubs but it won't stop the poorest from smoking.

We need to recreate communities, to bring back the communal. Irvine Welsh wrote a great essay on our violent and alienated communities last year, which I recommend to anyone.

There have been attempts to tackle inequality, through things like tax credits which have helped some out of the poverty trap. But the figures speak for themselves. We need radical action to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland. That means redistributing income, getting people back to work in jobs with decent pay and conditions, and taking control of our own resources. If Venezuela can cut poverty by 7% in a year, so can we.

These are just some initial thoughts. I would be interested in any feedback.

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:: Thursday, January 05, 2006 ::

Super Comrade

Dear Santa next year please bring me a Soviet Superman. I promise I will be very good and work tirelessly in the interests of my fellow workers.

Superman Red Son

Red Son was a re-imagining of Superman by Scots writer Mark Millar and well worth picking up in trade paperback. Kal-El lands in a Ukranian collective farm instead of Kansas and is taken under the wing of kindly Uncle Joe. Of course, in the end it all goes a bit Pete Tong.

Also available: Anarchist dissident terrorist Batman.

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Happy New Year

Welcome back and happy new year to you all. Hope you had a good break.

Normal service should be resumed shortly. I have found that blogger has been acting up for the last couple of days when I have tried to post, so this is something of a test.

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