Friday, 30 June 2017

Signposts, not weathercocks

Last night, Jeremy Corbyn whipped Labour MPs not to vote for continued membership of the Single Market. This is why he was wrong.

Corbyn enthused a lot of young people to vote at the last election. People who don't usually vote, many of them for the first time.

They voted at least partially against the Tories' vision of hard Brexit, which they understand will wreck their futures.

They voted at least partly because Corbyn presented himself as an authentic politician, a man of principle.

And yet, here Corbyn is proving himself to be just another tired, cynical, political game player. If he has a principled objection to free movement of labour, he should have said so at the general election; should have said 'I support Theresa.'  He didn't. He said he would “push to maintain full access to the European single market.”

And now? Now he sacks MPs who voted for what he said he would deliver. So why does this matter?

Folk don't vote because they think it won't make a difference;

Folk don't vote  because they think politicians lie;

Folk don't vote because they've had their hopes raised before;

Folk don't vote because they've had those hopes dashed.

No politician can deliver on all the dreams they inspire; we've seen leaders come in on a tide of hope and leave with a soiled legacy.

Blair with foreign war,

Obama with drone strikes,

Sturgeon with education and dither.

But Corbyn has a special responsibility to those young people who voted for him. If he leaves them cynical, they may not vote again.

If I were cynical I'd be pleased about this. With the SNP rudderless, a resurgent Labour party is the last thing Scotland needs. Both Scotland and England need strong parties of the left with clear platforms. We need leaders who say what they mean and deliver. We need politicians who will argue strongly for what they believe in, not what the latest focus group says.

We need, as the great Tony Benn said, signposts, not weathercocks.

Corbyn made a contract with his young voters. He said, I'm an honest, principled, straightforward person, I will protect your rights. He needs to deliver, or leave the stage.

Nicola Sturgeon, this applies to you also.

Friday, 16 June 2017

These boots aren't made for walking

Boots: L to R Mammut (newest),  Scarpa, Loveson
My lifestyle is probably tougher on boots than most people's; particularly in winter, but actually all year round. Consequently I've had (and worn out) a lot of pairs of boots. Three years ago I went into Tiso's mountaineering shop on Buchannan Street and asked for their strongest pair; they sold me a pair of Mammut boots, which I've worn ever since. But they're reaching the end of their life and it's time to decide what to wear next.

So I've been thinking a lot about why boots fail, and critically examining those old boots which I've not thrown away. The pair I wore before the Mammuts were by Scarpa, similar to these. They also lasted about three years. Prior to that I had a succession of pairs of Timberland boots much like this, which were light and comfortable (and much cheaper) but which wore out in nine months to a year. I've a much older pair of Loveson boots - bought more than thirty years ago while I was an undergraduate, and worn regularly for fifteen of those years; and still with some life in them.

So what causes these boots to fail? What do you look for in a boot which makes for durability?

Mammut boots: mainly good condition after three years wear,
but Vibram sole has delaminated and is falling apart.
My Mammuts are failing principally because the soles - by Vibram - are delaminating and falling apart. Consequently the boots are no longer stable, which is both uncomfortable and potentially risky on broken ground.

The uppers are also beginning to show cracks across just below the end of the tongue, but that's at least partly because once the soles started to come to bits I stopped taking care of the uppers.

The splendidly deep welts are still adhering to the upper all the way round; the boots are still waterproof and are still extremely comfortable; and the original laces have only recently worn through.

Vibram soles seem widely used on high end boots, but in recent years they've become much more complicated with many more layers, and these layers don't seem to be stuck together very well. Mind you; these may be a poor batch. But I think that Scottish winter conditions - always wet, rarely frosty, and with sharp rocks and gritty soils - are pretty tough on these over-complex multi-layer constructions where a funky, high-tech appearance seems to take priority over function. So for my next boots, I'll seek to avoid Vibram.

Left hand Scarpa boot, showing
damage to the upper.
The Scarpas were bought about six years ago, and were worn regularly for three years. They're mostly good, but have failed on the inner side of the left boot. The leather/Goretex sandwich cracked through just above the welt, allowing water and mud into the boot. The welt - much lower than on the Mammuts - also didn't adhere so well to the upper, and is loose in several places. Apart from that, they're still comfortable, and have some dry-weather wear left in them. Their soles are also Vibram-branded, but if they have a complex multi-layer construction its well hidden and well protected. There's no damage to the sole, apart from acceptable wear.

Both the Mammuts and the Scarpas were made in Romania. The quality of construction of both pairs - despite the issues I've described above - is generally very good.

I haven't kept any of the Timberlands, because they weren't worth it. The thin leather fairly quickly wears through into holes where the toe flexes, and as I recall there were also often problems with the welts and with the the soles, but they're relatively cheap and you get what you pay for.

Loveson boots, bought about 1984 and still good.
The Loveson boots are a quality apart. After many years of hard wear, they still have live in them. The tread on the soles is completely worn away, and they've always been a little loose in the heel for my feet, but nothing has failed. These boots don't have a Goretex membrane, but with dubbin they're adequately waterproof.

Unfortunately it seems Loveson no longer make walking boots, but these have taken a lot more wear than either the Scarpas or the Mammuts.

As a temporary measure I've bought a pair of Chinese made Karrimor boots simply because they were cheap in a sale - but they're not very good and I doubt they'll last; they're also rather stiff and uncomfortable to walk in, and too narrow for my feet. I'm looking for another pair of quality boots. I'd be inclined to buy another pair of Scarpas, but this year's model seem to have one of those over-complicated laminated Vibram soles.

The deep welt on the Mammuts certainly helps protect the sides of the upper from cuts and wear; they've been good and comfortable boots. But both Scarpa and Mammut are expensive; if they do last three years then they cost about the same per month as Timberlands. I want a boot that can survive longer, but I don't know where I'm going to find it.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How to introduce yourself

A quick guide to how to introduce yourself to people from other EU countries. This is the first step towards a t-shirt design, if anyone is interested. Probably white on saltire blue.

BG: Аз съм шотландски, а не британски
CZ: Jsem skotský, ne britský
DA: Jeg er skotsk, ikke britisk
DE: Ich bin schottisch, nicht britisch
EE: Ma olen Scottish mitte Briti
FI: Olen skotlantilainen, ei brittiläinen
FR: Je suis écossais, pas britannique
GR: Είμαι Σκωτσέζος, όχι Βρετανός
HR: Ja sam škotski, a ne britanski
HU: Skót vagyok, nem brit
IE: Tá mé hAlban, ní Breataine (or 'Is Albanach mé, ní Briotanach mé'?)
IT: Sono scozzese, non britannico
LI: Esu škotų, o ne britų
LV: Es esmu Skotijas, nevis Britu
MT: Skoċċiżi, mhux Brittaniċi
NE: Ik ben Schots, niet Brits
PO: Jestem szkocka, a nie brytyjska
PT: Eu sou escocês, não britânico
RO: Sunt scoțian, nu britanic
SE: Jag är skotsk, inte brittisk
SI: Sem Škotska, ni britanski
SK: Som škótsky, nie britský
SP: Soy escocés, no británico


Friday, 9 June 2017

The end of May. And now?

I am become death - portrait of Theresa May by
Stewart Bremner
There was no possible good outcome from this general election; the outcome we've got is far from the worst we could have had. But it's time for the left in Scotland in general - and myself in particular - to reassess, and work out how we go forward.

First, let's be clear. For me at least, independence for Scotland is not an end in itself: it's a means towards achieving a more just, more equal and more peaceful world. If other means would achieve the same end more quickly or more certainly, independence would become much less important.

Secondly, independence is not the key political issue of our age. The key political issue of our age is ecocide - by which I mean global warming, certainly, but also all the other insults to the planet: our use of poisons; our dumping of waste into the oceans; our manufacture and use of non-biodegradable materials; our unsustainable depletion of topsoil; our deforestation; our destruction of biodiversity. These, together - our destruction of the biosphere of the planet on which we live - is the key political issue of our time.

An independent Scotland in an uninhabitable world is not a win.

But secondly, independence isn't even the second most important issue of our time. Injustice is by far more important; the arms trade, which is tightly bound up with injustice, is a more important issue. An unjust world can never be a peaceful world; an unjust nation can never be a happy nation. We must radically redistribute both wealth and real power at all levels - locally, nationally and across the world.

An independent Scotland in which six hunner own half the land is not a win.
Noo Scotland's free! Watch in amaze
The Queen still in her palace stays
Across the sky the rockets blaze
The bankers gang their greedy ways
An ilka working karl still pays
Tae line the pokes o lairds who laze
On Cote d'Azure, Bahama keys
It's time tae rise as levellers again
So where are we now?

My take on it is (in Scotland) this is Corbyn's win and Corbyn's alone. He outflanked the SNP on the left, where elections, in Scotland, are won. But of course he also outflanks Scottish Labour on the left; we've elected MPs who are unlikely to be loyal to him. And if Labour don't now unite behind Corbyn, there is no silver lining from this night.

The SNP must offer Corbyn solid support, but must require from him an acceptance of at least direct Scottish representation in the EU negotiations, and a commitment to the single market. However, unless Sinn Fein come to Westminster, the game's pretty much a bogey. Neither Labour nor Tories can really govern.

Will Sinn Fein take their seats? I hae my doubts. It's critically in their interest - in the interest of the whole island of Ireland - for them  to take them. A Tory/Unionist coalition will damage Ireland north and south, and will set back the possibility of unity a long way. A hard border across Ireland would be a very, very bad thing.

If Sinn Fein take their seats then a progressive majority at Westminster is possible. If there is a progressive majority at Westminster, there will be a much softer (and, frankly, an enormously more competent) Brexit negotiation; and consequently, there will be no hard border in Ireland. Against this is the republicans' strong and principled stance of not taking an oath of loyalty to the Queen. I agree with their stance. In a democracy, taking an oath of loyalty to a monarch is an anathema. And as I wrote just this week, we do have to stop making compromises with things we know to be evil.

So I don't know which way Sinn Fein will jump. If they go to Westminster, a progressive alliance is (just) possible, but it would be very difficult.

A Tory/Unionist government is more likely. If Sinn Fein don't take their seats, it's a racing certainty. This is better than a Tory landslide, but not much better; it makes the Brexit negotiations more or less impossible. There is no settled will of the British people on Europe; the Brexit referendum was won on a slender majority of a low-turnout poll.

There are two ways forward for the Scottish left from this: one is to get behind Corbyn and try to build socialism in Britain. I have no faith in that being possible. I have no faith in the ability of Labour to unite behind the left. Blairites are too ambitious.

The alternative is for us to make a stronger push for independence, either by pushing the SNP left or else by working outside parliamentary politics to build pressure in the country. That's my preference but I've not much confidence.

The SNP lost this election. Yes, I know that in absolute terms they won; yes, I know that First Past the Post hugely magnifies small swings. But a setback of this magnitude stands as a relative loss; and they deserved to lose. They neither tried to make a case for independence, nor adequately defended their considerable achievements in office. They offered no clear radical programme. Triangulating to a mythical centre ground will not work: there is no majority in the centre. The majority for independence - if it can be gathered - is on the left.

Of course, the SNP faced a relentlessly hostile media, including the BBC, who deliberately conflated devolved with reserved issues and generally muddied the water. But that does not detract from the key point that the SNP did not offer a clear, radical vision that Scotland could unite behind.

I continue to believe that a press owned by an offshore cartel is a significant problem. First Past the Post is obviously a problem.  It's hard to believe, though, that Westminster will ever be able to resolve either of these. A political class running scared of an over-mighty media lack the courage to rein it in; a political establishment elected on First Past the Post are not motivated to reform it.

Sclerotic Westminster, with all its archaic and anti-democratic 'traditions', remains the central problem. We have to get rid of it.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Don't be evil

Bodies of inmates of Belsen concentration camp
Three and a half years ago, I went to work for a bank in Glasgow. It wasn't a Scottish bank (not that this necessarily makes much difference), it was an international bank. I knew before I went to work for it that this bank was evil, although how evil it was I didn't know until I'd worked there some time. I went to work for them because I needed a job, and they offered me one. No-one else, at the time, did.

I know it's wrong, I thought to myself, but I don't have any choice.

People work for the Sun and the Daily Mail. A very small number of them seem to delight in doing evil, but I cannot believe that many of them do. They have mortgages to pay, children to feed. They know they're working for bad organisations, but, like me, they needed a job.

Similarly the folk who make weapons need jobs. They don't see themselves as bad people. They include many good engineers: weapons systems are full of interesting engineering problems. The folk who make bombs for Raytheon in Fife don't do it to slaughter children in Yemen, they do it to put food on the table for their own children.

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. But we don't do nothing. We work - willingly - for evil-doers, and excuse ourselves by saying that we need to eat. We've made that excuse normal.

But software engineers working in Glasgow for a bank in Switzerland enable dictators, criminals and kleptocrats high net-worth individuals from across the world to launder dirty money from arms deals and drug deals and plain old fashioned theft of mineral wealth into nice safe properties in London.

Engineers and technicians in Fife working for an arms manufacturer in Massachusetts enable fanatics in Saudi Arabia to slaughter women and children cause collateral damage in Yemen.

Journalists in London working for proprietors in France and Australia feed the narrative of ignorance, prejudice and hate which enables the politicians who maintain the nexus of evil run a strong and stable government to be elected by ordinary decent software engineers in Glasgow, engineers in Fife, and journalists in London.

So what started this line of thought?

What started this line of thought was to ask myself, can all the Tory politicians be unaware of the fact they're standing for evil? Of course they can't. Some can, of course; some are stupid enough. I find it hard to believe that Rory the Tory understands what his party stands for. But most, like me when I went to work for the bank, must be making some compromise. They know their party will do great harm to most of their fellow citizens, but they see some benefit - if only, perhaps, that they too need a job - which makes that justified.

When concentration camp guards stand on trial in Nuremberg, we can all see clearly that 'I was just following orders' is not an excuse. But for ourselves, it is. We're just doing our jobs.

Software engineers in Glasgow working for banks in Switzerland are just doing their jobs. Engineers in Fife are just doing their jobs. Journalists working for the Mail are just doing their jobs. The claims assessors at ATOS are just doing their jobs. The administrators making cuts across the health service to balance the books are just doing their jobs.

Sat alone in their rooms Rupert Murdoch or Jamie Dimon or Ian King or Vladimir Putin can do little evil. It is because many ordinary people - people who will no evil - are prepared to work for them that they are powerful. It's because we've internalised the idea that it's OK to make compromises in an imperfect world that the tide of evil is possible.

It's time to say it's not. It's time to hold ourselves to the same standards to which we held those guards at Nuremberg. It's time to say we are morally responsible for the evil we knowingly enable.

It's time to stop enabling it.

Creative Commons Licence
The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License