Friday 14 July 2017

Can we talk about racism?

For my Daily Record column

Can we talk about racism? It’s awkward, I know, given that 96 per cent of the Scottish population, and so this readership, is white and doesn’t feel that affected. Also, I bring centuries of my own white, male privilege to the table.

But Tory backwoodswoman Anne Marie Morris has done us a favour and loaned the platform to talk about racism in 2017. 

The deplorable MP managed to perfectly combine the combustible elements of Brexit and casual racism by describing a “no deal” EU exit as “the nigger in the woodpile”.

All white liberals were offended, though I was more astonished that no one at the public meeting Morris spoke to called her out.

But black friends weren’t shocked. “That’s life,” a pal told me the next day.

Even if explicit racism is not in your face, and in the main it is not in cities like London, it is the low hum, lived experience of hundreds of thousands of Britons made to feel different, and judged differently, because of their skin colour.

In Scotland we try convincing ourselves we don’t have much of a problem with racism, perhaps because we’ve spent the energy of generations just facing up to our sectarianism.

But Scotland, like every other part of the UK, has a racist heritage.

The next time you walk up Buchanan Street to Glasgow’s Queen Street station take a good look at the Gallery of Modern Art.

Enormous as it is, the gallery didn’t go up as a civic building. It was the private town house of a Glasgow tobacco trader, our nice way of describing the people who built the city on the back of the triangular Atlantic slave trade.

That’s history, and this week people under 40 needed “n***er in the woodpile” explained to them.

It used to be commonplace and it stems from runaway slaves in the United States. Like “being sold down the river”, it is one of these outdated phrases with resonances of the past.

No one needs lessons in how unacceptable the n word is, though for some reason other terms still appear to be debatable.

Only last week I was lectured by a Scottish exile on how “Paki” is a perfectly acceptable description of anyone with Asian and Glaswegian roots.

“We always called them Pakis, they called themselves Pakis, it is the Paki shop and no one is offended,” insisted this cultural expert, repeating the word, I suspect, to bait me. Drink was involved, I wasn’t going to argue.

“Am I being very politically uncorrect?” asked my tormenter.  

“It’s worse than that,” I replied. “You’re showing your age.”

It is worse than that. While words are weapons, and offensive, they are only the surface of the problem.

Theresa May this week postponed the publication of an “explosive” report on race in Britain which records stark differences in the way people are treated by schools, hospitals, the police, courts councils and employers.

The data shows a middle-aged white person with cancer gets better treatment than someone who is black.  

Yet we persist in seeing race in terms of minority communities not fitting in, despite the fact that most of us will simply never feel what it is like to have to censor yourself to fit in.

In frustration, Reni Eddo-Lodge has written a book on this lack of understanding. It’s called: “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race”. 

She said: “Racism is about discussing white identity. It’s about white anxiety. It’s about asking why whiteness has this reflexive need to define itself against immigrant bogey monsters in order to feel comfortable safe and secure. Why am I saying one thing, and white people are hearing something completely different?” 

Racism isn’t a problem for black or asian Scots, they just deal with the effects. It’s the other 96 per cent of us who have a problem with it. Awkward, I know. 

Sùil Eile air ceol Anna Mhàrtainn

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

Cha robh riamh càil ‘àbhaisteach’ mu Anna Mhàrtainn, an seinneadair ainmeil às an Eilean Sgitheanach.

Tha i an-còmhnaidh a’ toirt blas ùr air an t-seann traidisean.

Nochd i air an deireach seachdain air a’ Bhruaich a Deas ann an Lunnainn le còmhlan raga, a tha a’ toirt ath-nuadhachadh air ceòl tradaiseanta ceann a-tuath nan Innseachan.

Le bhith a’ taghadh ceithir òrain mu dheidhinn eadar-sgaradh, tha Anna agus Jason Singh air ceangal a dhèanamh eadar eachdraidh nam Fuadaichean, eachdraidh Partition anns na h-Innseachan agus an gluasad mòr sluaigh a tha sinn a’ faicinn timcheall oirnn gach latha.

Eòlach ‘s gu bheil sinn air ar sgeulachd fhìn, bha e follaiseach gur e eachdraidh dùinte a th’ ann an sgeulachd teaghlach Jason Singh agus a’ bhuaidh a thug sgaradh mòr nan Innseachan - a stèidhich Pagastan - orra. Tha gu leòr eile ann am Breatainn coltach ris.

Tro chultar agus dùthaich eadar-dhealaichte, tha fuasladh a’ tighinn air a’ chùis.

Tha “Ceumannan”, mar a th’ aca air a’ phròiseact,  cumhachdach, gu math poileataigeach agus drùidhteach.

Sin neart nan seann òran.

Faoidaidh sibh  èisteachd riutha a seo air Radio 3.


There was never anything conventional about Anne Martin, the notable singer from the Isle of Skye.
She always gives us a new taste of the old tradition. 
She appeared last weekend on London’s South Bank with a raga band, which is re-interpreting the traditional music of North India.
Choosing four songs of separation, Anne and Jason Singh have made a connection between the history of Clearances, the Partition of India and the huge movement of populations we see around us each day.
Familiar as we are with our own story, it was clear that Jason Singh’s family story about the effect  of Partition - which created Pakistan - is a closed history. There are plenty others in Britain like him.
Through a different culture and landscape, there was a new angle on the issue.
“Ceumannan”, as they name the project, is powerful, quite political and moving.
That’s the power of the old songs. 

Friday 7 July 2017

Brexiteer playing a desperate patriot game

From my Daily Record column today
GENERALLY, when politicians start attacking the media it is a sure sign that they are losing the argument.
So when Liam Fox, the biggest Brexiteer out of East Kilbride, perhaps the only one, claimed yesterday that "some elements" want the UK to fail in negotiations with Brussels, it had the aroma of a desperate, sweaty summer shirt about it.
Remember Andrea Leadsom's recent claim that broadcasters should be more "patriotic" during Brexit?
That gave me the same uncomfortable feeling as the Scottish Government "contacting" the boss of Highland Spring after he made less than complimentary remarks about a second independence referendum, which were then retracted.
Cornered by critics, or even by reality, these who share more common nationalistic fervour than they'd care to admit, start drinking the Kool-Aid instead of bottled water in an attempt to silence anyone they view as less patriotic than themselves.
Fox, a trade minister idling in the shallows with no real job to do unless there is a hard Brexit, is desperate.
The vote has been won but the kind of Brexit he wants is still a far shore.
Fox fancies himself as a buccaneer on the high seas of free trade, with Britain reborn as a mercantile nation plying the oceans of fortune.
In the wee hours of the night, the former defence minister might even dream of the Royal Navy's two supercarriers as Britain's enforcers in far-off oceans.
Quick as they can be fitted, I suspect these carriers will be sent to far-off oceans, to the Sea of China, helping the US try to maintain a fragile global dominance in Asia's cauldron as the balance of power shifts eastwards.
Squeezed by the trading power and military muscle of a burgeoning China and a protectionist second-term Trumpian America (oh yes) Britain is going to be tossed on the waves like the balsawood Kon-Tiki raft.
Perhaps Fox can't see that but most other people can. That is why big business, in the form of the CBI, is at last weighing into the Brexit debate, having been as mute as the millennial generation during the actual referendum campaign itself.
Last night, the CBI called for a slow transition out of the EU single market and the customs union, for which read business does not want to leave the biggest trading block in the world at all.
Combine that with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warning the same day that it would be impossible for the UK to have frictionless trade with the EU if it left the single market and the skies darken for Brexiteers.
It may well be that the EU will offer Britain such a bad deal that the economic madness of leaving Europe will become apparent even to the Kool-Aid gang.
It may be that the combination of the awakened youth vote and the influence of business will sway the political mood and that (somehow?) Jeremy Corbyn will see the light on Europe too. Maybe.
A year on from the vote, Brexit still looks like the biggest act of economic self-sabotage a country could inflict on itself. The real patriots are the ones who will carry on saying it.