Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Ragged Saltire

There's a ragged saltire flag hanging on a bit of broken brush handle. It waves in the breeze from a bracket attached to the lintel of an upstairs room window. It's been there for years, for as long as I can remember. When a child, I was warned to stay away from the man who lived in that house, he was a nationalist.

When in my young teens, my parents moved us to the next town, work for my father there, and a modern house with central heating and we were in the queue to get a telephone. Occasionally, my mother took me on visits to my aunt who still lived in the street where the ragged saltire flag hung. As time passed the blue faded and the white stained, and the edges frayed, but it still hung on, waving gently in the wind as I passed.

When my aunt died, I saw the man who lived in the house with the saltire for the first time. He didn't speak to me, and probably did not know my name, though he followed the funeral procession with dignity, dressed in tatty black suit and tie, worn heeled shoes, and I noticed as he turned to bow his head as the coffin was taken from the hearse, a small metal badge of a saltire on his lapel.

Later at the wake, he stayed for only a few minutes, passed on his condolences, and left quietly. I overheard my uncle making excuses for him to an acquaintance, the acquaintance turning and nodding in understanding, the man was a nationalist.

When I was old enough to leave school, I started work in the company that employed my father. The day I started work was the same day I joined the union. It was a steelworks, my father worked a crane in the mill and I was a labourer. It was physical work, hot and hard, and at the end of every shift I left exhausted, but exhilarated also, because I was a worker and could hold my head up high.

My father carefully explained the voting process to me when I became old enough to vote, he showed me the correct box to mark was the one alongside the Labour candidate. I did my duty and voted without question. We were a Labour family, in a Labour street, in a Labour town.

My uncle died just before the general election that returned a Conservative government. At his funeral, I saw the man again whose ragged saltire flag still hung, precariously now, by threads from the wooden brush pole attached to the lintel of an upstairs window. He was dressed as before, old black suit and tie, worn down shoes, and the same badge on his lapel. He seemed much older now. He was a nationalist, but I now knew a bit about nationalists, they had opinions, though I still remembered being warned to stay away from him as a child.

I never got a chance to speak to him, though I was curious to do so, for I read the papers and watch the news, and nothing much is said about the nationalists, so I did not know much about them. But I was a Labour man, in a Labour street, in a Labour town, so it did not matter much that I didn't speak with him. He left the wake quietly after passing on his condolences to my uncle's daughter, my cousin, whom my father thought a Liberal, due to her ambition to be a teacher.

Margaret Thatcher didn't just close the steelworks where I was employed, and my father was employed, and half the street in which I live were employed. She also closed the steelworks in the next town along, and the town just past that. The local coal mines closed down, and railway shunting yards became overgrown with weeds, and rusting coal trucks began to decay, like the social structure in the world I breathed in.

I used to walk for miles each day back then. I had nothing else to do, and had grown fed up sitting in the social club, talking of the old days of Labour, and drowning in sorrow and alcohol about all that was lost when the English let the Tories in. Occasionally I would venture into the yard of a workplace that still showed industry, but often was chased out the gate before getting to ask if there was work going for a healthy body with a willing mind.

I happened down the street where I lived as a child, and where my aunt and uncle lived till they died. My cousin, the school teacher lives on in the house of my uncle. She bought it from the council and installed a new door, and her neighbours envy her and hate her. Across the road, I notice the saltire is hanging still, and I wonder how the nationalist is doing, but there's no sign of life, from her side, or his, as I walk on by.

The last time I was drunk was when New Labour got into power with Tony Blair. It was as if fresh life was instilled in the community. For days, everyone had a surprised smile on their face, and a spring in their step. In our street, we were all Labour voters, in a Labour town, in a Labour country, and Labour now had power. We all expected miracles of economic revival and had optimistic future expectations. This we had been promised for years.

I actually found a job when Labour was in power, it lasted two years, and it paid the minimum wage which Labour introduced, so I suppose for at least two years they did more than the Tories did for me in eighteen. My mother was glad that the army I had tried for when younger, rejected me as unfit, for Tony Blair began wars.

It was in a supermarket that I first spoke to the nationalist. Unbeknown to me he was an area manager for the chain, and he interviewed me for a temporary job. A six week training stint called some fancy title that was catchy to the media but meant nothing in reality, to either me, or the supermarket, or the government. I would learn how to stack shelves for six weeks.

The nationalist, whom I was warned to stay away from as a child, and who remained a mystery to me as I grew up, was pleasant to me. I was dismayed at the fact that I never associated the nationalist as a worker. I had believed he was some alien creature who couldn't be trusted because he wasn't Labour. This was what I was led to believe.

My father is dying, he is old and withered, and I would love to ask him about politics, but I know it would upset him that I no longer have any sense of belonging to the Labour party. I am afraid if I upset him, he will have his final seizure. I would rather not be the cause of it, so I keep quiet about politics.

When devolution came to Scotland, I was in London. That was where the work was, and that was where I worked on this and that building site. I helped build the headquarters of big banks and insurance groups and financial trading organisations. Brick by brick exiled Scots and Irish built them up.

I missed my father's funeral because I had succumbed to the greed is good mentality that permeates through London society. I would have lost my job if I had taken the time off. I regret it, but it is in the past now, and I've realised that money is important, but it has no true moral value in any fair society.

I returned to Scotland when my mother died, the week following the SNP winning a majority in the Scottish elections. My mother voted Labour because my father voted Labour. I was surprised to see the nationalist at her funeral. He nodded to me and I nodded back. At the wake he came over and spoke to me. He was as I remembered him when he interviewed me for the position of trainee shelf stacker. He apologised for that, it was company policy. I laughed at my mother's wake at this.

Scotland was different now. It was different because the nationalist wasn't a pariah, or a minority, or extreme, in any regard. He belonged to a growing mass of the population of the country, and the SNP government, despite being constrained by Westminster, was doing popular things that the people in Scotland wanted done.

The Conservatives are in a coalition with the Lib-Dems at Westminster now. The Scottish people don't want either, and they also don't want Labour. I grew up in a Labour family, in a Labour street, in a Labour town. I will never vote Labour again, I have become a nationalist.

One day I walked down the street where I was born. My cousin the school teacher, who lived there, married an architect, sold her house, and both moved to Aberdeen. The nationalist has a new saltire, it is bright, and fresh, and clean, and billows magnificently in the breeze as I approach. He has retired now, he is at the window, and gives me a wave as I pass by. I wave back and smile.

The independence vote is coming soon. I remember when I was a child and was told to shun the nationalist. I am the nationalist now, perhaps I always was. Scotland is different today, there is hope in the air, in the breeze that billows the saltire. People expect more and want society to improve. I don't talk about politics much, but I talk about fairness, and aspirations, and the future, and how optimistic I am. Perhaps I do talk about politics.


The above is a work of fiction, though quite relevant I feel, to the political climate in Scotland at the moment, so I have posted it here.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

No Wiff-Waff in the White House

Not known for my streak of cynicism, and always willing to think the best of people having a short break and a few nice days together with far flung friends, I thought the wee visit of the Cameron's to new BFF-pals the Obama's went down well. Nice to talk about sporting tactics and special relationships on the hot seats at the basketball game rather than mixing work with pleasure and deciding strategy on chequerboard Earth. Hotdogs go down better when the indigestion isn't still reeling from the latest war-worn news of the recent raft of teenage casualties and psycho-killer qu'est que c'est exploits from Afghanistan.

Ah, Afghanistan, Af-ghan-is-tan (Writing a song in my head here, emulating the efforts of The Stranglers when they wrote such compelling and melodic ditties as 'Shah Shah a Go Go'). That old Shah of Iran, before Obama's time, was an old friend of the United States; don't know if he ever got BFF status, the 19 gun salutes and red carpets though, or was ever taken to the basketball court in a jet plane. He moved of course, well friends come and go, only the new tenants in charge of Iran aren't very friendly, they don't want to play ball.

So, of course, not everyone's like me, there are some sceptics out there, and what do they think is discussed between courses in the White House, over the rich mahogany dining table? What subject do you think the most powerful man in the free world would want to talk about while the plates are cleared and the after-eights opened with abandon? "How's that Scottish thing going down, Dude? I hear the Scots want independence? What will you do with your nukes, Davie boy, the Scots don't want them?"

Back at the ranch, it's come to attention that those other pesky bad neighbours, the Iranians, are becoming the neighbours from hell, they're getting a bit above themselves; they want a nuclear device of their own. They're a bit insular and aloof, won't come to any parties, won't even give the neighbours a friendly nod in passing.

Perhaps Afghanistan, that hot potato in the dining room, could be left on its own now, eleven years of enforced civilisation is enough for any land, the pawns need a wee break too, before we decide and move the pieces back into another fray. Iran should be more pally wally rather than left out in the cold to fester all alone. We'd only be doing them a favour after all. "This chess game is great, Barack! Can we please keep our nukes, you know we'll do anything to keep them? By the way, you've got such strength, moral authority and wisdom, really you have!"

So is anything decided, or even implied, or is the talk as trivial as about the weather and the cost to the respective tax-payers of the shopping sprees by the wives. The table-tennis tournament was cancelled when the 'made in China' sticker was found under the table, no wiff-waff in the White House - under the table, isn't that metaphorically where the real humdinger deals are made? Hmm, what happens when a Somebody meets a nobody, who's a wannabe Somebody? "I'll give you a shout and tell you what to say when I need you to say it out loud, Davie Boy."

The Cameron's come home, David won't shut up about how super smashing it is to go Airforce One, more legroom than BA, and RTFM for the new barbeque all the way home, he can't wait to grill Lord Fraser. Much to the chagrin of Sam; she contents herself with looking forward to boasting how she gave Michelle tips on avoiding split-ends, and on how reflective the White House en-suite bathroom mirror was...

Meanwhile, there's a row been brewing back home, that darned aforementioned Lord Fraser, opening his big mouth and telling all and sundry about threatening to test the latest laser guided bombs on Scotland. Before we could ask the go-ahead from the BFF. Still, we get to keep our nukes, as long as we keep up with the installments, and ask "how high?" when required to jump. And the Iranians, well, they're not allowed nukes, and if we can't bomb the Scots, who knows?

Wee exchange of pressies.
The game originated as an after-dinner parlour game, commonly known as wiff-waff.

Some Lordy type who thinks maybe bombing your neighbour is friendly fire.

Some music that may or may not have any relevance.
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
Shah Shah a Go Go - The Stranglers
Nuclear Device -The Stranglers

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Why All the Hot Air About Wind Turbines?

A wind turbine is a device that creates electricity from the forces of nature. The wind rotates the blades that in turn through a gearbox spins a shaft in a generator to produce electricity. They are usually built in arrays containing numerous turbines called wind farms. Take a drive around the countryside or coastline of Scotland today and you are bound to see one or more in action.

Green energy, or renewable energy, are the words usually associated with electricity generated from wind, and increasingly more so also, from the actions of the sea using tidal generators for the purpose of electricity. The blowing of the wind and the sweep of the tides, are a force of nature, so will always be there. Wind turbines seem to cause the most controversy though, for as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to view to some, they are a blight on the landscape to others. There is debate about rich landowners creaming the public purse for rent to site them on their land, there are some complaints about noise, and hazards to wildlife such as bats and birds. The criticisms may or may not be valid, and if proven so once sufficient research has been conducted, there may become new ways to site wind turbines that may improve on their deficiencies. Complaints should be listened to, and compromises and actions to lessen them are feasible, but complaints should not deter the advancement of a whole new sector of industry, especially when the complaints, though seemingly cried with the loudest of voices, are trivial compared to what other methods of generating electricity may provoke.

The fact is we cannot go on creating gas and coal fired power stations, fossil fuels are diminishing and becoming more expensive, they are dirty and carbon heavy methods of creating electricity; fear of global warming, ozone layer depletion, and pollution means we can no longer entertain these methods of energy production in the future. An independent Scotland will not be building nuclear power stations, and anyone up to date on the recent news from Fukushima in Japan knows an accident, either due to a natural disaster, or action of man, on such a scale on a small country like Scotland, would be beyond comprehension. That is a road we definitely cannot afford to go down, ever.

At the moment, wind turbines are the most popular method of producing clean green energy. They may not be perfect, and despite the fact that wind turbines have been in use since the end of the 19th century, the invention of a Scot, Professor James Blyth (his holiday home in Marykirk, was the world's first-known structure by which electricity was generated from wind power), in recent years they have come to prominence as an important means of supplying energy for the needs of the population in the 21st century. Like all technology in use today though, wind turbines are forever being tweaked and developed to generate the maximum power from the best and most innovative designs. The efficiency of the wind turbine is forever improving, and with every improvement they are becoming more and more attractive and marketable. Already, from land wind farms, we are seeing coastal arrays of turbines. We see experiments in deep water floating turbines, these can be situated out at sea, over the horizon, where not only is the wind more constant, but they will no longer be visible, whether appealing to view or not, from land. There are also experiments being done with air-borne floating rigs, stationed high in the sky, tethered to cables that hold them secure and transmit the generated electricity to the ground for use.

Whatever design will eventually become a standard, it will be a far more economical and efficient model than those in use today. The point is though, that we need the wind turbines we have in use today to be able to improve and innovate for the better machines of tomorrow. You can only improve what already exists, therefore although I have a bit of sympathy for anyone who complains and stamps their feet about wind turbines, it is only a very tiny bit of sympathy, for I'm sure their grand-children tomorrow, would thank them today, for the little hardship they've had to endure, to secure an important source of clean and green renewable energy to power us along the new age.

Some useful links for more information:
Renewable Energy in Scotland

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Put the 'Pro' back into Propaganda

"While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others." (source)

It is a time when there is a very recognizable positivity and excitement in much of the people in Scotland that I interact with on a daily basis, a time of hope and ambition, of new expectations, despite the economic gloom and despair, a time leading up to a fundamental change in the way an individual in Scotland, can literally effect change for the better in their own life, and the lives of their families, and neighbours, and friends. A time when their say and opinion matters, even in a woeful climate of austerity and cutbacks, job insecurity, and a world of seemingly one civil war after another. It is surprising, yet not wholeheartedly unexpected to me, that the people of Scotland can look around, and look to the future, and put a wholly positive spin on their social environment and what path that environment should take. Some may call it rose tinted spectacles, I call it aspiration. I am talking of course of the lead up to the most important answer to the question that will be put to the people of Scotland in 2014, for it is not the question that matters so much, as the answer. I suspect that the answer will be a resounding YES to the proposed question of 'Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?'

Most Scots are not economists, or lawyers, or in charge of huge finances, that have to be moved about to the convenience of some corporation or other, so the correct coloured bars in a chart portray the right message to whatever shareholders need proper returns. Most Scots are normal everyday individuals who see inequality and unfairness around them, and have until recently seemingly accepted this as the lot of the Scottish people. Most Scots are not defence strategists, up-to-the-minute in the foreign affairs of some far off country going through a crisis that may in some way surreptitiously affect the security of Scotland, or understand the dire need to be armed to the teeth, just in case. Most Scots are not historians or verbosely astute in the way of the political intricacies and machinations of new world economics, they just see and recognise injustice and discrimination when it happens around them. Most Scots are not intellectuals, but they are intellectually aware, most Scots are sensible, most Scots have commonsense in abundance, a strong moral code that can sniff a whiff of corruption and wilful manipulation for disagreeable ends a long distance away. Most Scots know one of the places in the UK where commonsense has seldom prevailed is in Westminster, London.

It is dismaying sometimes, reading some of the negative, insulting, and derogatory propaganda that is injected into Scottish society, on a regular basis, from the bowels of the Westminster-United political machine, and the mainstream of the UK mass-media. Much of it is such barefaced fiction, that even the most easily swayed individuals can see it for the untruths it is. Type in google, 'Scotland third world country' and you'll find a raft of entries. Delve deeper and you'll find a range of examples comparable to how in Scotland we'll all be living in caves without the price of a candle to light the dark nights, should we take the plunge and vote for independence.

Under the weight of this constant onslaught of negativity and discouraging prophecy, it is amazing how good and hopeful I feel about the future. I am also, glad to say, not deluded or unique, I am not the only one. Is this barrage of dire propaganda in reality an indirect panacea, irreverently having the opposite to the desired result? In this climate of present day economic tsunami after tsunami, why do I have such a feel-good factor about the future? The force fed diet of hysterical untruths and put downs is turning out to be little more than a placebo having no effect, never mind a desired effect, and in general, when I talk and interact with the people I meet in a daily basis, has in fact, the reverse effect. There is, in reality, instead of doom and gloom, misery and hopelessness, despair and despondency, an expectant air of positivity and excitement around me. It flows from most of the people I meet, and communicate with, it comes with the commonsense approach they have in the way their opinions are formed and their decisions are made, about society and the country and the world around them, about their personal hopes and ambitions, it comes from the fact that we have been bombarded here with so much negativity and put downs, that they no longer have any effect on our psyche, they are meaningless and ineffective, they are unfunny in any respect, but laughable all the same.

Of course, a feel-good factor is one thing, but getting across the message and the answers to a multitude of valid and wide ranging questions regarding the referendum vote and the methods of putting into action the whole process of setting up a newly independent country is another thing entirely. There will be a veritable full flowing stream of wide ranging issues and problems to work out and solve, but this also, is a reason for good positive forward thinking, for commonsense to prevail, and for a new society and a newly found voice to be heard in a wider world.

I am looking forward to the pro-independence parties in Scotland getting together and putting the 'pro' back into propaganda, meaning using the word before the modern day negative connotations became prevalent. Let it no longer be used for an extreme and obscene form of attacking and undermining a whole country of people by a minority group in another, so scared now of losing their precious, they'll practically sink to any depths of despicability to keep it.

The truth is out there, and we don't need Mulder and Scully to investigate for us. The X-files are fiction, just as most of the negative and discouraging propaganda we've been subjected to in Scotland is. As the time for the independence referendum approaches ever closer, I expect the pro-independence parties to not only uncover the truth and belay the lies, but to optimistically portray the way forward for Scotland in the world to come. For every negative viewpoint put forward, I want and expect to hear a veritable raft of new and positive, and viable alternative ideas that will work for the people of Scotland in a fair and equitable way. The whole of Scottish society, young, old, working, unemployed, student, small business, big business, the trade unions, the education and health services, religious organisations, the free and independent media, and the local community clubs and guilds, should all have their say. It is not so much to expect, the Scots have always been an intelligent and innovative people, ready to speak their mind. I have in reality, no choice but to feel optimistic. In the past we have as a nation been responsible for some of the best and most creative innovations and inventions of the world. There is no reason at all why the future will be any different for a Scotland unshackled and free from restraint. The future is out there, and the world is waiting, and it is only a YES vote away.

If you live in Scotland, have your say (consultation is open till the 11th May 2012) Your Scotland, Your Referendum

Monday, 5 March 2012

Let's Get Personal - Personal Electric Transport, that is!

As a follow up to last weeks piece on the electric car, I thought I would gather some information together on personal electric transport. It is true that most cars doing the morning and evening commute are used by the driver alone, and except for cases of car share, or luck when near neighbours happen to live and work at the same place of business, or very close by, it seems that most four or five seat cars, outwith family trips, spend most of their time in motion containing only the driver.

So, why is there not a greater uptake on personal transport, powered transport for the single traveller? It seems to me that as time marches on, and petrol and diesel attain ever higher costs, then it will only be a matter of time before the balance is tipped and personal transport will be the way to go, especially for the shorter trips we routinely take in our everyday lives. The electric car may be an ideal replacement for the standard car, but is the personal electric transport a viable option for some as well, and if so, why isn't it more popular?

At the moment, widespread personal transport consists of the motorcycle, scooter, and the bicycle. Both the motorcycle and the scooter are motorised, require training, a licence, road tax and insurance, plus they have a big disadvantage in the UK due to the weather. The bicycle, being the greenest, is self-powered, gets you from A to B in fine form, apart from a layer of perspiration, a weariness depending on the journey's gradients, and of course, leaves the rider also at the mercy of the weather. After the price of purchase, the bicycle costs absolutely nothing to maintain and run, except perhaps for the occasional puncture repair and a tin of lubrication oil for the chain. The cyclist needs no compulsory insurance, road tax, training, a licence, and parking is free almost anywhere in the UK. Motorcycles and scooters use the main highway to get around, cycles use the main highway when there are no special cycle lanes for exclusive use. These methods of transport are deemed by most to be more dangerous to the rider than other methods of travel. It seems we have now found some of the probable causes as to why personal transport is not so popular as it may be in the UK, one is the danger to the user, another is the weather, and yet another reason, and the most compelling perhaps, I would imagine, is in two parts, on the one side is a mechanised means of transport held back by the constraints of legal conformity, and on the other, there is not so much legal conformity to worry about, but there is the fact that this method requires real physical effort to energise the means.

"Electric bikes, or e-bikes as they are commonly known, may be snubbed by the cycle-snobs but they really are generating excitement in the industry. There has been considerable investment by brands in making them more lightweight, compact, and aesthetically-pleasing..." (Source)

There are a variety of electric bicycles on the market at the moment, and they seem to be under constant development. These electric bicycles don't have the hoops of legal conformity to jump through and I do wonder why they are not more popular when you consider there are purported to be over one million users of motorcycles and scooters in the UK. The e-voyager retailing at £649 inc vat seems to have appeal. There are also on the market now various other methods of personal electric transport, perhaps my favourite (and most desired) is the Segway, but at over five grand to purchase in the UK, the Segway is never going to be popular. Another two-wheel self-balancing transporter is the Ewee-PT, which is far more realistically priced and can be bought for €899.00 (around £750). A small four wheel personal electric transporter is available from Hammacher and retails for $1895 (around £1,200), this is perhaps the most stable to ride, so may suit the more cautious among us. Each of the above have their own unique appeal, but none have reached any real momentum in sales, in fact you would be hard pressed to see any of them in regular use in most areas of the UK.

There does seem to be interesting developments in the field of personal electric transport though, and it may be sooner rather than later that someone or some company creates the right formula for a device that meets the requirements of appeal, usability, and reliability that sparks an excitement in the masses, and will encourage the traveller to reach for the cheque book and make a purchase. When it does happens, it will save them money in transport costs, save them in muscle power, and save them the embarrassment that some of the more eccentric models on the market at the moment may cause. Where is Sir Clive Sinclair when you need him? Oh, he's bringing out his new model!