Comment: George Watson’s College’s MUN Conference

If there’s one group we like to blame society’s problems on, it’s young people. These binge drinking hoody wearers are disaffected, uncaring and couldn’t spell “politics” if their entire Spelling Bee credibility depended on it, right?

Wrong. While some of us continue to bury years of repressed memories of endless evenings spent crying over boys and loudly hating our parents, there is one place guaranteed to restore a long lost faith in teenagers: a Model United Nations conference.

This weekend’s MUN at George Watson’s College is the largest school-based conference of its kind in Scotland. Attracting over 600 secondary school pupils from across Britain, Europe and even North Africa, ages range from as young as 12 right up to 18 – and all of them with a keen interest in international relations.

The three-day conference is spent debating a wide variety of issues, ranging from designer babies and women’s pay, to the justification of torture and overcoming poverty. Sometimes the discussions wander into satire (take, for example, Germany’s proposal that a hotline between a selection of UN member states have Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as its holding tune), but usually they’re serious, well researched and impressively thorough.

There’s a wide range of abilities here, from the seasoned MUN veteran to the nervous first timer, but for all of them it’s cool to be clever. This is helped by the overwhelming feature at George Watson’s being the feeling of inclusion; nobody can be found sitting awkwardly on their own or left red faced in the aftermath of a “stupid” suggestion.

“We pride ourselves on being a friendly conference,” explains chair of one of the political committees, Lily Taylor. “So if it’s anyone’s first conference we really encourage them to speak.”

Being young, these kids take everything in their stride. Full of modesty and sheltered from the harsh realities of a competitive job market, they don’t seem to grasp quite how astonishing what they’re doing is. One boy cringes at his mum’s public yet withheld expressions of pride, while another talks down his achievements, instead joking about accepting bribes in the form of bags of Haribo, a selection of lollipops and even a cabbage.

As well as having the confidence to stand up and present their argument in front of an entire hall full of their peers, they all clearly know their stuff – and if they don’t, they’re quickly pulled up by someone else who does. The enthusiasm is infectious; they might be role playing, but each speech is passionate without exception, with the debates becoming more and more colourful as the weekend progresses.

If there’s one criticism of the MUN scene, it’s that it’s still dominated by private schools. As an extra curricular activity, it’s perhaps little wonder that only a handful of state schools have the resources to establish and nurture any kind of MUN club. That said, a good number of the Scottish schools at George Watson’s conference are state schools, including James Gillespie’s High School which held its first one-day conference at the end of last year.

But the most profound outcome of an MUN has got to be the effect it has on the minds and attitudes of young people. Not only do participants have to understand and defend the policies and beliefs of a nation often very different to their own, but the conference physically allows them to meet and socialise with people from all walks of life from cultures and countries across the world. Even within the first break, rooms full of people who had never set eyes on each other an hour earlier are a buzz of chatter and laughter in a true demonstration of the unprejudiced openness of youth.

So take heed, ye of little faith: if there’s ever a way to promote cultural understanding and tolerance, a Model United Nations is surely it – and it’s our young people at the helm. We should be proud.

Edinburgh hosts Scotland’s largest school MUN Conference

One of Britain’s largest Model United Nations Conferences took place in Edinburgh this weekend.

Over 600 teenagers took part in the three-day conference at George Watson’s College. Now in its sixth year, it is the biggest school-based MUN in Scotland and attracts participants from as far afield as Egypt and Turkey.

Alexandra Wingate reports exclusively from the conference.


What is an MUN?

An MUN is a replica of the United Nations. As well as having a secretary general and a number of chairs, the conference consists of a variety of committees, a security council, a general assembly and an emergency debate.

Participants are assigned a member state which they then represent in various discussions. The challenge is for delegates to accurately portray the political policies and moral values of their assigned country, which usually differs in varying degrees to that of their own nation.

How does an MUN work?

As in the real United Nations, an MUN is primarily split into different committees which are attended by one delegate from each state. In George Watson’s case, these consist of economic, environment, health, human rights, media, and political, with as many as 48 countries represented in each committee.

After lobbying for support, delegates can put forward a formal resolution for discussion. The proposal is then debated with opportunities to add amendments before the final resolution is voted on by all members. This format is replicated throughout the conference, in both the smaller security council and the large general assembly attended by all delegates from all countries.

The debates are formal and procedures are carefully overseen by a number of chairs. Discussions are detailed and rigorous with a typical session lasting around one to two hours.

Comment: George Watson’s College’s MUN Conference

Council ‘underhand’ with removal of trees

 

Council contractors have cut down five trees along the Water of Leith, despite earlier promises they would be protected.

Stop the Chop campaigners were informed of the reversal on Thursday, with three trees removed within 24 hours. The two remaining trees were cut down earlier today.

Stop the Chop’s anonymous petition organiser said that local residents had been given “no time to respond to this Council U-turn”, adding that “the Council have acted with a lack of transparency and in a cynical, underhand manner”.

The Water of Leith Flood Prevention Scheme has seen numerous trees removed along the river between Stockbridge and Warriston Crescent in recent months, prompting a petition signed by 1,159 people to save the trees on the Canonmills stretch of the river.

In December 2011, Dave Anderson, director of city development, confirmed that the five trees in question could “be saved without any negative impact on the flood works programme”.

However, this government-backed decision was overturned by Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, convenor of the council’s Transport, Infrastructure and Environment Committee, after the trees’ removal was deemed necessary to “provide a safe access for the construction team”.

Short film night launches today

Image by Christopher L Cook

Edinburgh’s only short film night is being launched today.

Taking place at the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema, Write Shoot Cut is a monthly screening of local, national and international short films.

As well as giving film fans an opportunity to see a variety of short films, the evening involves a Q&A with the filmmakers and will conclude with an opportunity to network over drinks.

Created by Edinburgh screenwriter, Neil Rolland, the event is a physical replica of his increasingly popular blog of the same name. The site showcases the best short films on the internet alongside personal interviews with the people who made them.

Starting at 7pm and lasting no longer than 90 minutes, the screening allows viewers to see around six films without taking up their whole evening.

Mr Rolland says: “I think people get put off shorts because there’s a lot of rubbish out there, there really is. So I sift through all the submissions and find the ones that have stood out in some way.

“They don’t have to fit a particular style, they just have to be interesting in some way, whether that’s the idea, story, directing, performances – whatever.”

Himself a filmmaker, Mr. Rolland’s short script Away – directed by Ryd Cook – screened at Cannes in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Anthony Minghella Best UK Short Award at Hull Film Festival.

His most recent short, Friday Night and Saturday Morning, is currently being assessed by curators around the world for inclusion in their film festival programmes, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June.

One third of Little City Pictures, Mr Rolland recognizes the importance for filmmakers to have a support network.

“Making films is only possible if you’ve got that support there. So hopefully [Write Shoot Cut] will be able to give that to people who maybe aren’t too sure on where to start or what to do next.”

Despite Edinburgh’s active film calendar, this is the only event dedicated to short films.

Dave Brown, co-founder of Edinburgh-based seensome, says: “By focussing on local talent, Write Shoot Cut looks like it will be a great night and a welcome addition to the Edinburgh film scene. Short films provide a welcome stepping stone allowing filmmakers to develop their abilities, as well as being an art form in their own right.”

Other monthly events include the Filmhouse Film Quiz, Shooters in the Pub, and Screenwriters, EH.

Scotland’s first Festival of Erotic Arts smothers the smut

With Edinburgh International Festival’s much-anticipated summer programme being launched on Wednesday and the first Fringe tickets already on sale, March is the time when the buzz of Edinburgh’s summer festivals really kicks off.

But there’s a new festival in town which is getting the tongues of arts enthusiasts wagging: the Festival of Erotic Arts (FEA).

Running for three days in June, FEA is the first of its kind in Scotland and follows a growing number of cities who have begun hosting such festivals in recent years; Seattle’s Festival of Erotic Art is now in its tenth year, and attracts over 10,000 visitors, while similar events take place annually in Paris, Berlin and New York among others.

As with any new and controversial event, FEA’s programme announcement sparked furore over the weekend, with both the city council and the Church of Scotland voicing concerns over the potential risks posed to vulnerable women and the impact advertising could have on children.

But rather than reinforcing and perpetuating clichés, the festival’s organisers, Itsy Live Events, promise to give a platform to erotic art in all its forms, as well as creating a place for art and performances not otherwise seen in mainstream venues.

Events are typical of any other arts festival; exhibitions and talks include Erotic: Surreal and Abstract and A Spoken History of the Erotic Arts. The innocently named Arts & Crafts Fair is being plugged as “a one-of-a-kind sexy fair” with everything from books to accessories to clothes being sold by craftmakers and artists alike.

For those keen to dip their toe into the erotic water, there’s a beginner’s workshop in Japanese style bondage, which involves decorative ties with ropes. Run by a bondage professional, the ticket price includes a goody bag with lesson sheets, 15 metres of rope, and an all-important pair of safety scissors.

Despite being a short, weekend festival, many of the names involved in the FEA are the crème de la crème of the UK’s fetish scene. London-based Torture Garden’s fetish, burlesque and body art club nights for “alternative arty weirdos” are the biggest in the world, with previous visitors including Marilyn Manson, Dita Von Teese and Jean Paul Gaultier. A debate on the nature of human sexuality will be hosted by award nominated cabaret act, ArtWank, while internationally bestselling author and blogger extraordinaire, Zoe Margolis, will be giving a Q&A on the art of sex blogging.

With Margolis a regular contributor to The Guardian and The Observer, the FEA is going out of its way to make sure this festival is taken seriously. Describing it as “a sleaze-free celebration of a thriving art form”, there’s an undeniable absence of smut in the way it’s being marketed – and if nothing else, it’s good advertising for Itsy Live Events’ other specialist service, “reputation management”.

Edinburgh first to back global Occupy movement

Edinburgh Council has become the first political body to officially back to worldwide Occupy movement.

The council this afternoon voted in an overwhelming majority to redirect economic decisions to be more focussed on the needs of the 99% in an attempt to reduce the “inequitable gap” between the rich and poor.

The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens, all voted in favour of the motion, with the Conservatives the only party to reject it.

During the debate, Councillor Chapman of the Scottish Green Group said: “Next week workers will go on strike to protect pensions whilst the 1% continue their parasitic feasting on the commonwealth.”

Labour Councillor Gordon Munro, who is an advocate of the Robin Hood Tax, added: “Occupy Edinburgh is a civilised response to the irresponsible actions of global bankers.”

Conservatives voiced concern over the safety of the Edinburgh camp based at St Andrew’s Square, citing anti-social behaviour and a risk to public safety. They also felt that a vote to back the movement would suggest that Edinburgh was closed to the needs of businesses.

Councillor Chapman responded: “This is not about saying Edinburgh is closed to business. It’s about representing the interests of the people.”

Background to the Occupy Movement

St Andrew’s Square has seen an influx of approximately 300 protestors since October 15 calling themselves Occupy Edinburgh. The demonstration, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in America, has seen campaigners rally against the influence of the ‘one per cent’ of wealthy individuals and companies over the ’99 per cent’ of the general public. Their mantra, ‘We are people over profit’, reflects their protests against cuts to education, disability benefits and the NHS. Dozens of students, working mothers, trade unionists and other campaigning groups have set up camp and made a call for social equality and corporate responsibility.

The non-violent protests in Edinburgh are among a small minority of the demonstrations which have gone smoothly with little disruption.

Council scraps environmental privatisation plans

The council has scrapped plans to outsource its environmental services to private firm Enterprise.

The move means that services such as bin collection, recycling and responsibility for public spaces including parks will remain with the council.

The decision came this afternoon after SNP councillors won a majority vote against their Liberal Democrat coalition partners who were in favour of privatisation. The SNPs were backed by both Labour and the Green Party, while the Conservatives supported the Liberal Democrats.

However, not all Liberal Democrat councillors were in favour of outsourcing. Councillor Gary Peacock was applauded by the public gallery for voting against privatisation, saying: “I believe that waste and parks should remain in the public sector”, but added that it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

Today’s vote is seen as significant in keeping other council services out of the public sector.

During today’s debate, Councillor Burgess of the Green Party said: “The Liberal Democrat motion, if approved, would see a large proportion of council services handed over to the private sector.”

The privatisation plans alone have cost the council £3.6million over the last two years, but the council’s director of Services for Communities, Mark Turley – who last year was paid £120,513 – said that a positive vote could have saved the city £27 million at a time that serious cuts are having to be made.

Councillor Mowat of the Conservatives warned councillors before the vote: “If you vote against Enterprise, you can go and justify it to the people who lose their jobs next year.”

There are now unconfirmed reports that the vote may lead to a collapse in the Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

More background on today’s decision is available here.

Salmond “scared of separation”

Iain Gray used today’s First Minister’s Questions to corner Alex Salmond over his refusal to name a date for Scotland’s referendum on independence, accusing the First Minister of being “scared of separation”.

In typical First Ministers’ Questions style, Mr Salmond responded in kind by accusing the Labour leader of being “frightened of the concept of independence.”

The Labour leader urged Mr Salmond to “steady the ship and decide a date for the referendum,” after a week of bickering between Holyrood and Westminster, which saw Finance Secretary John Swinney accuse the UK Government of “becoming ever more hysterical” over the issue of independence.

The First Minister confirmed that the referendum would take place in the second half of the SNP’s current term in parliament, as set out during the party’s election campaign earlier this year, but refused to confirm a specific date.

Mr Gray said: “The longer this goes on, the more it looks as if Alex Salmond is trying to rig the referendum to get the results he wants.

“He always puts party before principal and isn’t that why he can’t name a date?”

Mr Salmond responded by saying: “Some people in the Labour party actually recognise that they lost the election and have to accept the mandate of the Scottish people.”

He added: “Westminster should keep out of the referendum and not meddle.

“It would be insulting and contemptuous for the Scottish people for Westminster to get involved.”

The First Minister went on to say that a number of opinion polls are showing increasing and substantial support for an independent Scotland. He reminded the main chamber that the SNP were re-elected with “a massive majority” six months ago on the basis of their promise to hold a referendum.

He went on to express concerns that the UK Treasury was not keeping the Scottish Government properly informed about the impact the euro will have on the Scottish economy. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is yet to respond to John Swinney’s request that economy-boosting measures are included in the Treasury’s autumn statement, including an increase in capital spending.

The week so far in Scottish politics

Holyrood Parliament. Image: Pete Swift

Squabbles over independence, a fight against sectarianism and donations from lottery winners:
this is the week so far in Scottish politics.

Listen here:

Check back this afternoon for a run down of the first minister’s questions.

Salmond Slams Tories’ Misplaced Interests

By Alexandra Wingate

First Minister Alex Salmond has attacked Scottish Conservatives
for acting to aid the interests of the UK Tory party, rather than that of the Scottish people.

The comments came during today’s First Minister’s Questions after Mr Salmond was asked, no less than three times, about the number of international companies investing in Scotland. This follows Tuesday’s opening of Amazon’s distribution and customer service centres in Fife and Edinburgh respectively. These openings are expected to create more than 3,000 permanent and temporary jobs in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: “While the success in this investment is not recognised by the opposite benches in this government, it is recognised by the Tory party in the North East of England.”

He went on to explain that Linda Arkley, Conservative mayor of North Tyneside, has been well-documented in her interest in what Mr Salmond described as “the success and firepower of Scotland in attracting thousands of jobs.” He claims that Mrs Arkley has been lobbying George Osborne in an attempt to force these investments to be moved  away from Scotland and into the North East of England.

Mr Salmon continued:  “The dangerous thing is that this lady, after lobbying, said, quote, ‘Ministers have agreed to look at this’, unquote. So what action have Westminster ministers got in mind to dissuade international companies?”

“I hope that at least this parliament can be united by welcoming the investment by Amazon and other companies who are expressing more confidence in Scotland than is held by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

The issue of money and investment in Scotland featured highly in Mr Salmond’s answers. When Scottish Conservative David McLetchie MSP congratulated Mr Salmond’s recent success in solving the recent fossil fuel levy row with Westminster – which resulted in a windfall of £100m from the UK Treasury – Mr Salmond retorted: “They think it a tremendous triumph to get 50% of Scotland’s money. Wouldn’t it be better to get 100% of Scotland’s money?”

“The other 50% of Scotland’s money is going to help capitalise the Green Investment Bank. Is that not yet another reason for the Green Investment Bank being headquartered in Scotland?”

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