Thursday, September 18, 2014

Power to the People

I know I have been quiet for a while. There has been a mass of family stuff I have had to deal with over the last few months: Stuff that I am still processing. I have switched on my computer countless times and tried to write. Yet, all I have to write about is the shit I am dealing with due to my Dad, and frankly I am still not ready to write about it. I have half a dozen posts, half written and abandoned, as it is clear, I am still dealing with how my paternal family has spectacularly imploded.

So, I am not going to write about it. Not yet.

I am, instead, going to write about one of the huge ‘taboos’ that should never, ever be spoken about. (And no, its not if the twelfth Doctor is awesome, because let’s face it, we all know he is).

It’s politics. In fact, it’s Scottish politics.

I am not Scottish and I live hundreds of miles away from Scotland, but if you live in the UK at the moment, it’s hard not to be caught up in it.

I am disenfranchised from the whole process. I am not eligible to vote – and that is a whole other discussion: Should a decision that affects the entire country, only be decided by a certain proportion of the population? Regardless, this is the most dynamic the UK’s politics has been in years, and in that respect it’s joyous to see.

I am not going to comment on whether Scotland should cede from the rest of the United Kingdom. After reading the horror stories in the press, commenting on the outcome is a guaranteed way to find a mutilated haggis in your bed and the screech of bagpipes as you wonder out of your house, eating your toast and rushing to work. The passions that have been stirred up by the debate are immense.

However, that’s the point. Despite being dis-engaged from the whole process, this is the most alive I have seen British politics for a long time – in fact, the most dynamic politics I have seen in my lifetime.

The political process across the western world has become stagnant. As the parties have come to the middle-ground to woo voters, they have in turn, just turned into each other. Yes, there are fundamental views that you will find dependent if you talk to a conservative or a liberal voter. Regardless of the country you reside in, Conservatism deals with business, conventional family values and the protection of the status-quo. Liberalism is based on a levelling of society wealth as well as integrating marginal groups. Regardless of the colours of the ribbons the politicians wear, if you are richer or older, then you [generally] vote conservative. If you are young and trying to make your way in the world, you [again, generally] vote liberal. It’s a generalization that will be flamed, but hey, I am not a political commentator. I am just a hack blogger.

As the ethos of the political parties change from red or blue to an odd sort of purple, then the motivation of the electorate is decimated. I mean, why bother? If you are just dealing with shades of the same hue, does it really matter, when the people ruling your country are all part of the same ‘old, white, boy’s club’? (And yes, as much as we believe we are progressive in the western world, it is still an ‘old white, boy’s club’. Women and marginal groups are being excluded via the natural process of going to the ‘wrong school’).

Yet, the Scottish referendum is something completely different. Here is finally a choice. This is a real choice that will make a real change. It’s not based on party lines. How you feel about gay marriage, cultural integration, family values or wealth distribution has no real influence on whether you want Scotland to be an independent country.

I find this amazing, uplifting and exciting.

In my last two years in High School, I studied the subject of  ‘Modern History’. The ‘British History’ part of the course was delivered by one of the most influential teachers I have known. Mr. Hughes, tried to make us think of ourselves. During the lesson –usually about half way through- he would stop teaching and we would stop scribbling notes. He would engage us in a debate into whatever subject took his fancy at the time. The conversations ranged over three hundred years of history. Underlying the political debates we would have, was the fundamental belief that if you didn’t vote you have no right to protest the decisions the elected party makes in your name. Voting is important. At every opportunity you are given to vote, it is your responsibility to make use of it.

The right to vote has become so accepted that it has become unimportant. Its not a right to fight for because we all have it. It’s like coffee, or banana’s. If it’s everywhere, then we fail to see it as something special.

We forget that this ‘fundamental’ right we pay so little importance to, has only recently become fundamental for all.  Universal Male suffrage was only granted in 1884, Heck the house I am typing this from was only built a few years later. That’s MALE suffrage. Women below the age of thirty didn’t receive the vote in the UK until 1928.  The universal right to vote in the UK is less than a hundred years old! Alfred Hitchcock had already made his third film and the BBC was already in place. The right to vote shouldn't be taken for granted.

In fact, when we think about it, the right for a free, democratic election is still  a right that is not experienced in large portions of the world. Yet, in the UK we take the right to vote as something we do if the weather is nice. In the last General Election in 2010 the voter turnout was 65% -- which was an improvement over the 2001 election where the turnout didn’t hit 60%. Clearly voting is something we don’t take pride in.

Going back to my starting point: Scotland. Why is the Scotland vote so important? For the first time in a long while we are seeing people voting in large numbers, (they suspect the voting turnout will be 97%). The vote is –if you believe the polls- too close to call. Even if Scotland votes ‘No’, the concessions in regional devolution they have gained over the last few weeks, will make a change to how the Scottish government rules the Scottish inhabitants. If they vote ‘Yes’ then the whole of the UK will experience a dramatic change in the political landscape.

I am excited and passionate about this vote, despite not being a part of it, because I hope to see once again, the electorate becoming impassioned to use the power they have. A vote isn’t an empty thing, but something we can use to make a real change.  Perhaps now party lines will be re-worded, electoral boundaries will be re-drawn, new electoral systems re-vamped. Wouldn’t it be great, if there was a devolution of power from a central base, where everyone is in the same coloured suit, to regional capitals where the politicians are visible to the electorate that vote for them?

Who knows if this will ever happen? It reminds me of the ‘Yes,Prime Minister’ episode (which is probably thirty years old now) which concentrates on this very issue. The socialist politician who is hell bent on radical change, backs down when regional power is proposed and  she realizes that the people may have the power and not the politicians. 

This is truly an exciting time. This is where we may see real change. This is the time we are shown we could have the power if we take it and vote. We have the politicians we have, not because we have chosen them, but because we have failed to vote and protest for an alternative.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Why we will never understand...

"The Hole in the Ground" 

Anjis Beach-head is a wonderful sight,
The shells maybe falling by day and by night
But whenever these whiz-bangs are flying around
We all made a dive for that hole in the ground

The M.E don't seare (??) us we have met them before
They dive from the sun with a menacing roar
So we elevate, and swing, the old gun around
And they all finish up in a hole in the ground...

The first two stanza's of a poem, that my GrandFather sent to my 
my Grandmother as he served in the Light Infantry from 1940-46 across Europe.
(I believe a friend of his wrote it and a number of people copied it to their loved ones).
The Poem goes on for four pages and has 10 stanza's  

So, I will use the usual preface, “I am a little bit drunk”… you know that’s code for the fact I have no inbuilt filters.

I have had a couple of conversations with friends in the UK and US friends on the subject of Gun control. Yes, I know it’s a controversial subject, and yes some –or most of you- will hate me at the end of this post.

Let me state this for the record, I am not an anti-gun or a pro-gun activist as such. I believe that anyone can own a gun as long as reasonable checks and balances can limit the damage that guns can potentially do. Yes, this does mean legislation and restriction. If you don’t understand the damage a gun can have, you aren’t allowed one. If you can’t keep it out of the reach of those that are too young to know the difference then reconsider. Be prepared; you own a weapon of destruction. If you accept you can be pulled over by the traffic cops, then accept a policeman can knock on your door to ensure little Timmy hasn’t used your semi to prop up his lego-tray table. Is this too much to ask of any sane human being?

I am British, and as such I have grown up in a culture where gun crime was infrequent. It didn’t touch me. Even in the times where violence was prevalent in my neighbourhood, guns were not a part of it. I come from a society where gun culture and passion for guns is a rare thing. We even abhor hunting of animals. I respect that I am speaking from inexperience. Have I ever had to protect myself from someone with a gun? Well, no. The likelihood the perpetrators would have a gun is so small, that my need to have one too is so small. Maybe during the zombie apocalypse then yes, but I would rather buy an axe at the hardware store – a lot more efficient I believe.

So my disclaimers are in: I am drunk, I am on the fence (as much as the UK allows, which by US standards is probably very liberal) and I have no experience of gun culture. I also come from Europe – this disclaimer will become apparent later on.

Dragging my drunken brain into working.

I have spent some of the evening –which in social media terms is a life time- trying to understand why guns are so necessary in the USA. It is a hot-topic as I have found out and one you shouldn’t mess with unless you are stupid or well stupid (sums me up pretty well).

The thing is I think (and yes, I am speaking for the whole of a continent, who thereby has a right to shoot me down) Europe, just doesn’t get it.

Regularly, I get posts on my Face Book newsfeed of another shooting in a school, or a college, or a university, or a restaurant. Usually suffixed with the lament of “why?”, and yes, most of us are wondering about that too.

In 1987, in a man climbed into the town clock of Hungerford, UK and killed sixteen people and injured fifteen others using a semi-automatic rifle. I was 14 and I still remember the news program. Our culture, was not equipped to deal with such an incident and who knows how many people would have been saved if someone had shot him on the outset. We don’t and in 1988 (a year after) semi-automatic weapons were banned. Instead of liberalizing gun control to protect ourselves we restricted it. I am glad.

This was a turning point. If we had allowed hand-guns and semi-automatics would the US be our standard now? Would I send my nine year old to school not knowing if he would be one of a number shot in the seven NRA accredited school shootings in eighteen months?

I am thinking, and typing out loud, and not as coherent as I wanted. Did I say I was drunk? Clawing my drunken brain to rambling mode.

I wanted to know if kids where obtaining guns from their parent’s then going to school and shooting kids, then why was it not being stopped? The conversations all began from this article from (I admit) a UK based newspaper. Let’s acknowledge the bias here. Do we all understand the word bias here? I.e. knowing the stance from which our sources are derived and understanding any political and social sway they write to promote their cause? (I am just clarifying, because I don’t- apparently)

The gun debate mainly seemed to centre on people calling me an ideological slave to the government and not wishing to give me information. Probably a role they believe I filled quite well by not agreeing with them. At the time I was intrigued and entertained. Now, a little drunk and tired, I am just a little sad.

(Can you see where my reference to bias come from? Would an ideological slave understand the meaning of bias even if it came and goosed them on a drunken party? The answer is no, which nullifies the idea I am a political sheep)

I want to explain why I think guns are abhorred in Europe. Yes, it is subjective and probably will be flamed.

One of the criticisms (I think) was the fact that I am, not American. I don’t understand the culture or the history; that is true. I don’t. But maybe, Americans don’t understand ours.

I was brought up and now reside in Europe.

In 1914 –one hundred years ago- our country started fighting a war, the likes that had never been seen before. Forget any civil wars, or wars of independence. This isn’t called the ‘World War One’ for nothing. People died. Our families died. Our homelands were wrecked and ravaged.

We still feel the pain, and then twenty years later it started over again.

Two generations of families were destroyed with war. Friends in the US cited that ‘Pearl Harbour was a part of it’. That was 1941. 194 fucking 1. My Grandad had been in a tank for over a year before you came into it, and my Grandad was in a fucking tank two years after you buggered off.

That’s the thing you see. Just as it’s cited that Europe’s issue of comprehension on lack US gun control is determined by a continent and thousands-of-miles, the US lack of comprehension of our liberalism is defined by the same distance.

To us, the tangible feel of a gun is still painfully obvious.

I know Americans lost their lives in World War Two, but we still have veterans who are alive and part of peoples’ family, who go and touch the place where their friends died. We live on streets that were decimated and then rebuilt. There is not a family in this country that was not intimately been touched by war. There was not a person in this continent that doesn’t walk past a ravage of war. We drive, or walk, or live, by old air-fields, or bomb-sites. We have grandparents who were lost, or those that survived. Never anything in-between it seems.

America may have been in our wars, but out of the nine years we were at war, you were only there en-masse for a few. Your families were safe as you battled, ours weren’t.

As we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, I wonder how many American’s feel so intimately touched by the American Civil War. As I pass the war memorials of young soldiers, as I walk my son to school –knowing that every village and town and city has the same- do you have the same? I trace my ancestry, not by when I landed on a continent, but which parents survived a war and why?

Do you have that?

I know that many may say ‘We should get over ourselves. That was years ago’, but as I was challenged by history dating back three hundred or more, I wonder if we should. If Americans feel the need to cite King George III and a war three hundred and fifty years ago, then I think we have a few more years to go.

You can only remember your scars through your history books – we still touch our scars.

We know arming ourselves against the government wouldn’t have helped. That wasn’t the enemy we were fighting. We were fighting oppression through a lack of information and education – would guns have solved that? Oppressors didn’t rule entirely through violence, they ruled by burning books and blinkered ideology. Am I the sheep by ensuring I look at all sides of the argument before deciding? I think not.

I guess we will never understand each other. The US will never understand why we don’t want guns, the Europeans will never understand why the Americans do. However, it’s a shame that the US will have to have every single family in their country define themselves by the death of someone they loved –or could have loved- due to a bullet, or a bomb, or a grenade, before they act.

We have seen the fire –it still lives with us- and we never want to see it again.
We don’t want a gun in our house, or in our street, or in our town.
Not because we are weak, but because we have been strong and we need to be strong never to go there again.

Maybe, even though you don’t want to, you may see that now.

(If you can't agree to protect each other, just please protect the children - speaking as a Mother).