What Might Have Been

Usually, around this time, I am doing a lot to distract myself from the grief. Still recovering from my hospital stay, however, means I have too much time to think.

My heart aches, folks. I don’t mean ‘I’m a bit nostalgic’, though I am – that summer was such a beautiful part of my life. I don’t mean ‘I wish it had turned out differently’, though I do. I don’t even mean ‘I’m bitter about the consequences’, though I am.

My heart just aches because I keep imagining the Scotland we would have been living in by now. A lot of angst, a lot of rancour, certainly. We’d be angry at each other a lot of the time because we’d all have different ideas of what our new country should look like. We’d have been blamed for the oil downturn, and miscellaneous other Bad Stuff. We’d be fighting all the time about what to prioritise, what to focus on, how best to have dealt with the negotiations with rUK.

But imagine the Scotland we might have had: one where we control our own immigration so we don’t have to kick out the families and graduates who make our country so diverse and strong. We would have full control over the social security system and be rid of the need to mitigate the Bedroom Tax, and rid of the sanction regime and all the misery and waste that flows from it. We’d be able to focus investment in renewable tech and could have dealt with the oil downturn by redirecting expertise and experience there. We would no longer live under the shadow of the weapons of mass destruction which live so close to our biggest city.

We are so lucky to live here. Lucky beyond imagining. Even compared to the other countries in the UK, we are immensely lucky because we do have a Parliament which has stepped between the people and the murderous policies of the government where they can. Imagine if we didn’t have to do that – if we didn’t have to spend all our time and money and effort fixing the ‘human catastrophe’ (the UN’s words) that Westminster has caused. That luck sometimes makes us complacent, though – we think that it’s actually alright, being part of the UK, because things aren’t so bad really. The knowledge that it’s only by the sheer bloodymindedness of a group of people who refuse to allow our citizens to be killed by Westminster apparently escapes a lot of people.

If we didn’t have the Scottish Parliament, didn’t have the SNP in government at the Scottish Parliament, it’s almost unimaginable how much worse off we would be. I know they’re not perfect, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but I just keep imagining us being able to do that work. To be able to decide our priorities and our investments.

What a Scotland we could have had. My heart aches for that loss, for all the dead who could have survived if we had won. There was a cost to losing.

My heart aches for my country. Next time, I hope we’re braver, that we understand what is at stake.


The Line Between Glorifying Murder and Honouring A Death

I have been operating on the basis that my thought processes would be obvious, but realise now that they might not be.

The death of Heather Heyer is not something which should have happened. She did not go to that protest expecting to die. Nobody did. People are used to protesting, used to scuffles, but not used to the risk of death. She almost certainly would have jumped out of the way, given the chance.

Her death is one which should be honoured, because she died standing against Nazis. It doesn’t mean that her death was glorious or necessary. It was a brutal murder by a terrorist.

I have tried (and clearly, at times, failed) to talk about her death with the respect she deserves, because while she should not have died yesterday, she did.

People are not used to the risk, but you have to get used to it. Nazis are empowered in a way they haven’t been in a few decades, and are marching openly and without fear of reprisal. They will not be beaten by nice words and some voting. Standing against Nazis is a risk to your safety, and sometimes to your life, and so the choice to risk that has to be a conscious one. You have to make your decisions about what you are willing to risk to stop the rise of fascism. You have plenty of historical examples to look to for answers to the question, ‘at what point should I stop hoping this goes away?’

In trying to make sure that her death is not the death knell for opposition to the Nazis, we (I) risk glorifying her murder. That’s not what this is about. It’s about ensuring that we undertake this opposition with clear heads and understanding the cost. I do not believe that, if I were to die at a protest, I would want my death to be used to suppress opposition. I would want it to be a rallying cry – do not make my sacrifice in vain. Do not allow them to use my death to scare you into submission. But I am not her, so I don’t know what she would have wanted.

I think that the best way to honour her life is to keep fighting them, taking the necessary steps to ensure your safety as far as possible, but understanding that the risks exist. Nazis do not get beaten without a cost. Organise. Work with established antifa organisations who have been doing this for a long time. Stay in groups. Keep your head about you. If you can’t march, as many of us can’t, provide support and shelter for antifa where you can. Don’t take unnecessary risks hoping to be a martyr for the cause. That doesn’t honour Heyer in any way.

I would like to think that her death will be the end of this, but I doubt it. I think there is worse to come. I think that we will all have to take some risks in the near future if we are to avoid allowing fascism to reign again.

Remember her name. Honour her life. But do it by living to fight the Nazis, not dying for it.

A Short Note on the History of Punching Nazis in the UK: The Battle of Lewisham

When the ‘punching Nazis’ thing somehow became a thing to debate, many people in the UK looked on in bafflement at the people who said that it wasn’t effective. You can make the moral argument if you like, though I’ll refer you to the absolutely brilliant explanation of why ‘tolerance of all ideas’ is a flawed understanding of morality here: Tolerance Is Not A Moral Precept

Punching Nazis is effective. Back when the National Front was becoming a fierce political force in the UK, and the police were largely sympathetic to them, anti-racists and antifa united to ensure that no National Front rally or ‘patrol’ ever went unopposed. The streets of the UK were filled with running battles between punks and Nazi boneheads, and eventually the National Front just faded back to its core support. This is the issue with Nazis – they use tailored propaganda to draw angry, alienated people to their side to inflate their numbers. Most of the people marching with the National Front wouldn’t, if pressed, really agree with the basic principles of Naziism – they just wanted their lives to be less shit and were being told that it was the fault of all the brown people.

When the National Front marches and patrols were met with a bunch of angry punks willing to meet their threat of violence head on, the inflated support melted away, leaving the poor, sad, lonely little Nazi fucks with not much power and not much influence. The National Front still exists, but it’s mainly a laughingstock. They have to travel to each others’ protests and still can only muster about 20 people.

We got complacent, though. The BNP came along, with their suits and their ‘civil discourse’ about how some people were less human than others, and we figured that they weren’t *real* Nazis, so shouldn’t be met with the same reaction. They were ‘just talking’. Then the EDL, who thought the BNP weren’t extreme enough. Then Britain First. And suddenly we have fucking Nazis again, and they’ve taken control of a significant amount of political power, and people are suffering and dying because of it.

I’ll say it again: the existence of a Nazi is a threat of violence. They cannot be considered to be having ‘civil discourse’ at any point, because their entire existence rests on the principle that certain groups of people should be eradicated or subjugated. That is not civil, whether they’re speaking in a level tone of voice or not.

Read about the Battle of Lewisham. About the people who stepped the fuck up when Nazis were on our streets. Who risked their lives to beat back the tide.

And then step up.

Sagamihara: A Year Later, And Still Silence

Found at https://www.accessible-japan.com/disability-hate-crime-sagamihara-victims/


A year on from the Sagamihara Massacre, still the only people I have ever, ever seen write about it or talk about it are disabled people. It was ignored at the time, and its anniversary has gone unmarked.

The killer specifically targeted disabled people, his friends knew of his plan, and he had presented a detailed plan to the government about how disabled people unable to live without need of carers should be euthanised, involuntarily if necessary.

In the days after the massacre, as soon as the victims became clear, the coverage disappeared from view. If not outright support, people in general reacted with either indifference or understanding of his point. The people he murdered in their sleep were ‘better off’. It was a ‘kindness’.

He stabbed 19 people to death because they were disabled. He tried to murder a further 26. It was a hate crime on a massive scale. But just as we report differently when parents murder their children if the victim was disabled, so too was the coverage either non-existent or sympathetic to the killer in this case.

I would tell you to #saytheirnames, but we don’t know them. They were never released. Observers have pointed out that this is, in large part, because of the shame attached to being disabled in Japan.

Aberdeenshire Isn’t A Lost Cause – It Needs Us More Than Ever

This is the full version of the letter which was (for obvious reasons) edited down for publication in The National.


In the days after the election, the sea of blue which has engulfed most of the North East of Scotland, leaving only a tiny scrap of yellow in the heart of Aberdeen, confounded commentators and politicians alike. I spent a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook, trying to explain to people that Aberdeenshire, and the various constituencies which cover it, can’t be easily reduced to single driving factors.

Most of politics can’t, much as those of us who comment on it might wish it, and much as we might sometimes act like the broad strokes are the truth. However, Tommy Sheppard’s sweeping dismissal of the entire region as lost to Conservatism forever because of one bad election has raised the hackles of pretty much everyone, especially those of us who work so hard to reach people in some of the most complicated and disjointed constituencies in the country. I agree with many of his points about the SNP needing to make the decision to commit to the left-wing, but in making such broad statements he has perfectly exemplified the most common of all the criticisms of the Scottish Government we hear up here: that the Central Belt is all that counts, and we are expendable.

It’s not true, and it’s never been true, but we fight a long, uphill battle to demonstrate that to people. Key figures in the SNP voicing such dismissal makes our work that much harder. So what’s the truth of Aberdeenshire?  I’ll tell you what I can, from my experiences of growing up and living here almost all my life.

I grew up in Aboyne, a small village (or it was, then) on Royal Deeside. While journalists complained about lack of 4G coverage on Theresa May’s recent visit to Crathes, those of us who grew up here knew exactly why that ‘cabin in a random forest’ had been chosen. In 2014, I visited a small festival in Banchory (the nearest major settlement to Crathes) a few weeks before the referendum. A chainsaw carver was positioned in one corner of Banchory’s park, and when she was finished, a large wooden ‘No’ logo was the artwork. The ferret which won the ferret racing was called ‘Better Together’. Even as small Scottish towns go, Banchory is odd. Still, we’ve got a hardy group of campaigners, who don’t let that stop them from chapping doors and handing out leaflets, and in the 2015 General Election Deeside went yellow. It was a surprise to many of us, because the Liberal Democrat shade of yellow was usually more popular, but it’s a testament to the hard work of the campaigners, councillors and MSPs who served their communities well.


I was raised Tory, rejected it at 19, and floated between the Lib Dems and Labour for a while because I had a deep distrust of the SNP. I had been told my whole life that they were fantasists who believed that money grew on trees (even then, the ‘magic money tree’ Tory talking point), who didn’t care about anywhere north of Stirling. I was in my 30s before, pressed by my brother, I thought to research it and see if I was right. I wasn’t, and I went through the six-month process of unpicking all my assumptions about politics in Scotland and revising them based on evidence. The distrust ran deep, though, where I grew up, among the people I knew. I made the same mistake the Tommy Sheppards of the country do: assuming that any one pocket is representative of Aberdeenshire.

This is the real truth of Aberdeenshire: it’s an idyllic place, where extraordinary wealth holds sway through landowners and oil executives.  There is also deep deprivation, but it is mostly hidden from view. In most of Aberdeenshire, the deprivation doesn’t look like the estates of Glasgow or the smoking tomb of Grenfell Tower. It looks like a cottage on a wealthy landowner’s estate where the windows are single-glazed and the people inside haven’t had a working shower for a year, but where the rent is just low enough that they can’t afford to move somewhere more habitable, and they daren’t risk pushing for what they’re entitled to in case the laird decides to up the rent without warning. It looks like people who can just about get to work and back, but the next MOT will leave them without transport, because they live miles from the nearest public transport route, and without their car they’ll lose their job. One in ten people receiving out-of-work benefits are sanctioned in Aberdeenshire, the highest rate in all of Scotland. The links to poor infrastructure and isolation are pretty clear to anyone who knows the area. Yet the people who are struggling to feed their families or buy shoes for their kids will go completely unnoticed by the majority of the people living in that area – it doesn’t look like poverty, not how we imagine it, though the results are the same.


The oil crash has left tens of thousands of people out of work, and has resulted in unexpected knock-on effects. These unemployed people are not the Daily Mail’s idea of a scrounger on benefits, but they lived their lives using lines of credit based on their high-paying jobs. Negative equity leaves them trapped in homes they can no longer afford. Many have moved away, leasing out their homes to try to recoup some of the mortgage, but oil workers’ spouses are often teachers and nurses, and so the knock-on shortage of key public sector workers has further stretched resources. It’s hard to attract people to a city with such a high cost of living and relatively little to show for it – the thriving music scene of the 90s and early 00s is gone, and successive Labour/Tory coalitions have invested in high-cost corporate sectors rather than independent, community-based initiatives.  In the Shire, what were once rural farming villages became commuter towns, and now their aging populations are retiring to live with family elsewhere, and younger people cannot afford the homes they leave behind.


The SNP has done some amazing work in trying to ensure that people in Aberdeenshire have access to equitable services, but it’s hard to explain to people concerned about class sizes in Aboyne that schools in other parts of the country are concerned about the building falling down on them. It’s hard to explain that, when deciding where to prioritise funding for health services, places with high population concentration or where the most accidents happen are going to be the primary targets. It can feel like we’re left behind, especially as our villages empty out and our high streets fill with ‘vacant’ signs. That so many of the problems each individual constituency faces are issues of local governance, or result from deals made by governments in London decades ago, is a hard truth to deal with. It makes us sound like we’re making excuses, when really it’s just that many people don’t understand the different levels of government and what they cover.

So what separates us from other rural areas in Scotland?  There’s a particular worldview that’s very common in most areas around here. It crosses through coastal villages to farming towns to tourist traps. It’s not easily reducible to ‘pro-Union’ or ‘anti-EU’. People here believe that they’re the most rational people in the country. That they understand the hard decisions, and they see further than others do. They have a tendency towards believing that left-wing politics is naïve or dishonest, and yet their actions don’t bear this out. They think that the Central Belt is weak for getting all that money, but want some of it themselves. They laugh at the Americans who don’t acknowledge climate change and yet they fight any measures meant to mitigate it, like compulsory planting along floodplains or limits on maximum extraction, with all their might. They believe that their unionism and anti-EU sentiment is borne solely out of rationality, not emotion, patriotism or nationalism.

And yet, there is a fierce, radical thread running through the Shire. For all that, one of our campaigners recently met an elderly woman while canvassing who told him about her days burning the Union flag on the Castlegate in the 60s. Banff & Buchan, Angus and Moray have been SNP strongholds for decades, largely because of the fierce work our representatives have done for their constituents over and over again, in the face of mockery and hostility, getting the work done. There is blurry footage on Youtube from the 80s of our MPs taking Thatcher herself to task for ignoring Scotland. There is bitterness about the CFP, and the CAP, but there are also people who know that EU funding is what allows their livelihood to survive. We do great work in life sciences and technology development, which we should be investing in for all our futures. Our communities are less likely to be unionised than in the Central Belt, but they’re no less informed or committed to political action. The only real problem is that, in Aberdeen as in the Shire, the two versions of these areas do not interact on any wide level – they are parallel communities, occupying the same space but experiencing entirely different realities. In Aberdeen, it’s not uncommon to have the same street include low-quality social housing at one end and £400,000 houses at the other, but the people each end interacts with, the places they shop, the activities they pursue, all are separate.


Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have been protected somewhat from the most vicious of the Thatcherite fallout because we mostly had fishing, farming and oil rather than key manufacturing and mining industries. The effects have been more subtle, more protracted, but just as real. They’re coming home to roost, and the Tory MPs now occupying the area will have to deal with them if they’re going to do something approximating their jobs. They’ll have to go to Westminster to talk about the sanctions regime, foodbank use, infrastructure, EU investment in sciences, ensuring that our fishers aren’t sacrificed by the Tory government again as they were in 1970, ensuring our area has what it needs to survive the transition from the oil boom to the more streamlined industry which will now go forward into an uncertain future. Or they’ll blame it all on the SNP, again.


Aberdeenshire is far from lost. The next five years are, in fact, vital to the kind of country we want to build. We are at a crossroads, and the paths we choose will determine whether or not the North-East will thrive. It’s more important than ever that we work to ensure that we have a say in the choices to be made, that we drive the discussions towards ensuring that people understand that we have responsibilities to each other and that the wealth masks a lot of struggles, that the luxuries of the wealthy should not come at the expense of the people going hungry less than a mile away.


We lost the seats in Aberdeenshire for a lot of reasons, but it’s not because the electorate are irredeemably Tory. We owe them better than to validate their belief that whether we’re ignored by London or Holyrood, it’s all the same.


Independence Day – Let Freedom Ring?

So my feelings about the 4th of July are complex and shifting, and I tried to tweet about them but 140 characters just isn’t enough when discussing the concept of freedom at the genesis of this celebration.

Alongside my usual posts of the Frederick Douglass speech, and of Sojourner Truth, I just want to include this John Laurens quote:

“We Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves.”

These days, it’s more popularly read as

‘We’ll never be free until we end slavery’

I have to wonder, on a day like this, if Laurens would ever have been successful in his plan and, if so, how differently the story of the United States would have played out. It’s unlikely, of course, because even in his short life he was met with desperate hostility for considering arming black people. But imagine.

Archaeologists are currently excavating Hemmings‘ room in Monticello. A major room, connected to the master suite, had ‘somehow’ gone unnoticed by generations of museum staff. If Laurens had been successful, if the US had been built on equality from the outset, could that have happened? Could the man who raped an enslaved woman so often that he installed her in an adjacent bedroom for easier access be lauded as a brilliant, bright Founding Father, rather than a shameful blot on the landscape?

Could Truth And Reconciliation ever happen in America? Between the original population of the land and the people who slaughtered them? Between the white US population and the people who are still, hundreds of years later, being lynched with impunity?

I work to make this country I live in a decent one. We’re not there yet. We are closer than we were a decade ago, but we’ve still a long way to go. Part of that is owning the dark parts of our history and present, recognising our role in maintaining these inequalities. I look over the ocean and wonder what our hoped-for freedom from Britain will bring, and if we can ensure that our new nation does not follow the same path.

Freedom is a nice idea, but none of us are free yet. While any of us are oppressed, freedom is a bitter joke at the expense of the marginalised and disenfranchised. The work goes on.

SNP – Where Do We Go From Here?

The elections are over, at least for now, and most of us are taking a well-earned breather. We won a clear majority in Scotland, with 35 MPs out of 59. It’s not the absolutely ludicrous result of 2015, but that was never going to be, could never be replicated. 95% of the MPs available was a fantastic, beautiful, one-off result. Of course, you’d never know that we won if you listen to reports, because we certainly did lose a lot of fantastic representatives in the rebalancing, and that so many seats went blue (especially in my area) is particularly heartbreaking. There is no shortage of opinions on what went right, what went wrong, who’s to blame, who should resign, but I want to look at the bigger picture for a moment.

While I completely understand the desire of the SNP to be all things to all people, and to ensure a plurality of voices within the party, and to avoid the poor coverage that radical politics inevitably brings, I think it’s time we make our stand.

There are a few key realisations we have to make our peace with:

1 – Nothing we do will ever bring with it the blessing of the media. We gave baby boxes to tiny babies and we were still vilified for it. We ensured that most people are protected from the Bedroom Tax, and there’s not a peep in the press. We are never going to get what we feel our policies deserve from the media, so we have to stop pursuing that.

2 – Because nothing we do will ever be covered positively, we have to make our case direct to the people by providing the best possible services to the majority of people, and ensuring they know where they came from. So many people I speak to have no idea that life here is so radically different from life in England, they don’t know why we’ve made the decisions we have, and they don’t understand the different levels of government. We have to go direct to the people by having public information days in small, local communities, where people can come and ask questions or where we go door to door to find out if people have any issues.

3 – In order to do point number two, we will have to learn point number one. We’ve got to make our peace with being a left-wing party with broadly socialist ideals, and commit to them. Land reform. Public health. Sustainable energy. Sustainable cities. Taxes to pay for them, because we can’t talk about great services without the money for them. I know we don’t have control over most of our taxes, and I know that the ones we do have are a trap, but we have to demonstrate the savings people will see because of the better services provided.

Yes, we’ll be called control freaks, but we already are. Yes, we’ll be accused of ‘Mugabe-style land grabs’, but we already are. Yes, we’ll be accused of radical politics, but we already are. Yes, we’ll be accused of stealing from ordinary people, but we already are.

We already are accused of all these things and more, so we may as well actually use them to do some good. Stop being hesitant, stop waiting for approval. We’ve done incredible work with tuition fees and prescriptions, with the Scottish Welfare Fund, the Scottish Independent Living Fund, the Scottish Social Security System which is being built to be a great thing for our society. We have done great work, but we’ve got so much more to do.

Point four – we will not always be in government. Our time here is limited. We must use it to implement as much good as we can, as quickly as we can, because our time will come to an end as the cycles of politics move on. If we wait for the public to get on board, we’ll be waiting forever. People gave us a mandate, let’s use it. Use it for all its worth, and do great things.

Yes, the press will come after us, because we threaten their bosses. Yes, the landowners will come after us, because we threaten their monopoly of our wild places. Yes, the people will come after us because they’re told we do terrible things like feed children and ensure access to healthcare and protect disabled people from Westminster.

Yes, they’ll come. And hopefully, we’ll have made enough of a difference that when they do, we’ll have made Scotland a better nation for the people who live here, and we’ll have honoured the voters who put their faith in us. History is littered with parties who compromised their values in order to maintain power – let’s choose a completely different direction. Let’s do what we need to do to make Scotland better, to put systems in place to help people which aren’t easily dismantled.

Let them come. We’ll have done our job.