Primary school politics

Last year, the local council decided that it needed to close some local schools. The process generated a great deal of controversy, because the consultation process was seen by many as a sham. The local Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, came in for particular criticism: she told parents of local schools that the decision was entirely up to the council and then threw her considerable clout behind the campaign to save a single school in the affluent area of Bearsden.

Incidentally, I don’t have a dog in this fight: the school my daughter goes to wasn’t one of the ones marked for potential closure.

In the end, the council decided to close St Joseph’s Primary School, the only Catholic school in the area. The decision was made by 14 votes to 10, with SNP councillors voting against and 9 Labour, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Tory councillors voting for the closure.

So it was rather odd to see our local MP tweet this:

The tweet has led to angry responses from St Joseph parents and a rebuke from the Keep St Joe’s campaign, the very local families who are devastated by the decision. So why are they pissed off at the messenger?

The answer’s simple enough: Swinson’s carefully worded tweet is trying to paint the “SNP govt” as the bad guys, even though the decision to close the school was made by Lib Dem, Labour and Tory councillors – and the Lib Dem councillor for Milngavie, where St Joseph’s is, voted for the school’s closure. He’s the Education Convener.

So how on earth is the government the bad guy here? The answer probably won’t surprise you: it’s spin. Swinson again, replying to a critic:

“Backed”? As Swinson knows very well, the government’s involvement is what’s known as “calling in”, which is when a complaint about a council decision is escalated to the Scottish government.

Calling in is very simple. It’s not up to the government to judge whether the decision is a good one; their remit is merely to ensure that procedures have been followed. If you care about such things it’s detailed under section 17(2) of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which says that a call-in can only be made if ministers believe that the education authority may have failed to comply with the law, or if they have failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to the decision. The “SNP govt” judged that the council had indeed followed procedures. The letter is here if you fancy a read.

I’m picking on my local MP here but this is part of a wider malaise, a kind of playground politics where politicians on all sides indulge in yah-boo attempts to score points off one another and hope that people don’t look beyond the headline or the tweet. It’s no wonder that so many people have become so cynical.

Dad dancing

Time for a new song, I think. This one harks back to one of my musical loves, the KLF, and it’s about men who don’t realise it’s time they grew up. You know the type, the exuberant dancer who doesn’t realise he’s invisible at best and laughable at worst.

As ever, this one’s a free download. If you like it we’d appreciate it if you could share it.

In my head there’s nothing but music

Today’s post title is from erratic musical genius Babybird.

I was late to music – playing it, at least. I was told at eleven that I’d never be musical* (which is a pretty shitty thing to be told by a music teacher, isn’t it?) and I didn’t play my first note on a guitar until I was fourteen. That note was the bass line from Eddy Cochran’s C’Mon Everybody, a song I still love.

I was in bands from about 16 to my mid-thirties, with varying degrees of success: we did some decent gigs but, as I’ve written before, stage fright meant that the live side of things didn’t really do it for me. Unfortunately the bit I really did like, writing and recording, never quite lived up to what I hoped it would be. I’ve never been in a band that had the budget, the time or the expertise to really get things right in recording studios. That’s a real shame, because some of the songs I’ve been involved in over the years have been pretty damn good – which is why I don’t have a problem digging out some of my favourite ones and trying to get them right many years later.

It’s the best part of a decade since I played a gig, and I don’t really miss it – but I did spend a year or two where I wasn’t making music or writing songs, and with hindsight that was a pretty low period. Music’s a crucial part of who I am.

I started doing music seriously again about two years ago, when my brother and musical sparring partner David and I put together DMGM and ended up releasing Good Times, High Times and Hard Times. Thanks to the internet I know exactly how few people give a shit, but that’s not why we do it: we do it because we enjoy making noise. Music is its own reward.

And now there’s a whole bunch more coming.

As with the last album, the stuff we’re doing is all over the place stylistically. There’s NIN stomping and the odd outbreak of disco, some really squelchy electro-pop and some nods to various musical inspirations such as Faith No More, Talk Talk and The Human League. And I genuinely think it’s the best stuff I’ve been involved in: I’ve finally lost my fear of looking like an arse, so the music’s more honest and ambitious than ever before. It’s a pity that I’m doing it at the point in my life when the fewest number of people are likely to care: as much as Bono talks bollocks most of the time, he’s bang on when he talks about the fear that songs you’ve poured years of your life into won’t be heard.

Anyway. Here’s a new song. It’s called All Messed Up and you can have it for free.

This is the first thing we’ve put out since Hope And Faith jinxed the Scottish independence referendum, and it’s going to be joined by others really soon. If you like it you can download it for nothing from our bandcamp page, and if you do please ignore the pay what you want option: the plan is to keep adding tracks as and when we finish them, so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the limit on free downloads. All we ask is that if you like it, please tell someone else about it.

As ever, if you’d like to use our music for anything just drop me a line.

* Some say I’ve spent the 30-odd years since proving that particular point.

Unintended consequences

Inevitable, but unintended: the same remote wipe tech that protects your data from thieves is being used by criminals to outwit the police. BBC News:

Asked whether the police felt that the issue had damaged their investigation, the spokeswoman said: “We don’t know because we don’t know what was on the phone.”

The Magazine Diaries is now on sale

I’m one of 100 contributors to The Magazine Diaries, a book by and about the magazine industry that’s raising money for a good cause.

Here’s the blurb:

In 64 pages, 100 magazine professionals tell their stories, 100 words at a time. All magazine life is here, the optimists and pessimists, veterans and newbies, pixel heads and page sniffers…

Buy a copy. You’ll nod your head, shake your head, throw it across the room then rush to pick it up so you can read the next 100 words. Most of all it will help MagAid get magazines into schools and develop a love of reading in under privileged school children.

What a difference a week makes

I’ve been meaning to write about the referendum result for a while, but I haven’t had the time or the inclination: unfortunately for me it coincided with a particularly nasty bout of depression and some major work stress, so blogging has been fairly low down the list of priorities. I’ve cheered up now.

With hindsight, I of all people should have realised that the online Yes campaign was existing in an echo chamber: when you’re surrounded by people on one side of a campaign, it’s easy to assume that you’re in a majority. Of course it turned out that we weren’t.

I understand the anger and the desire for someone to blame, but allegations of vote rigging are nonsense and claims that No voters were tricked are nonsense too. I’m quite sure very many No voters were just as well informed as their Yes equivalents; they just reached different conclusions because the Yes campaign didn’t answer their questions satisfactorily.

Of course there are headbangers on the No side, as we saw in George Square the night after the referendum. But there are plenty of headbangers on the Yes side too. I think they balance one another out.

That doesn’t mean it was a fair fight, though. I tend to take claims of media bias with a pinch of salt – if the media’s doing its job properly, it’ll piss off somebody – but in the run up to the referendum, the claims had merit. The Yes campaign I encountered online, in the streets and in mass rallies was generous, cheerful, inclusive and multi-racial. The Yes campaign I read about and saw on TV was a bunch of “vile cybernats” and angry men with beards.

While some broadcasters were scrupulously fair – broadcasters such as John Beattie on Radio Scotland and James Cook on BBC TV – others really weren’t. It was particularly noticeable in news programmes and phone-ins, where the former routinely reported scare stories that didn’t add up, personalised the news (“Blow for Alex Salmond”) and continued to give the impression that the Yes campaign and the SNP were the same thing, just like the No campaign wanted them to. The latter treated Yes callers with aggressive contempt while No callers were given more airtime and weren’t challenged on even the daftest claims.

Incidentally, I know many of the people involved in producing those programmes and they’re all good people; the issues I noticed were with particular presenters, not the production teams.

Between that and every single daily newspaper taking the No side, it’s hardly surprising that the Yes campaign didn’t win. What is surprising is that despite having the entire weight of the establishment ranged against it, it still got 45% of the vote. That’s amazing.

I wonder if it would have been higher still if some Yessers hadn’t played into the No campaign’s hands. Calling the Yes campaign “team Scotland” and demonstrating outside the BBC demanding the silencing of a journalist doesn’t play well among undecideds. I suspect current talk of “the 45″ as a movement to take Yes’s place is equally divisive.

Incidentally, I wonder if some of the most passionate pro-independence campaigners were the biggest liabilities. My wife got talking to a local Yes canvasser, and during the conversation the canvasser worked herself into a foam-flecked fury talking about No voters. When a householder told her they were No, she said, she informed them that they were traitors and Quislings. This, in an area of fairly affluent elderly people who don’t use social media and buy the Daily Mail. You can be certain that every single person she said that to told all of their friends about the crazed SNP woman who’d been at their door. My constituency voted overwhelmingly for No.

Anyway, it happened, and now we’re bombing Iraq for the third time at a predicted cost of £3 billion (money we don’t have for the health service or to alleviate poverty, but it’s fine if we want to chuck £27K laser-guided missiles at brown people), the oil isn’t running out after all, more austerity is coming down the pipe irrespective of who wins the 2015 election and the Central Belt of Scotland is going to be fracked for fun and profit. If only there was some way we could have prevented that.

We can’t go back in time, and calls for another referendum are daft. What we can do, though, is try to maintain the energy. I don’t feel like I can go back to numb acceptance now the referendum’s over: if the fight was to have a better, fairer country then that’s something we can still try and achieve. Some of the powers to make that happen are already in the Scottish government’s remit; others should be. I think one of the best ways to influence those issues is to join a political party. In my case that means I’ve joined the SNP; many of my friends have joined the Scottish Green Party. I’ve also found myself joining in crowdfunding projects such as the plans for a Scottish news programme from the people behind the excellent Dateline Scotland.

I suspect that’s going to be more helpful than my other plan, which was to buy loads of badges saying “don’t blame me. I voted Yes.”

I just know that something good is gonna happen

[The title’s from Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting.]

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I didn’t vote in the 1979 devolution referendum for one very good reason: six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote. But thanks to the wonders of the internet and newspaper archives, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened. Scotland was given the chance to vote for devolution (not full independence, just its own Assembly) and the establishment told it this:

  • If you vote No, you’ll still get more powers
  • If you vote Yes, you’ll lose the Linwood car plant, the mines, the shipyards and the steelworks

Scotland voted Yes anyway, but the government decided that too few Scots had voted, so that meant No.

Scotland didn’t get more powers.

It didn’t get to keep the industry either.

The Herald, Feb 28th 1979As a schoolboy, I watched what happened to my home town when the steelworks shut down and all the businesses it supported, from taxis to restaurants, shut down too. Friends’ dads lost their jobs at the Linwood car plant when it closed. I remember being scared of the WH Malcolm trucks with steel mesh over their windows thundering past our town to smash through picket lines. And as an adult, I taught long-term unemployed former steelworkers and shipyard workers how to use computers for the clerical jobs that they and I knew they would never get.

Thirty five years later we’re told that if we vote No, we’ll still get more powers. And we’re told that if we vote Yes, we’ll lose countless jobs, what’s left of the shipbuilding industry and everything else of value.

I’m getting terrible deja vu. The images in this post are from 1979 (courtesy of the Scottish Political Archive), but design aside the poster could be from Better Together and the article from this week’s newspaper.

I’m not an SNP supporter (or a supporter of any other party) and as a part-English, part-Irish, part-Welsh Scot I’m as British as they come. But as a result of lots and lots and lots of research, I’ve gone from a definite No to an enthusiastic Yes. I’m enthusiastic because I’d like to see us become a key player in renewable energy, to see the money we currently spend on nuclear weapons spent on things that really matter, to have a political system that’s more representative, to invest our oil and gas revenues rather than squander them. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I don’t think it’ll be perfect. I’m sure there will be problems to overcome and challenges to face. But I also believe that if we don’t take this opportunity, we won’t get the status quo; we’ll get something much worse.

That’s not why I’m voting Yes, though. My vote is a positive one, not a negative. I’m not voting against Westminster, or reacting against Better Together’s negative campaigning. I’m voting for Scotland. I think we could be an amazing country, and I have faith that the people who live, learn and work here can make something truly special.

We’re living in exciting times, and next week’s vote is an amazing opportunity.

How often do you get the chance to make history?

The referendum isn’t just about Yes vs No. It’s about old media vs new media too

Irrespective of how Scotland votes in next week’s referendum, the campaigning has been notable for the way it’s pitched old media against new media. The newspapers (with the exception of the Sunday Herald and soon, The Sun) and broadcasters have been very heavily in favour of the No campaign, and the Yes campaign has made fantastic use of social media in a way the Nos haven’t been able to replicate. If Scotland votes No it’ll be the mainstream media wot won it; if it’s Yes, online activism deserves a lot of the credit.

Freelance writer Gary Marshall on Apple, technology, music and too much coffee

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