Why I’m Voting Yes

I’ll be voting for Scottish independence in next month’s referendum, and obviously not for ethnic-nationalist reasons – I have no Scottish blood as far as I’m aware (although the Scots may have some Syrian), and my mixed-up accent is far more English than not. Furthermore, I reject the simplistic ‘Braveheart’ narratives of uninterrupted Scottish victimhood. There’s an ex-mining town not far from here named Patna – after the Indian city – and in Sri Lanka the tea plantations bear Scottish names. Scots played an essential role in the British empire, and over the centuries Scottish as well as English landlords and industrialists have exploited the poorer Scottish classes (at some points driving them off their land en masse).

Continue reading “Why I’m Voting Yes”

Politics not Theology

DSCI0206This was published by the National. If you’d prefer to read my tense choices, before the subediting process, read this version here.

I live in Scotland, where I am witness to the continuing legacy of Protestant-Catholic communal hatred, despite the theological indifference and general irreligiosity of the populace.

The hatred is most commonly activated by the Rangers-Celtic football game. (In his great novel “Kieron Smith, Boy”, James Kelman brings it viscerally alive through the mouth of a Glaswegian child.) It is manifest too in Orange Order marches and schoolyard slurs. It intersects with the gang violence of the ‘schemes’. Most of the time, of course, it’s absent, or it emerges as friendly competitiveness rather than actual conflict, but you can bet your last communion wafer that it would blossom into something much fiercer if, in the event of political crisis, a divide-and-rule tyrant were to send Catholic militia in to pacify restive Protestant areas, or vice versa.

Like Scotland’s sectarians, Syria’s Alawis are usually largely secular and ignorant of their own theology (at least they were – a war-driven religious revival is touching them as well as the Sunnis). Over the last four decades Alawi religious scholars have been assassinated or otherwise silenced by the Assad regime as it sought to render the community entirely dependent on the Ba‘athist state. Most Alawis (by no means all) continue to support Assad because they have no other community leadership. Add to this that many have relatives working in the security forces, and so fear a loss of privileges and even violent revenge when the regime falls. Alawis also remember their historical marginalisation by the Sunni majority, and therefore fear majority rule.

As in Iraq, Palestine-Israel, or Northern Ireland, the conflict in Syria is not about theology but about group fears and resentments. Ultimately, it’s about power. Communal tensions are the result not of ancient enmities but of contemporary political machinations. And nothing is fixed in time. Syria’s supposedly ‘Sunni rebellion’ (which contains activists and fighters of all sects) becomes more or less Islamist in response to rapidly-changing political realities. A few months ago, for example, Islamist black flags dominated demonstrations in Raqqa, in the east of the country; now Raqqa’s demonstrations are as likely to protest Jabhat an-Nusra, the extremist militia which nominally controls the city, as the regime. This isn’t an Islamist rebellion but a popular revolution. As in Egypt, if the Islamists oppress the people or fail to deliver, they too will be revolted against.

Continue reading “Politics not Theology”

Politics not Theology

DSCI0206This was published by the National. If you’d prefer to read my tense choices, before the subediting process, read this version here.

I live in Scotland, where I am witness to the continuing legacy of Protestant-Catholic communal hatred, despite the theological indifference and general irreligiosity of the populace.

The hatred is most commonly activated by the Rangers-Celtic football game. (In his great novel “Kieron Smith, Boy”, James Kelman brings it viscerally alive through the mouth of a Glaswegian child.) It is manifest too in Orange Order marches and schoolyard slurs. It intersects with the gang violence of the ‘schemes’. Most of the time, of course, it’s absent, or it emerges as friendly competitiveness rather than actual conflict, but you can bet your last communion wafer that it would blossom into something much fiercer if, in the event of political crisis, a divide-and-rule tyrant were to send Catholic militia in to pacify restive Protestant areas, or vice versa.

Like Scotland’s sectarians, Syria’s Alawis are usually largely secular and ignorant of their own theology (at least they were – a war-driven religious revival is touching them as well as the Sunnis). Over the last four decades Alawi religious scholars have been assassinated or otherwise silenced by the Assad regime as it sought to render the community entirely dependent on the Ba‘athist state. Most Alawis (by no means all) continue to support Assad because they have no other community leadership. Add to this that many have relatives working in the security forces, and so fear a loss of privileges and even violent revenge when the regime falls. Alawis also remember their historical marginalisation by the Sunni majority, and therefore fear majority rule.

As in Iraq, Palestine-Israel, or Northern Ireland, the conflict in Syria is not about theology but about group fears and resentments. Ultimately, it’s about power. Communal tensions are the result not of ancient enmities but of contemporary political machinations. And nothing is fixed in time. Syria’s supposedly ‘Sunni rebellion’ (which contains activists and fighters of all sects) becomes more or less Islamist in response to rapidly-changing political realities. A few months ago, for example, Islamist black flags dominated demonstrations in Raqqa, in the east of the country; now Raqqa’s demonstrations are as likely to protest Jabhat an-Nusra, the extremist militia which nominally controls the city, as the regime. This isn’t an Islamist rebellion but a popular revolution. As in Egypt, if the Islamists oppress the people or fail to deliver, they too will be revolted against.

Continue reading “Politics not Theology”

Alex Salmond on Scottish Independence

David Frost speaks to Alex Salmond on Scottish Independence and Paul Krugman on the private debt crisis.

Many Scots now want to leave the UK, but will it be enough to win a referendum on independence in 2014? Sir David Frost speaks to the man who has led the movement for independence, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond.

Scotland strikes twice against Apartheid

Given their history Scots know a little about colonialism: It is unsurprising then that they should have little tolerance for it. This has been demonstrated yet again in two striking developments in the past few days. From the Jewish Chronicle:

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has called for legal action and a review of trading relationships with Israel after David Miliband announced that Britain formally blamed the country for cloning UK passports during the Dubai operation…

Mr Salmond said that Mr Miliband’s actions were “not enough”…

“Stealing peoples’ passports – and indeed the assassination – must be a criminal offence. Surely, if the Foreign Secretary has now identified to his satisfaction that Israel is responsible, then he should be thinking of legal action.

“In terms of the relationship with the Israeli government, it should be more than expelling a diplomat, there should be implications, for example in trading relationships.

“You can’t have normal relationships if you believe another country has been involved in what Israel has been involved in, according to the Foreign Secretary…whatever measures you take, it cannot just be a diplomatic dance.”

In another groundbreaking development, which has implications for solidarity activist around the world at a time when the Israel lobby is using its power to skew Western legal systems against any dissent or protest against its actions, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign have won a major victory against this criminalization of dissent.  Here’s the SPSC’s full press release:

‘RACISM’ CHARGE DROPPED AGAINST ISRAEL PROTESTORS

Five Palestine campaigners who contested the relevancy of a ‘racially aggravated conduct’ charge in relation to their protest against Israel’s blockade of Gaza had all charges against them dropped today.

The campaigners, all members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), had interrupted the August 2008 Edinburgh Festival concert by the Jerusalem Quartet. Tours by the classical musicians are regularly sponsored by the Israeli Government, which the campaign group claims makes them a legitimate target for protest.

Continue reading “Scotland strikes twice against Apartheid”

After Iraq, it’s not just North Korea that wants a bomb

Steve Bell on the new nuclear arms race
Steve Bell on the new nuclear arms race

The ‘international condemnation’ of North Korea’s nuclear test on Monday was severely lacking in credibility for its fantastical double-standards, writes Seumas Milne, who argues only radical disarmament can halt their spread.

Here in Scotland the SNP made an attempt to seek support from this same ‘international community’ to rid the country of its nuclear weapons, which are stored in a naval base on the River Clyde. In October 2007 First Minister Alex Salmond wrote to representatives of 189 countries signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, seeking ‘observer status’ as defence is not an area devolved to Holyrood. The renewal of the Trident missiles is set to run into the tens of billions over the next 20 years, with the parent Westminster government insisting this is a necessary “deterrent” to protect “national security interests”. Sadly the list of replies were published last summer showing there to be little international support for this brave move from a minority administration.

This example reflects Milne’s Guardian article nicely I think.

The big power denunciation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons test on Monday could not have been more sweeping. Barack Obama called the Hiroshima-scale ­underground explosion a “blatant violation of international law”, and pledged to “stand up” to North ­Korea – as if it were a military giant of the Pacific – while Korea’s former imperial master Japan branded the bomb a “clear crime”, and even its long-suffering ally China declared itself “resolutely opposed” to what had taken place. Continue reading “After Iraq, it’s not just North Korea that wants a bomb”

Blue Gold

Sunday, March 22 was World Water Day. The environment editor of the Sunday Herald Rob Edwards did a decent report on the growing water crisis around the world which includes interviews with my friends Tommy Kane and Kyle Mitchell, two of the world’s leading experts on water. However, the article did not emphasize how privatization is exacerbating the crisis. Here I produce in full warnings from both Tommy and Kyle, who later today will also be introducing the Scottish premiere of the award-winning film Blue Gold: World Water Wars at 7pm in Strathclyde University’s McCance Building, Lecture Theatre 1. (There will be a wine reception to follow.) The event is open to all, so if you are in the vicinity do drop by.

Tommy writes:

In Scotland despite – or possibly because of – the overwhelming rejection of water privatisation at the now famous Strathclyde referendum there has been a concerted, clever and tacit campaign by legislators, regulators, think tanks and businesses to turn Scottish Water into a private company in all but name. By changing its corporate structure, outsourcing contracts to private companies and tapping into the Private Finance Initiative a public sector body has been almost overwhelmingly commercialised. Worryingly, these changes are conducive to a future private ownership structure.

Continue reading “Blue Gold”