Is Salmond Sincere, or a Product of His Own Spin?

Alex Salmond speaking in Hawick today

Alex Salmond speaking in Hawick today – photo taken by myself

In the absence of BBC’s flagship political “debate” programme giving a voice to right-wing blowhards, I find myself short of things to write about. Today however, I found out the Scottish Cabinet were on tour in my hometown. This fact had not been well reported in local news outlets, perhaps due to the fact our region’s “local” news is based in Carlisle and focuses on Cumbria and Northumberland, was more than likely to pass the newscaster by.

Upon walking into my high school’s assembly hall, I was struck by how much of a publicity opportunity this event was for the Scottish cabinet. There were cameras as I was signing my name in attendance, cameras as I was entering the hall, and a row of photographers in each of the aisles. The stage was set in bright lights, a saltire in lit up on the blue background.

As is to be expected with politicians, the public meeting was scheduled to start at 12:45 and the cabinet did not take their seats until just before 1pm. A short introduction from the leader of Scottish Borders Council leader – David Parker – the wait for Alex Salmond’s appearance was over.

It has been well reported in the media that Salmond is an engaging speaker. Having never heard him speak publicly whilst I was in the audience before, I was certainly sceptical of this reputation. However, quickly it became clear just how Salmond is able to ingratiate himself into people’s hearts and minds. I am no great fan of the man himself but have no issue separating him from the independence debate (something I’ve seen many of the people who have already decided they’re voting no seem unable to do).

Salmond made an obvious attempt to appeal to the people of Hawick by quoting (but fatally mispronouncing) the title of our Common Riding song Teribus [Tear-ee-bus] with his eye on the final verse of the song which appeals to his cause:

Peace be thy portion, Hawick forever,

Thine arts, thy commerce flourish ever,

Down to the latest age they send it,

Hawick was ever independent

From this he made links to the fact next year’s independence referendum comes 500 years after the Battle of Hornshole which gave birth to the song quoted above. His final point was about Hawick’s supposed independence (even though our seat of local government is in Melrose) has never stopped ties being formed far and wide, and if this is true, why can’t that be expanded to Scotland?

Once Salmond had dispensed with this routine which slightly rang with insincerity, he then launched into the sort of speech you would expect: how an independent Scotland would fare in Europe and worldwide; attacked the self-titled Project Fear; and Scotland’s fundamental incompatibility with Westminster’s increasingly insular ideas.

He has already begun talking about the legacy of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games next year, promising that the region would not be forgotten about (in fact he’s already had a photo op with a group of Hawick, all male, children to highlight the opening of all-weather tennis courts in the town).

In a wise move for his audience, Salmond stayed away from the topic of the Borders Railway as from people I have spoken to locally it is largely useless to those who do not drive. For example, if I were travelling to Edinburgh, I would either be paying the £5 fare for a bus to Galashiels and then paying some extortionate rate to continue on to Edinburgh or continuing to use the bus service and pay one fare of around £7.

Salmond also made an attempt to appeal to the 5th and 6th year pupils who were in the audience, setting himself apart from “Daily Mail-esque comments” and congratulated the young people on their excellent results for another year. He also used Scotland’s young people as another stick to beat the union with, as the UK government has been opposed to an EU proposition to introduce a target for youth employment. In terms of EU membership, he also made the point that to change the UK’s relationship with Europe David Cameron cannot keep throwing his toys from the pram and threatening to leave. Change must come from within.

The whole focus of his speech was on independence and interdependence. Bringing Scotland its autonomy back and providing a voice which has been quietened to a whimper. An independent Scotland is on-par size and population wise with 12 current members of the EU. The interdependence with Europe was also made clear on a local level: the Border brewery has been funded by money from the European Union; in terms of export 170 jobs at Barrie Knitwear in the town were secured when the factory was bought by Chanel, who bought it because they had been using the products from Barrie for over a quarter of a century. He also debunked a good number of Project Fear/Better Together’s myths they have been busy perpetuating.

Whether you like the man or not, he puts forward a compelling case for Scotland’s independence. In a debate which so far has been full of hot air from both sides, it is hard to see where the truth lies – however if you take a step back from partisan politics you can see where Scotland and England are fundamentally incompatible politically. From my point of view things will only get worse – the men currently vying for control of Westminster are so hard to tell apart any man could be leading any of the three main parties, the tabloid media are so bloodthirsty for revenge that the brand of social justice the Yes campaign are aiming for cannot be possible in the current climate.

This post is one of two I will be writing from today’s public cabinet meeting which took place as part of the Scottish Government’s tour of Scotland. The next post will contain information from the question and answer session, followed by conversations I had with the cabinet members themselves.

I Declare After All the Women in History, Jane Austen Isn’t the Best for a Banknote

Is Austen the ideal face to be replacing Darwin on the £10 note? What about the forgotten women of history? My thoughts on providing equal representation on our currency.

Jane Austen is due to replace Charles Darwin as the historical figure on the British £10 note. Whilst I respect Austen’s undeniable talent as an author, I feel the choice of her smacks of tokenism. There are countless other women who have been downtrodden in history who’s achievements have come in fields dominated by men.

I then had a thought – why is there only one variety of each note in circulation? Why couldn’t we have equal representation by having two versions – one with a notable man from history and another with a woman who had similar success in that field, a woman history forgot?

£5 – Elizabeth Fry and John Howard

The £5 is the only British note in circulation to currently depict a woman – Elizabeth Fry. Fry was a driving force behind the introduction of legislation which brought about the humane treatment of prisoners serving custodial sentences.

John Howard similarly fought for the humane treatment of prisoners. He fought for improvements to penal institutions to maintain prisoners’ physical and mental well-being.  He found to ensure prisoners had access to an adequate water supply along with a healthy diet.

Elizabeth Fry is to be replaced by Winston Churchill in 2016 (when Austen will be making her appearance on the £10 note), so really Austen’s appearance will only maintain the current status quo.

£10 – Charles Darwin and Rosalind Franklin

As far as I’m concerned, Darwin’s contribution to scientific advancement cannot be argued with. He introduced the concept of evolution and survival of the fittest to a society still relying on the religious explanation of where the creatures of Earth have come from.

Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to scientific advancement has been largely ignored. She is the unsung hero of the discovery of DNA. Franklin’s X-ray images of the double helix provided the data that Francis Crick and James Watson used to make their hypothesis on its structure. She died of ovarian cancer at 37, just four years before the Nobel prize was claimed by her contemporaries.

£20 – Adam Smith and Joan Robinson

Adam Smith is another unremarkable inclusion on British currency. Although a controversial idea (something I don’t agree with myself), the theory of free market economics has shaped this country to the economic state in which it currently resides. Take it as you will, but his effect on the British economy is undeniable, therefore it is only right that his image be on the currency he has shaped.

Joan Robinson was also an economist who contributed to British economic history. She contributed her name to an economic growth model, and wrote numerous works on economic theory.  Finally, four years before she died, she became the first female fellow at King’s College, Cambridge.

£50 – Matthew Boulton & James Watt and Caroline Haslett & Amy Johnson

Matthew Boulton and James Watt were pioneers in the engineering industry, Watt being the inventor of the of the steam engine with a separate condenser. The business the partnership created also nurtured a lot of engineering talent at the time.

Sadly, there haven’t really been any women who’ve had the same effect on the engineering industry in a partnership as Boulton and Watt. However Caroline Haslett stands out as a female face in an overwhelmingly male field. She was a pioneer of electricity in the home, as she helped women escape from the drudgery of housewifery (obviously it’s not for everyone). An electrical engineer and campaigner, she was the first Secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society as well as first Director of the Electrical Association for Women. Caroline Haslett Trivia – Her dying wish was that she be cremated by electricity.

As there are two faces on the current version of the £50 note, it seems only right that another woman who shone in a predominantly male field join Caroline Haslett. My choice is Amy Johnson. After becoming the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930, the pioneering aviator went on to set a slew of long-distance flying records. She died after going off-course in bad weather while transporting RAF aircraft around the country for the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War.

How would you deal with the current imbalance of historical figures depicted on British currency? Do you feel it is a problem?

Go Home, Barbara Hewson, You’re Drunk

I thought that everyone was pleased to have Operation Yewtree bringing justice to the victims of historical sex abuse. The victims’ mental scars will never fully heal, not just from the abuse itself, but from the people they may have told and didn’t believe them as they were just children. Yet today, a barrister has written an article for “Spiked” magazine, which has found its way from this small corner of online life into the mainstream.

The age of consent is there to protect minors from sexual abuse – from the predation of successful, much older men like those who’ve been charged in the wake of Operation Yewtree. It’s there to provide a solid line to show when teenagers would be able to make the decision to consent for themselves – understanding the potential outcomes from the situation. It has nothing to do with the age young women go through puberty. Just because you can have children, doesn’t mean you have the maturity to deal with sex and its potential consequences.

What I found most worrying about this article is that it’s penned by an extremely well-educated woman. A woman who went through puberty like the rest of us, knew the pressures from young men. Western society (where she and I are talking about) is a frankly terrifying place to go through puberty as a woman. In a small town where I grew up, it’s still commonplace for drunk guys to shout at teenagers to “show us yer tits” at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. And if you ignore them, it only gets scarier. I wonder if Barbara Hewson was ever followed along a busy street with a man shouting at her, for other people to utterly ignore it.

Operation Yewtree is not about “persecuting” these well-known people in society. It’s about bringing people who raped and sexually assaulted children to justice, no matter how long it’s been since the incident, or how successful they have been. Having sex with a 9-year-old girl is not a “minor misdemeanour”, it’s rape. How can a girl that young possibly make an informed decision about sex, especially in England and Wales where sex and relationship education is not mandatory to be taught in school? Would a 9-year-old know about contraception, or even her right to say no?

In her article, Hewson suggests removing complainant anonymity – which in our Daily Mail fuelled media is nothing but outrageously dangerous. Events in America around Steubenville and the young girls who’s anonymity was not protected should make that abundantly clear. Victims of sexual assault and rape have enough problems just trying to come to terms with what has happened to them without society and the general media pointing the finger of blame squarely on them. It’s been said countless times – the victims of rape are not to blame, the perpetrators are.

Barbara Hewson’s language choice is also disturbing – claiming that “even” a deputy speaker in the House of Commons perpetuates the very ideas Operation Yewtree is dispelling. Just because a man is in the public eye, does not make him immune to committing sexual abuse and rape, and definitely should not make him above the law. The NSPCC is not a pressure group, it’s a charity there to help vulnerable children, such as those who have been abused.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

No-one is suggesting the three actions listed there are rape. They are, however the sexual abuse of a minor and should be prosecuted as such, no matter how long it’s been since they took place. To say otherwise maintains the prevalent rape culture in our society, making it appear that men in positions of power are untouchable in the eyes of the law. Late justice is still justice.

You’d think a barrister would understand that.

Bieber Visits Anne Frank Museum, Educators Have a Meltdown

Many young people only recognise one of the people pictured – which one? Source: radiolive.co.nz

I must confess, I have never visited the Anne Frank museum, mainly as I have never visited Amsterdam. There is an eerie fascination with what happened to those oppressed by German occupation, especially in regards to Jewish families such as the Franks.

I have seen photos from inside the secret annexe, there’s even a virtual tour you can take online, showing you how small the annexe was. Her shared bedroom was tiny, and decorated with pictures to brighten it up a little (the same way Beliebers have pictures of Justin blu-tacked to their walls?), they shared a wash room which only had a sink. She spent her days with her family, stuck in one small room. If I was cooped up for that long with my family, some of us would not have survived long enough to be caught by Nazis. It must have been terrifying.

If I had the chance to visit the museum, Anne Frank’s choice of music had she been a teenager today would be the furthest thing from my mind. Can you even begin to imagine how terrifying it must have been, the slightest noise potentially sentencing yourself and your entire family to certain death in concentration camps?

Yesterday, “news” surfaced that Justin Bieber had visited the museum in Amsterdam. This would not usually have made it into national newspapers – it would have just been a young man wanting to discover history. What made the story, though, was his staggering sense of self-importance. Instead of writing about his experience opening his eyes to her plight in the 1940’s – he wrote: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Wow.

This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to uneducated teenagers and tweenies. “Beliebers” everywhere provided a staggering indictment of their respective education systems. Let me provide you with a few examples:

Want more? Greg Hyatt on tumblr retweeted a few more.

Recently, the history curriculum in England and Wales has come up for discussion. I had no idea that they were potentially discussing putting Anne Frank and her diary back into the teaching of World War 2. Or are these kids too obsessed by the coiffed little boy to pay attention to the teaching of fundamental historical knowledge?

I remember on at least 3 separate occasions, being taught the story of Anne Frank. I think myself incredibly lucky that my parents encouraged me to read her diary when I came home from school and said we were learning about her.

Now, however, even the BBC’s childrens’ news (Newsbeat) had to explain who Anne Frank was – to avoid another outbreak on twitter of “Who even was she?”

Her story is a fundamental part of forming empathy for the literally millions of victims of the German Nazi regime at this time. It’s truly, deeply worrying that so many young people are ignorant of her story.

For the sake of your own mental health, when you see young people being this ignorant on your timeline – do not go digging for more examples. It’s incredibly disheartening.

Louise Mensch’s Rose-Tinted Glasses on Thatcher’s “Feminism”

I’ll stop adding pictures of Tories to my posts when I stop writing about them, ok? Source: thetimes.co.uk

It would appear that certain breeds of Tory women stick together. Had Margaret Thatcher been a member of the Labour party (let’s face it, had she been around in today’s political climate she could have been), would Louise Mensch be so staunchly defending her as a feminist icon?

Sure, as I have said in my previous post, her election as the first female prime minister was impressive and a positive step towards equality for women politically in this country. However, something must have gone wrong along the way as the UK has a mere 22.5% of representatives in the House of Commons are female. Have we regressed in equality since Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister?

Today on twitter, Louise Mensch popped her head up from over the Atlantic to have an argument with Owen Jones (neither covered themselves in glory, petty points scoring over a dead woman is pretty poor show), then proceeded to inform her thousands of followers her screeching voice will be appearing on the 10PM ITV news to talk about Margaret Thatcher in terms of her feminism.

 

Her ignorance is staggering, it truly is. During her 11 years as Prime Minister, she had one woman in her cabinet. One. Every other member of her cabinet was male – hardly a feminist thing to do. Men and women should be on a level playing ground politically, and there doesn’t seem to be anything level about only having one woman in Thatcher’s cabinet.

Thatcher was openly critical of feminism also. She believed that women’s liberation had run its course, “The battle for women’s rights has largely been won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. I hate those strident tones we hear from some Women’s Libbers”. She rejected the idea that she was in a position of great privilege, having the money to be able to pay for childcare when she went back out to work.

How any woman can possibly claim Margaret Thatcher believed in equality for her gender when she so openly opposed any opportunity to increase the gender balance in government and in the workplace. A man would be able to make the choice whether to have a family or to work – a woman in Thatcher’s mind was expected to put a stop to her career to reproduce.

Her life and politics can be proved to show equality in one way – she was just as heartless to the working class as any man could be. She actively used her power against working women, and that’s just against like…the rules of feminism (Mean Girls quotes are relevant at any time, it would appear).

Also, I want Louise Mensch to leave this country alone. I actively avoid the Sun, but don’t believe someone who lives in America should be writing about the intricacies of politics in a country she no longer wanted to live in. She needs to but her nose out, and spend more time with her family (the reason she left her job as an MP in the UK). Surely her parenting can’t be done on twitter, so I want her to go away. Perhaps a little break might give her brain cells a rest – she might see she’s not the stalwart of feminism she so clearly sees herself as.

A little self-awareness is all I ask for, surely that’s not too much.

Too Young to Comment on Thatcher?

Since when was a politician’s only effects felt when they were in office? When Winston Churchill was no longer prime minister, did the UK go back to war with Germany? When Tony Blair was replaced by Gordon Brown did we automatically pull out of Iraq? The policies and ideologies which Margaret Thatcher implemented during her period as prime minister are largely still with us today, so why can’t I comment on the life of a woman who has affected the world I was born into and have grown up in – just because I wasn’t around when she was in office?

It really is tiring to justify yourself and your opinion to people older than you – so often you are given a patronising pat on the head like “Well done for trying, but you’re too young to understand.” I understand just fine, thank you. Child poverty during Thatcher’s government was the worst in the developed world at the time (the current Conservative government are doing their damnedest to surpass those levels, though – what a goal!). This surely was helped by her government putting countless working class people out of work by closing shipyards and coal mines, to name just two examples.

The fact she was the UK’s first and only female prime minister meant almost nothing for women of her gender – she actively despised feminism and what it stood for, believing that the women’s liberation movement had gone far enough (in the 80s, really?). She actually proclaimed feminism to be “poison”, surrounded herself with powerful men – and certain publications have been trying to portray her as a feminist icon. Give me a break.

Thatcher became an archetypal Conservative by her striving towards privatisation (aside from the NHS and National Rail, which have since been at least partially privatised by different Tory governments). She is the woman who is behind the massive electricity and gas bills you have received in the last few months, hiding it under the banner that prices will go down due to competition.

Her political ideology has been picked up by Southern republican politicians over in the USA, and surely that can’t be seen by a positive thing. Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all claim to have been influenced by her politics, further clarifying that all three have been cut from the same cloth – making all three of them unelectable, at least to me.

Thatcherism is still alive and well today, it serves as a driving factor to widen the gap between the richest and poorest in this country. Frankly, it’s disgusting. Surely the only right thing for the current government to do is to provide Thatcher with a funeral/cremation, funded by the private sector. It’s what she would have wanted.

I am bycotting all news sites and TV news until the woman is buried on 17th April. Good riddance to her, it’s just a shame her politics didn’t die with her.

Are You A Psychopath?

Does this apply to you? Source: rachelnico.wordpress.com

Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test has lead me to question what I actually know about the world. It is a very interesting book, starting with a mystery and leading you through what he has labelled the “madness industry” – psychiatric hospitals, psychologists, neurologists, even Scientologists who have the most profound distrust of psychology in all its forms.

Statistically, 1% of the non-prison population are psychopaths. Some of those Ronson contacted in research for this book informed him that psychopaths have low brain function in the amygdala, (he himself suffers from anxiety, which leads to increased amygdala function) which is the part of the brain used for emotive learning. At the most basic level, a psychopath can attempt to imitate emotions displayed by others, but can’t actually feel this themselves. This was called into question when Ronson was talking to a man he deemed to be a corporate psychopath said he cried over his dog’s death. However Bob Hare, who devised the world’s most widely-used test for psychopathy, said this man was reduced to tears because his dog was a possession he had control over. The man would not have cried if a member of his family had died, but would probably have been uncontrollably angry if someone was to scratch one of his cars.

Another example of this breakdown of amygdala function and loss of emotional learning is in the case where Ronson mentions one inmate who was being considered “recovering” who then went out and hacked another patient in the facility, claiming he wanted to know what it felt like (even though he had already committed a previous murder) when challenged about the previous murder, he said “It was a really, really, really long time ago.”

In this book, psychopathy is characterised as a pathological need to control everything around you, using many malicious means to do so. A psychopath would possess superficial charm, being able to talk people around to their way of thinking.

The aforementioned Bob Hare Psychopathy Test contains 20 criteria, which are marked between 0 (does not match this) and 2 (completely fits this). If the interviewee gets a score of 30 or more, they can be diagnosed with psychopathy and can be consigned to a psychiatric hospital for the remainder of their lives.

It is thought that psychopathy cannot be cured. Some psychiatrists in Canada in the 1960’s worked with the theory that psychopaths needed to work through their anger instead of hiding behind their “mask of sanity”. One psychiatrist took away all outside stimuli from his patients, gave them LSD and observed from behind a two-way mirror. On the outside, it appeared to be these psychopathic patients were recovering, developing actualised emotions. A striking fact from the book was that when released from an institution, 60% of psychopaths will reoffend. In this hospital in Canada, 80% of released patients went on to reoffend.

In the opening few chapters of the book, Ronson proffers the point that psychopaths actually make the world go round, that society in its current form is actually the product of psychopathy – that the other 99% of the population are under the influence of psychopaths. I found this an interesting point as it is mentioned that people who are at the top of companies, government etc need to lack empathy and remorse for their actions (2 of the categories on Hare’s psychopath test) to be able to take the tough decisions for entire nations/economies.

If when reading The Psychopath Test, you question your own psyche – the chances are that you are not a psychopath. Even if you score yourself reasonably highly on the test (which I will be posting at the end of this blog), you are still self-aware enough of your actions that you can’t be a psychopath.

All in all, Ronson’s book was excellent. A very thought provoking, interesting look into psychopaths, the people who have attempted to diagnose and treat them, and the effects this small minority of people have in the world. I would recommend this to people who have an interest in true crime, psychology or those who are just curious.

The Psychopath Test

  • Glib and superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self worth
  • Need for stimulation (easily bored)
  • Pathological Lying
  • Cunning or manipulativeness
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect (superficial emotive responses)
  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural controls
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Early behavioural issues
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility