Category Archives: Comment

Public opinion in Edinburgh divided on Trump Petition

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By Laurenci Dow

Edinburgh locals show a clear divide in opinion on the petition to ban Donald Trump from the UK, while the petition continues to gain over half a million signatures.

Petitions with more than 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in parliament and the Petitions Committee is expected to discuss this one on the 5th of January 2016.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour home affairs spokesman Jack Dromey have both backed the petition to ban Trump from entering the country under the ‘unacceptable behaviours or extremism policy.’

However, the petition, which is the most signed currently hosted  on the Parliament website, does not express the opinions of some of the locals from the Scottish capital.

Elijah Jones, an Edinburgh local businessman said he felt that Trump’s comments were ‘bold’ although he did not agree with them.

Mr Jones felt that it was contradictory for the UK to call for a ban on a person who themselves wants to ban people from their own country.

Mr Jones said: ‘I don’t think the petition is the best course of action, in my opinion it’s quite contradictory.’

A local Costa Coffee manager, Casper Van Eeden agreed with opinions expressed by Mr Jones saying he felt that the petition was an infringement on Trump’s freedom of speech.

Mr Van Eeden said: ‘I feel that people should be able to say what they want, I don’t agree with banning people for expressing an opinion.’

Jane Thompson, a student from Edinburgh Napier University said she agreed with Robert Gordon University stripping Trump of his honorary degree as she felt this showed the UK’s stance towards his ‘racist’ comments.

However, she said she would not sign the petition as she felt that it was another way for Trump to gain more attention.

Renay Clerk, a student from Edinburgh Heriot-Watt University said she agreed with the petition as she would not want someone who expresses ‘radical opinions’ in the UK.

She said Trump would have a ‘negative effect on the UK’  if he was to visit the country.

Suzanne Kelly, the Aberdeen woman who started the petition says: ‘The signatories will not show any support for Trump’s unacceptable behaviour.’

Why Iceland’s Evolution Matters to Scotland

By Martha Shardalow

‘This little member of the European Union should have a dialogue in the Scottish Independence debate’

Two nations overlap
Two nations overlap

You might think someone must have gone completely mad to compare an independent Scotland to a country that fell flat on its face (literally) during its bankruptcy in the 2008 financial crisis. Then again, the Independence debate is big on madness and perhaps if the north is to place economics and democratic politics at the forefront of its concerns, then Iceland may still stand as an important example.

Figures show that despite Iceland’s debt being equal to 200 times its GNP in 2003, by 2007 it was 900 percent. Now whilst its future was bumpy – as the three key Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Glitnir and Kapthing crumpled and the Kroner lost 85 percent of its value with respect to the Euro – this little, volatile country has presented a shining effigy that participative processes in a time of crisis can work. It also quietly hands us an alternative to IMF austerity and privatization – and an alternative to the sale and sell-out of the public sector. This last point we must associate with; at the hands of drastic public sector cuts and the rising cost of living in an equally fragile UK.

Shunned already as just another ploy by the SNP to gain supporters – this pure neoliberal system today stands arguably as one of the richest nations in the world. The road to participatory democracy and the same road to a brand new constitution, was painful by all means but resulted in strong outcomes. Much like a similar crisis on British soil, the notion that citizens had to clear up (and pay up) for the grave errors of a financial monopoly, the belief that an entire population must be taxed, and taxed again – received public outcry and an uncertain introduction. The monumental difference though, was that in Iceland it was stopped in its tracks.

The relationship between institution and citizens drove Icelandic leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, made a brave move that despite international hostility began to pay off. In accepting calls for a referendum that took place in March 2010, 93 percent voted against repayment of the debt – Iceland’s revolution was yet to be deterred even as Great Britain and Holland increased the pressure. The IMF, of course, quickly froze its loan.

The British government believed it was time to freeze savings and checkings accounts. The government of Iceland barrelled on. The people of Iceland elected 25 citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least 30 citizens. This document was written on the internet. As Deena Stryker, writer for the ‘Bella Caledonia’, stated, “The constituents meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape.”

Back in 2008, Salmond was ridiculed as his North Atlantic “band of prosperity” shattered simultaneously with Iceland’s demise. In 2012, he cited Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the new role models for Scotland’s future. The kind of boom economy he hoped to replicate – the kind of strong single democracy he believed this inspired – should still be cited in Iceland today.

It is important that the media consider this nation. It is important that the public consider it, too. The stakes are high, but the rewards are there. Its important that Scotland learns from what Iceland has to offer.

Napier students reject independence

A Napier University poll has revealed that only 29.5% of its students back Scottish independence.

The survey was carried out for the University’s magazine, Buzz, as part of the Masters Journalism course. 569 students were asked the question ‘If the Independence Referendum was held tomorrow, how would you vote?’ over the course of the one day poll.  This represents a sample rate of 3% of the University’s student body.

Here we talk to Simon Pia, Lecturer on Journalism at Napier and former Scottish Labour Spin Doctor about his reaction to the result.

Iraq War Protests- Ten Years On

Last week marked ten years since U.S and U.K troops led coalition forces into the second invasion of Iraq. It also marked ten years since the anti-war protests were at their height. A time when hundreds of thousands of people were united in opposition to the conflict, where daily rallies were happening across the country. While much of the media focus has been on the anniversary of the conflict itself, and the lessons we can learn from it going forward, perhaps more worthy of attention is the sheer scale of public opposition to the war.

Rarely before, and never since, have we seen so many people marching against a common cause. One of the most striking aspects of the protest movement at the time was how it galvanized young people and schoolchildren into vocal opposition to the conflict. Throughout March 2003 schools up and down the U.K were hit by walkouts, as students and staff decided to make their voices heard.

As a fourteen year old schoolkid in Glasgow at the time, I recall clearly the excitement of March 19th. At a time where all of us were angry about the prospect of the war we felt powerless. Staging a mass walk-out that afternoon was a small act of rebellion, but for us it felt like the most significant act in the world. We had the silent support of many of our teachers, a quiet nod here and there to let us know that they didn’t expect us back in the afternoon. Many of them would be joining us at the rally in the city centre.

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As handfuls of us left together to start our noisy journey to the march, we fell in with other crowds. Students from Glasgow University draped in banners, handing us signs and teaching us slogans to shout. Other teenagers from local schools looking as nervous as we felt. When the crowds came together in George Square we brought the city centre to a standstill. There was a tremendous feeling of solidarity and power. It felt like what we were doing mattered, that it would have an effect.

One thing that angered all of us was the perception, both in the media and from any adult you cared to ask, that it was nothing but an excuse to skive. That we weren’t interested in the protest, only in the prospect of an afternoon off school. Teachers unions dismissed our protests as truancy. An attitude like that is an insult to the very real feeling of anger we all felt about the war. Schoolchildren were just as opposed to the conflict as any adult or student activist, but without the luxury of freedom to make our voices heard.

The Stop the War movement politicized many of us for the first time. It gave us our first steps into political protesting, and made us feel like a part of something important. Crucially, it was our first real experience of vocalizing our anger and frustration to the world. And ten years on that is as worth remembering as any aspect of the conflict.

Comment: George Watson’s College’s MUN Conference

George Watson's College hosted their annual MUN this weekend
Image: Alexandra Wingate

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.

Snake superstitions

It is quite unusual to find a snake with its head chopped off in Scotland, but in South Africa there are certain tribes that believe that if you kill a snake, you must cut off its head and bury the head separately. This is because they believe the snake’s friends will find it and come back for revenge.

South Africans have numerous superstitions about snakes and some people make a special ‘muti’ or mixture which they spray or spread around their houses to prevent snakes from entering.

Another superstition is that if a snake’s head is severed it will not die until sunset.