Category Archives: Current stuff

A Note To My Fellow English People On Scottish Independence

To judge from Facebook and the newspaper front pages, most of England has now noticed there is a referendum on independence in Scotland this week. But a lot of people don’t know what to make of it. Or they aren’t very pleased. I’m English, but I lived in Scotland for 12 years, and there’s something I’d like to say to you all about the referendum.

Don’t be scared. Don’t be bitter. Take hope.

Some people maybe think that a Yes vote will be fueled by anti-English sentiments. Don’t be scared of that. I’d be lying if I said there is no anti-Englishness North of the border. I’ve had enough drunken arguments with people over the years about how I’m oppressing them all. Of course some people have a chip on their shoulder. But I think that’s been less and less since devolution.

There’s less reason to have that chip now. There’s a new self-confidence in Scotland these days. The Yes voters I’ve spoken to, or who I see in my Facebook feed aren’t motivated by hatred, but by hope.

Here’s a quote from a friend of mine who is passionate about voting Yes.

“I love being part of the UK. My Dad’s English, that’s where lots of my family and friends are; it’s the opportunity for change I’m voting for. I’d have liked to do it as part of the wider UK, but the system is too entrenched for meaningful change by peaceful democratic means.”

Some English people seem bitter about it. “It’s not fair! We haven’t got a functioning democracy either, why do you get to opt out?” With a sideline in, “Shit, if Scotland go, we’ll be ruled by the Tories forever!”

I know most people in the UK don’t feel our democracy works for them. Too right, it doesn’t. And it isn’t fair. First past the post is shit. We’re got an overly centralised government and a cabinet composed of millionaires who went to Eton. They’re asset-stripping the country, selling it all off to their country club mates, while blaming it all on immigrants and benefit claimants.

But here’s the thing. It’s like a relationship. If one person wants to leave, you can’t say, “But I don’t want you to go, you can’t leave me, I won’t let you!” If they want to leave, then it’s over.

And here’s the other thing. It’s not Scotland’s fault that so many people in England vote for the Tories. Scotland didn’t vote for them. And they didn’t design a political system run by Oxbridge-educated lawyers who treat politics as a game that only people exactly like them are allowed to play.

Scotland isn’t just another bit of England. It is a separate country, with a different legal system, a different education system and an NHS that (so far) isn’t being privatised. If I’m honest, it took me living in Scotland to realise this. Of course we are all Britons: we all know the Coronation Street theme tune and drink lots of tea. In the main, we have more in common than we do with French or Spanish or Bhutanese people. But the Scots all remember Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade and know about Buckfast, and English people don’t. It makes sense for Scotland to be it’s own country within the EU, if that’s what the people of Scotland want.

Of course, it would also make sense for the English regions to have greater self-determination too, if that’s what they want. But you know what? You need to fight for that yourselves, people! And here’s where ‘take hope’ comes in.

A Scottish friend of mine was planning to vote No for a long time. She feels a kinship with the English and she feels bad about abandoning England to be governed by the Tories forever. But recently she’s changed her mind to Yes.

She says she’s come to think that the best thing Scotland can do for all the English people getting shat on by centralised government and the Tories is to show them there is an alternative. And maybe that will kick something off in the English regions. Cos sticking with it and suffering under a Tory government most people in Scotland never voted for doesn’t seem to be helping people in England to see that their government is not acting in their interests.

Last year I was one of the facilitators at a consensus conference for ordinary Scots, modelled on the Icelandic referendum movement. People there talked about the country they wanted to live in, and it was a fairer country, and greener country, a peaceful country that doesn’t make war around the world and sell arms to dictators. It was a country with more localised decision making. They also wanted fewer midgies and more sunshine, but I think they knew which of these aims was achievable.

In my experience, most people have got better ideas about how to run a country than the people actually running the country seem to do.

With the upcoming referendum, people are talking about it everywhere. I’ve overheard conversations on park benches, in chip shops, at bus stops. People are talking about the big stuff – the kind of future they want and the kind of country they want to live in. This is what politics should be like, but never is, in the Westminster system. But give people a meaningful vote and they engage with it.

The Scots see the possibility of change, and change for the better. They see the possibility of taking their own destiny in their hands and making Scotland the kind of country they want to live in.

This is what politics could be like in England too. Instead of a stupid game where men in different coloured ties bay at each other across a debating chamber.

People aren’t voting Yes out of hate, but out of hope. Hope that greater self-determination can create a better country. Of course there’s the chance that Scotland just swaps an overly-centralised government in Westminster for an overly-centralised government in Holyrood. People in Scotland know that. They aren’t stupid. But at least Scotland has proportional representation, which makes it more democratic from the get-go. And really, in austerity Britain, with our cabinet of millionaires, wouldn’t most change be for the better?

If Scotland vote Yes on Thursday (which I’ve come to hope they do), then don’t be scared. Don’t be bitter. Take hope. Maybe a better world is possible, and maybe we can learn from the Scots.


A bit of info about racism and sexism

There’s been a lot said online in the last few days about feminism and racism. But one thing I’ve read in that time has really struck me. It wasn’t a comment piece or blogpost. It was a report of a bit of academic research. I don’t know how much it’s been noticed outside academia, so I thought it was worth telling you about it.

If you’re applying for a PhD, it’s common to contact the department in advance and have an informal chat. This is where you’ll get a heads up on what they’re looking for, find out if it’s the right PhD for you and if it’s worth applying and maybe start to form relationships. Three US researchers (Katherine Milkman, from the University of Pennsylvannia, Modupe Akinola of Columbia University and Dolly Chugh of New York University) wanted to know if it was a level playing field.

They looked at how university professors responded to an email, seemingly from a prospective student, asking for an informal meeting. They sent emails to 6,500 professors, claiming to be a student interested in doing a PhD and asking to come in and meet them.

They names of the fictional students were varied so some appeared male, some appeared female. Also so that they appeared to have different ethnicities. The researchers wanted to know if gender and ethnicity made a difference to the response. And lo and behold it did.

Table showing response ratesEmails from white males were LEAST likely to be completely ignored (26.5%). White females were slightly more likely to be ignored, but not that much more likely (29.8%). The people MOST likely to be ignored were Chinese females (46.9%), then Indian males (41.8%), then Indian females (37.7%).

Interestingly, for white, black and Chinese students, females were more likely to be ignored. Whereas for Hispanic and Indian students, males were more likely to be ignored. I’ve no idea what that’s about.

Some professors replied to emails, but then said they couldn’t meet up. So as you can see in the table, we’ve got stats for emails ignored and also for meetings denied.

White males are least likely to be denied a meeting (52.4%), white females were only fractionally more likely to be denied a meeting (52.9%). Then, in order, increasingly likely to be denied a meeting were Hispanic, black, Chinese and Indian students of both genders. Indian males (68.2%) were the least likely to get a meeting.

Interestingly, for every ethnicity but white, females were slightly more likely than males to get an actual meeting. The factor that made the biggest difference overall was ethnicity. Yes, I was surprised too, but there’s the facts.

Now, this is just one study, looking at one pretty specific thing. It’s not a summary of the entire state of gender relations in the world. It just tells you something about life for prospective PhD students applying to US universities. Also, the research hasn’t been done in the UK, so we don’t know if it would be different here.

But what it tells me is that if I wasn’t white and I was trying to study at a US university, then my ethnicity would have a subtle but very real effect on how easy that was to sort out. A much bigger effect, it would appear, than my gender, despite what white feminists might think.

So, you know, I’m going to bear that in mind. Because in the Matriarchal Utopia our feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.

Adventures in Terry and June land

I’ve taken to livetweeting any time I see my parents. They are hilarious.

[View the story “New Story” on Storify]

I hope it’s obvious, despite me taking the piss, that I love them dearly and think they’re brilliant. I miss them, living miles away. Given all the terrible people the world is full of, it seems a shame not to spend more time with lovely people. Especially ones who love you, and want to see you.

But I do find them utterly exasperating. Also, does anyone else have that strange tendency to start acting like a 13 year old as soon as you’re in your parents’s house? I start stamping my feet and sulking. It’s embarrassing.

For some reason they are much easier to deal with if I view it all as an amusing anecdote in the making. So I realised that the secret of quality time with the parents is to make it as sitcom-like as possible. Fortunately (as you can see) they work in that genre instinctively. But I thought: what I should do is set up as ridiculous situation as possible to hang out with parents in. Of course, it’s when travelling that they are at their most amusing…

So I realised there’s an idea I had a while ago that would be perfect. A couple of years ago I walked the Cotswold Way with Mum and Dad. Well, they didn’t walk much – are you mad? – they mainly ate cakes and bickered. I did most of the walking on my own, but met up with them at mealtimes. Which was ideal.
My life is too short to hunt back for the tweets and storify that too. But trust me, it was awesome.I thought this old idea of mine could work a bit like that. So this is by way of an announcement: me and the boyfriend are going to walk the River Trent, with the parents acting as back up team. They don’t know about this yet. If you want to help, you could leave comments on Dad’s YouTube channel, saying how much you’d like to see him perform along the River Trent, as part of his wayward and ungrateful daughter’s genius/crazy plan.
I’ll let you know how I get on with persuading them…

The battle of the allotments

I’m putting this up because I haven’t really seen anything online that accurately described what happened last night re the Occasional Cinema screening in Mina Road Park.

I went to Mina Road park last night, wanting to see the citizen journalist films about Stokes Croft, with some friends.

We arrived shortly before 7.30pm at the park. We’d passed one police van parked down a street on the way and there were several police around the park. There was also at least another two police vans, one down a side street and one on Mina Road. There were people in the park clearly waiting to see the film (as the sun had mostly gone), including families with small children.

I want to stress at this point, if you don’t know Bristol, St Werburghs is a really nice, somewhat hippy area. There’s a City Farm there, some self-built eco-houses next door, the Better Food Company, which is a sort of organic right-on supermarket, an active allotments groups…It’s a bit alternative, you could say it’s a little bit yoghurt weaving, but also very safe and villagey in feel. You see lots of prams about and they sell a lot of copies of The Guardian. I live about five minutes walk away.

It was obvious that there was no equipment set up and the film screening wasn’t happening. People were milling about, chatting to friends and waiting to see what would happen. We were told by someone involved in the anti-Tescos campaign that the police had confiscated the screen, but I did not hear this from the Occasional Cinema organisers themselves, so I can’t absolutely confirm it.

But certainly, the police had said the event could not go ahead, citing worries about public order. There were maybe 70-100 people in the park (including, as I’ve mentioned, small children) and it’s St Werburghs. I just cannot imagine what you’d have to do to start a riot in St Werburghs. Steal someone’s best tofu recipe?

The idea that there would be violence seemed pretty ridiculous. It was hard not to feel this was a bit of a paranoid response, if not censorship.

Anyway, the organisers came up with an alternative location which was a private house. A couple of people set off, and everyone slowly drifted along behind them (packing up their blankets, chatting to new arrivals, you know how long it takes to get a group of people to leave a park).

The house was in Ashley Road allotments. Keep that in your mind. How much more Dad’s Army could something be than a police operation in some allotments? To get to the house you had to go down a path through the allotments. A police van and possibly a car had been following people up the street, but they couldn’t go down this path. So the first wave of people were at the house before the police could get near.

My housemate, who was with us, decided to go home at this point. It had all taken longer than he’d expected and would prob take a while to set up at the new location. He needed to go and pick his kids up from scouts.

Some of the friends I’d come with were still a bit behind us. By the time they got to the start of the path, the police were there turning people away and saying they couldn’t come down the path to attend the film showing. A film showing of a perfectly legal film, at a private house. This is where I really think it went ridiculous.

The organisers told us the police were saying that they would arrest people who tried to come to the location to attend the film showing. Arrest people? For trying to go to a house to watch a film?

Blocking the film showing in a public park, in a residential area is one thing – I think the police were wrong, but they could reasonably believe it might cause public disorder. But stopping people coming to watch a film at a private house? Did they think we were going to riot and smash up the guy’s house who had kindly volunteered his garden for the film showing? Maybe set fire to some waterbutts and coldframes? Build barricades out of marrows and runner beans? Is this some heartwarming British sitcom featuring Dawn French and Richard Briers?

My housemate, on his way home, texted to say that police were blocking the road through St Werburghs, at Mina Rd tunnel. They were stopping people from coming up from St Werburghs to where the film was going to be shown. The police told him it was an illegal rave. No one could possibly think that 60-70 people sitting quietly in someone’s garden, in some allotments, without any music playing was an illegal rave, but there you go. Thanks to the Criminal Justice Act, if something’s a rave, the police have powers they wouldn’t have normally.

Did I mention the police helicopter circling overhead?

Happily, the police perhaps didn’t know the area that well, because they hadn’t sealed off another path into the allotments, so my friends who’d been turned away at the end of the path just went round the other way and arrived a bit later. We all sat quietly chatting and waiting for it to get dark enough to use the projector.

Eventually, we got word that the police were removing the road blocks and the helicopter. We all cheered, and settled down to watch the films.

Some of the footage was great. Some of it was repetitive, or unclear. To be expected. The film shown at the end – hot off the presses, was aces and I recommend you watch it. Why did the Stokes Croft Riots happen? Local people, in their own words, describe what happened.

There were still lots of police around when we left and on the way home but as far as I saw they didn’t hassle anyone. They were just a slightly menacing, and entirely unnecessary, presence.