One year on, still wishing for a better future for Scotland

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Anna Crow

If you could have one wish for Scotland’s future, what would it be?

To mark the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum, yesterday on Buchanan Street in Glasgow city centre there was a wish tree.  Passers-by of all ages, whether shoppers, those heading home from school or work, or those simply out for a walk enjoying the late afternoon sunshine were invited to write their wishes on a tag to tie onto strings connecting two trees, forming what became a multi-coloured and diverse washing line of people’s hopes and dreams, people’s desires for their own lives, those of others around them, and for our country as a whole.

There were no limitations as to what people could write.  ‘Everyone should be given a puppy!’ read one.  ‘Better weather’ was a desire expressed by several.  ‘Legalisation of cannabis’ another read, with a drawing of a marijuana leaf.  Another said ‘Happiness’, with a big smiley face.  Some were strongly worded, such as one which read ‘FUCK OFF TRIDENT!’ underlined multiple times.  Hope was expressed by one person for Scotland to become a ‘sexy socialist utopia’.  One read ‘For my ex to be lonely for a long time’.

Others included wishes for no child to be born into poverty, for more girls to get involved in science and politics, for an internationally recognised Scottish passport, for exams to be made easier, for Scotland to have an entry in the Eurovision song contest and unsurprisingly, for a second referendum.  Common themes included greater power for Scotland and independence from Westminster rule – one that I saw simply read ‘Freedom’ – and opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland and the current austerity regime and its consequences.  Another expressed the simple desire to keep the political discussion going.

There were a diverse range of contributors, even including elected members of the UK Parliament such as Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire.  Those involved in the event included Common Space’s Michael Gray and Stephen Paton from Left Scotland, who was filming the event.  The main organiser was Aileen McKay, a Glasgow-based activist and student who like numerous others become engaged in politics for the first time in the lead up to last year’s referendum, and whose passion for positive social change in Scotland continues to engage and inspire many.

The spirit of this event was one of openness – where all were welcome, discussion was invited but never forced, and no opinion should be censored.  One person there asked me whether it was okay to write something in Arabic on the card.  ‘Of course!’ I replied.  Others who I had conversations with included those who were visiting Glasgow as tourists, someone who still regarded Scotland as home even after living in Australia for over 40 years, someone who was passionately opposed to the EU as a whole and could see no possibility for EU reform, and an older woman who some minutes into our conversation admitted to being a Conservative party supporter.  Even in that conversation some common ground was found as we discovered we shared a mutual respect for new UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Events like this are a clear demonstration of the nature of our new politics in Scotland.  This politics is bold and visible, diverse and creative, even humorous upon occasion.  This politics is about genuine engagement with the people of Scotland; listening to them to speak about the things that affect them, inviting them to express their hopes and dreams, welcoming honest discussion and debate, and politics where at the very heart there is an invitation to work together where there are things we agree on, to work together build a better future for our country.

I feel privileged to count Aileen and others involved in this event as personal friends.  I myself was not engaged in campaigning on the streets or involved with the work of pro-independence groups including Yes Scotland and National Collective in the lead up to the referendum last year, as many of these friends were.  In large part, work commitments at that time limited my involvement in the Yes movement primarily to discussions with friends and family, both in person and over social media platforms such as Facebook.  But in the time since the referendum, my political engagement has increased, both through the Scottish Green Party and involvement in activism that is not specifically party-affiliated, often through people such as these who I have met in social circles in the past year – people who like myself are part of a growing and vibrant activist network in Scotland.

Politics should not be about Oxbridge educated middle-aged white men in suits looking down on the little people and enjoying the power and privilege they hold over them.  Politics should be about all people – people feeling free to ask ‘stupid questions’, to take to the streets standing up for things that matter to them, to laugh together, even to cry together.

From my own perspective, I can attest to the power of this type of politics.  Friendships form because the things we care about have drawn us together.  Friendships grow stronger because we are still fighting.  One year on from the referendum result, our movement is still growing and the political discussion is still going – long may it continue.

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Edinburgh International Festival Review: Sufjan Stevens and Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear (5 stars)

Stevens Edinburgh Playhouse

Photo credit: Elijah Wade Smith 30/08/15

Anna Crow

Sufjan Stevens may not often come to Scotland – his last gig here prior to this event as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival was at Òran Mór in Glasgow in 2005 – but at least he is well informed in certain important respects about our beautiful country.  Knowing that Scotland’s national creature is the unicorn seems like a befitting piece of essential Scottish knowledge for the multi-instrumentalist and musical artist, a being almost mythical in certain circles, whose creativity and talent can transcend any number of genres and who may even sport an impressive pair of wings upon occasion, but who may equally be seen in the unassuming guise of a baseball cap-wearing, acoustic singer-songwriter who can even laugh at himself when he makes a mistake during a song.

Moreover, as Sufjan Stevens himself informs us, he actually grew up with a unicorn. It perhaps was not the usual type of unicorn depicted in iconography and mythology, and some may have tried to belittle and disregard this unicorn, calling it merely a goat which had sustained a unfortunate accident to one of its horns, but who are we to say it was not a unicorn nonetheless?  In the gospel according Sufjan Stevens, what you were told elsewhere to disregard as imperfection can be beautiful.  In the gospel according to Sufjan Stevens, things you were told were impossible may be not so impossible.

The 40-year-old musician has acquired a cult level of international following in the years since releasing his first recording A Sun Came in 2000 on the Asthmatic Kitty label he co-founded with his stepfather Lowell Brams.  His 7th studio album Carrie & Lowell, named after his mother, who died in 2012, as well as his stepfather, was released early this year to widespread critical album.  Many, myself included, consider this recording his best to date.  It is no mere return to the elegantly melancholic stripped-back indie folk previously showcased in recordings including the 2004 album Seven Swans but a gorgeously crafted piece of musical artistry which does not shy away from pain in its exploration of intimacy and loss.  The level of excitement was palpable as crowds gathered from Edinburgh, Glasgow and even further afield at the Edinburgh Playhouse last night for this rare opportunity to see him live and in Scotland.

For myself and undoubtedly a significant number of others present, this event was also our first introduction to mother-son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, who released their first album Skeleton Crew on Glassnote Records this year.  The compelling, melodiously interweaving acoustic guitar playing teamed with rousing and soulful vocals in their supporting act set left me keen for more, particularly for the chance to perhaps see them in the future in a more intimate setting than the formal space of this theatre, which did strike me as somewhat incongruous in this context.  I am jealous of those who have got to encounter them at open mic nights in coffeehouses in Independence, Missiouri, where they first performed as a firm duo.

By contrast, the way in which Sufjan Stevens’ set was crafted for such a performance space as this was striking to an overwhelming degree.   Pictures and videos including beautiful landscapes, geometric graphics and images of the artist himself and his family, and a range of impressive lighting techniques provided a vibrant and interactive backdrop to this musical showcase, largely and unsurprisingly focused around his most recent release.  A startling feel of intimacy despite the large physical size of the space was created through powers of passion, imagination and technical skill, which intermingled visuals, sounds and more into an extraordinarily beautiful and moving experience.  Crescendos spanning these multiple dimensions were built to with hypnotic intensity; contrastingly, moments such as during Fourth of July when Sufjan Stevens’ vocals and those of his backing band dropped down to soft auditory caresses were somehow both soothing and utterly heart-breaking.  I know I was not the only person there who had tears running down my face for much of his 2 hour long set.

Sufjan Stevens’ artistry is also evident in the sense in which each created and recorded track when performed live is an evolving and unique thing – rhythms and tempos may be changed, new instrumental elements, vocals or visual elements may be added, or tracks which may encompass a whole orchestra of instruments in the recorded form may be stripped down to a bare minimum of largely acoustic elements.  There is an inherent sense of the joy of adventure in this, in moments such as last night’s performances of All Of Me Wants All Of You and undoubted fan favourite Chicago, the closing track of the encore, yet this is balanced by the warm, comfortable familiarity of meeting old friends and finding them to be virtually unchanged over the years.  One of a number of examples of this was For the Widows In Paradise, For the Fatherless In Ypsilanti from the 2003 album Michigan, a personal favourite of mine as the first Sufjan Stevens song I ever got to know.

Some might feel I should be embarrassed about getting to know the music of Sufjan Stevens after that track was featured in an episode of the third series of the TV show The O.C., first aired in 2006.  Why should I care, when for me the important thing is not the ‘how’ but that I got to know it, and not only the music itself, but through that gain the privilege of some insight into the mind and life of the artist himself?  The only thing I am still disappointed about is that this introduction happened after Sufjan Stevens’ last Scottish gig in Glasgow in 2005.  Even in the knowledge that powers exist that can make things previously thought to be impossible not so impossible, to change this fact unfortunately remains impossible.  I remain incredibly grateful that Sufjan Stevens is who he is and does what he does and that I had the opportunity to experience such an amazing artist and show live in Edinburgh last night.  5 stars.

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If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles.  If you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture. And if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Govanhell (4 stars)

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Anna Crow

Welcome to Govanhell.  In this debut spoken word solo show as part of PBH’s Free Fringe, young Glasgow-based poet Liam McCormick introduces us to a district of Glasgow that fell 2000 miles into the Earth’s mantle sometime in the late 20th century.  Forget polite handshakes and how-do-you-dos, this introduction is one that will challenge, provoke and inspire as we are plunged into the depths of a struggle both historic and ongoing against dark forces including poverty, bigotry, sexism and disillusion, domestic abusers, minotaur-like homogenous entities of lower level civil servants, and possibly the worst villain of all – post-industrial capitalism.

This journey may not be one for the faint-hearted but it is certainly one worth taking.  A varied range of characters will be encountered along the way aside from the host himself, including the girl who tried to win the £50 prize in the Govanhill Library summer reading contest despite her limited English ability, ‘eccyed Alec’ who may try to tell you that those red Mortal Kombat pills weren’t that bad actually, and William Dixon, founder of the metalworks which became commonly known as Dixon’s Blazes, and whose influence, along with that of his family, for better or worse played a large role in shaping the Govanhill we now see today.

Liam is a compelling performer with a level of raw energy and intensity matched by few that I’ve encountered on the current Scottish poetry and spoken word scene.  He was the winner of the 2015 New Materials Poetry Slam, earning a rightful place in the Scottish Slam Championships next year.  He displays a rare talent in the structuring and cadence of each poem and indeed, that of the show itself – in which a cohesive and interlinking narrative is formed.  Much that is thought-provoking and challenging and no shortage of dark humour are found here in a wide range of circumstances from the rage or paranoia-inducing to the mundane, and from the historical to the present day.

This show is not one for the political correctness brigade or any who may get outraged by a drug reference or use of the word ‘c**t’, often while being happy to turn a blind eye to social problems and deeply-ingrained injustice in society.  It is all the better for it.  Expect an uncensored visit into the depths of a frequently maligned area of Glasgow, but one in which hope may still be found in forms such as a growing and active arts movement, pro-active measures to tackle problems within the area such as the high domestic violence rate, and a strong sense of community in general.  The history of Govanhill in terms of social change, its industrialisation and the subsequent growth of varied ethnic minority communities in the area, to the extent it has been termed ‘Glasgow’s Ellis Island’, and issues such as gender inequality and the stigmatisation of groups such as the unemployed are explored with a striking level of insight.

This reviewer highly recommends a trip to Govanhell if you dare.  4 stars.

Govanhell is on daily until 30th August, 3:15-4:05pm at George Next Door Space M (venue 430), 9 George IV Bridge as part of PBH’s Free Fringe 2015.  More details here: http://freefringe.org.uk/edinburgh-fringe-festival/govanhell/2015-08-16/

Find out more about Liam McCormick and any upcoming performances here: https://www.facebook.com/liammccormickpoetry

Fringe Review: Loud Poets

Loud

Louise Wilson

Being relatively new to the spoken word scene, I’m not yet totally au fait with all the names in amateur poetry. However, I am familiar with one of the most popular Scottish collectives: Loud Poets. So when the opportunity arose to go watch their showcase at the Fringe earlier this week, I jumped at the chance.

Self-described as “slam-style, make some noise, fist-thumping, side-tickling and heart-wrenching poetry”, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I was initiated into the poetry world just six months ago – with some scepticism, I must add – where it was proved to me at an open mic that it is so much more than the dry anthologies I studied at school. They say good poetry makes you feel something. The Loud Poets are a prime example. As it turns out, their description is pretty spot on.

Beginning with a somewhat cringe-y film about how each member of the collective got into poetry and ending with them answering the question “why do you write?”, the whole evening is geared towards inspiring any new and potential poets in the audience. The Loud Poets hope to bring performance poetry into the mainstream. Beyond this overarching theme, the show does not stick to any particular structure – you move from Miko Berry’s smart but adorable piece on childhood crushes to Joe with the Glasses’ hard-hitting story about a father’s difficulty in explaining his prison stay to his daughter. However, it never felt that the show was lacking a structure either; each performance was able to stand in its own right and was loosely tied together with further footage of life as a Loud Poet.

The sudden changes of pace and emotion work well. It emphasises the diversity and range of the collective’s skill without being overbearing. Poems are engaging, thought-provoking and often fun, and whilst perhaps tailored to the stereotypical poetry crowd (a bit geeky, a little left wing), there is something for everyone. Not every piece was my cup of tea – perhaps a sign of its diversity rather than a bad thing – but the enthusiasm and feeling with which it was delivered could be appreciated throughout.

As expected, the Loud Poets capitalised on Agnes Torok’s recent youtube success with Worthless. Debuted at their 2014 Fringe show, the video was uploaded last month and has since received over 190,000 views – seen by many as a response to the general election though in reality it predates this. Her piece is even more powerful live, complete with musical accompaniment (which features throughout the show to complement each poet’s work) and raw anger.

It would be remiss of me to not mention my personal highlight of the show, which moved me to tears in its honesty and sincerity: Kev McLean’s Evelyn. Unravelling his grief at the loss of his mother, it is being performed on the anniversary of her death. He is open and truthful about his emotion – and it is beautiful to witness.

Loud Poet’s Fringe set is definitely worth seeing. Each night will be a little different with the entire collective not featuring all the time – so if you have a particular favourite it is worth checking they will be there when you’re attending. But tickets are going fast with their first sell-out show on Tuesday (and standing ovation). The Loud Crowd is growing, and I am one of them – ready to tell the world #IAmLoud.

Loud Poets are performing every night of the Fringe at 21:00 in the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tickets are £10 (£8 concession).

The link between the arts and politics is an empowering force for positive change in Scotland and beyond.

free your mind

Anna Crow

In a time where to keep up with current political happenings can often feel a bit like watching a car-crash in slow motion, powerless to intervene, it would be easy to become disillusioned.  It can seem tempting to turn away when we as individuals feel unable to help.  But now is not the time to feel we are worthless, that we are too wee, too poor or too stupid to make a difference.  Now is not the time for our politics to be based on fears, which are so often unsubstantiated, or a desire for self-preservation at the expense of others.  Now is a time for our politics to be about hope, to be about seeing a vision for positive change and getting engaged in new ways in making that change happen.  More than ever, creativity in the way in which we engage with politics must be embraced.

Many of us who are politically involved were born decades after 1964 but Bob Dylan’s words from back then ring true to us right here, right now. The times they are a-changin’ and this is happening both in Scotland and beyond.  Even on the social media sites that so many of us use daily, politics cannot be avoided.  For many of us politics has become a draw to use social media in new ways to connect with current events and with those who share common values. Our vernacular is increasing, with words and terms like ‘austerity cuts’, ‘electoral reform’, ‘new alternative media’ and even ‘maiden speech’ coming into daily use.

On the 14th of July 2015 the video of the maiden speech by Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, went viral – with a dramatically escalating number of views in the first 24 hours of being posted.  It has now been viewed over 10 million times by people worldwide.  For myself and many others this was the first maiden speech we had ever watched and indeed, after watching it, we would be inclined to watch more maiden speeches, were they all so articulate, inspiring and passionate, and such a clear illustration of the current political climate in Scotland.  However, this was not the only video of a woman speaking about politics to go viral that day.

On the same day, a video of ‘Worthless’, a poem written in response to the Conservative-led government’s budget by Agnes Török, a spoken word performer who is part of the Edinburgh and Glasgow-based Loud Poets collective, surpassed 100, 000 views within 24 hours of being posted.  In this powerful piece she challenges the system where so many young people can graduate with no career prospects beyond unpaid internships and volunteering and may be more likely to end up living on the streets than in paid employment they are qualified to do, where people’s basic needs such as food and accommodation for them and their families are disregarded, where people are belittled and treated like less than human, just a cog in a machine whose sole purpose is to increase the GDP and when they fail to do so due to circumstances beyond their control they are told it is their own fault.  ‘Go on, tell us we are worthless’ is her response to a government which is openly treating so many as such.

We live in a time when the establishment must be challenged.  When the rich are getting richer, enabled by the neoliberal agenda which is the root cause of measures such as the current austerity cuts in the UK, when food-bank use and child poverty are sky-rocketing in one of the richest countries in the world, when every day seems to bring a new Tory-led assault on marginalised groups in society, we have a responsibility to stand up and speak out.

Of course not all of us are in elected roles such as Mhairi Black, neither do all of us have Agnes Török’s poetic talent, but we need to use the skills and opportunities we do have to find our voice and speak out for the things we believe in.  Our politics in Scotland today is an evolving and vibrant thing.  Our politics should be creative – seeking to question and challenge what we are told by those we know, those in government and the media, and through this forming our own vision for a fairer, more equal Scotland and beyond.  Our creativity can also empower our politics – enabling us to reach out and connect with others in new ways.  There was much evidence of this in the lead-up to the referendum last year, through the work of both individuals and groups such as National Collective, and there continues to be a growing politically motivated arts movement in Scotland.

The poetry and spoken word scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh is flourishing; I myself have started writing and performing poetry in recent months.  Politics is the inspiration for much of what I and many others write.  Poetry and politics may not seem like the most likely companions but right now it could be argued that poetry is the new protest song.  This art form enables us to craft our feelings, our passions, even our anger into a form that reaches out to others to provoke and inspire, even to call to action, because words alone can lose their power without actions to back them up.

The power of the arts goes beyond the superficial – beyond elegantly crafted prose or pictures that are beautiful on purely an aesthetic level.  Our creativity provides us with new opportunities to engage with politics in significant and meaningful ways.  It empowers us in situations where we may otherwise be made to feel that we are worthless.  It enables us to see that change is possible and that all of us can be part of making that change happen.

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If you like what you read please see some of our other articles. If you don’t like what you read give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scotland politics and culture. And if you have never written before, give it a try. You never know. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page : scotsperspective.