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 Roots for Living Column Jun/Aug 2002


Please click here for the Roots for Living Index to read other postings of this column



Roots for Living - The Big Issue in Scotland

 By Vérène Nicolas & Alastair McIntosh




No. 13, Issue 386, 1 August 2002, "Fishing communities drowned by business".


We don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here in Kinghorn there’s rarely much choice at the fish van.


Even in Tesco it’s often easier to get Tiger Prawns from Asia or Tuna steaks from the Pacific than it is to find a decent range of Scottish produce.


Up until the 1970’s you could land all manner of delicious species from our inshore waters. But no longer.


What’s happened is that fishing politics, greed and technology’s power has exceeded the ocean’s capacity to renew the catch.


Most of our fishing communities, together with their rich local cultures, have now died. Even once-common species, like the cod, are now endangered.


Instead of promoting effective conservation, the industry has shifted down the foodchain. They now catch little fish to farm bigger fish.


And that’s why just about the cheapest thing you can buy today is salmon. Industrially produced salmon!


Salmon farming has done great things for local employment in the Highlands and Islands. But ecologically, as you can see from reports on the website of Friends of the Earth Scotland, it is bad news – at least, when run on too-large a scale.


When salmon farming started it was seen as a cottage industry. But no longer.


Now many communities resent the way that multinational companies are muscling in on their local sea lochs. Residents who live in ways that love and respect the natural environment believe their way of life should be protected as a human right.


For example, around Little Loch Broom and Annat Bay, there is almost unanimous opposition to companies like Marine Harvest proposing major operations there. It’s not a visual issue. They wouldn’t object to pollution-free mussel farms.


The community’s main objection is that each of these intense concentrations of fish produce a volume of shit equivalent to a small town. Indeed, Scotland’s existing 351 salmon farms are estimated to deposit more sewage, untreated at that, than the entire 5-million strong Scottish population.


Especially disturbing is the way that certain fishfarm lobbyists have tried to turn the issue into an incomer versus local dispute. At one public meeting, Scottish born and bred residents report having been rudely treated as “outsiders” by industry workers.


Aaron Forsyth, who lives on a croft by Little Loch Broom, urges respectful dialogue. “Development on any scale always ends with community consultation, but we think that any industry wanting to come in to an area should actually start with that,” he says. “It’s not us that are the outsiders; it’s the multinationals when they try to divide and rule our communities”.


The jury may still be out as to whether and how salmon farming can be “a good thing”. However, the industry and the Scottish Executive should think twice about how they promote it. Nothing would be easier than to organise an international market spoiling campaign.


So, the industry must clean up its act. It must show more respect for local communities and ecological limits.


If it fails to do so it will only have itself to blame if Scotland’s people call for Scottish farmed salmon to be boycotted.




No. 12, Issue 384, 18 July 2002, p. 18, "Building a boat teaches you better ways to live".


Poverty is like a tangled fishing line. It’s full of loops that somehow all connect together. But pulling any one of them in isolation from the rest will make it no better.


Instead, you’ve got to set about the untangling in a holistic manner. Each loop must be patiently threaded back the way it came.


Only then can the line flow free. Only then can you get on with life’s business as a fisher of whatever it takes to feed yourself. Only then can you live so as to take away the causes of poverty.


It’s called “getting sorted”.


If some anti-poverty programmes are an uphill struggle, it’s often because they’re tackling single issues. They pull only on the loop of debt, or drugs, or literacy, or racism, or housing.


And you can see why. To tackle everything at once seems just too much. Where would you start?


Well, several years ago in Govan, a group of local people confronted just this problem. Most were long-term unemployed, mainly young but some pensioned off. They started the “GalGael Trust”.


It’s a Gaelic-inspired name. It basically means that no matter where we come from, no matter what our roots, we’re all now in the same boat together.


And boats were to be the GalGael’s way of tackling urban poverty!


“We’re just building boats,” says Colin Macleod, a founding member, “but in building and sailing a boat, you learn everything you need to get your life sorted.”


Inspired by this vision, Scotland’s traditional boatbuilders came on board. So did officialdom: Glasgow Council, Scottish Enterprise, SNH, Govan Youth Access, Scotland Against Drugs and Know the Score all pulled out the stops.


After the great Boxing Day storm of 1998, the GalGael cleared up fallen trees from around the city. The Greater Govan Social Inclusion Partnership provided a portable sawmill and so they milled their own timber!


First they built a 12-foot model boat, then a 20-footer. And now, whilst getting experience to attempt a 70-footer, they’ve just launched The Orcuan, an elegant 30-foot Birlinn.


“It’s amazing,” said GalGael volunteer Chris Wilson, who describes himself as a grateful recovering addict. “This project offers an environment where people can develop and grow at their own pace. It’s about reclaiming the value of self.”


Last month at the Portsoy Traditional Wooden Boat Festival we all went out on the Orcuan’s maiden sea voyage. Retired Clyde shipyard workers glowed with pride as they hauled on the oars alongside youngsters they’d trained.


Topher Dawson, a traditional boatbuilder from Scoraig and Peter Crawford, a 74-year-old retired sailboat fisherman from Kinghorn got us shipshape. Then, as the sheets were pulled tight, the wind billowed into the big oak-tanned square sail and the Orcuan cut through the waves with a majesty reminiscent of the Onedin Line.


There are people who made that boat who will never return to drugs, to Bar-L prison, or to poverty of spirit.


As Andrew Marr, the BBC’s political editor has said, the GalGael are “making a real difference to a battered place. Their carving and their boat are a metaphor, they told me; a metaphor for community and pride in work.”


(The GalGael website is www.GalGael.org ).




No. 11, Issue 382, 4 July 2002, p. 19, "It takes time and effort to connect with Scotland".



It’s official. Only 7 out of 71 Big Issue in Scotland sellers said they’d support England in the World Cup.


So what’s going on? Is it racism? Or are other factors at work?


In terms of population, there are roughly ten times more English folk than Scots in Britain. Scotland is a tiny nation in bed with an elephant.


If a top job is advertised UK-wide, the chances are that the best-qualified candidate won’t be native.


This means that non-Scots have disproportionate power here.


If Scots on the street are wary of supporting England in the World Cup, it may have more to do with how they experience social power than with borders or history.


The fact is that for many, “Englishness” doesn’t mean Geordie or Liverpudlian or Cockney. It means public school, upper class, and the kind of people who thrust Thatcher on us.


These typically lord it over as lairds, top civil servants, university chiefs or company bosses. They’re a high establishment who strive to keep things that way.


One suspects their networks are behind such enduring mysteries as Celtic music and dance getting only a tiny fraction of the arts money spent on ballet and opera.


The dividing issue is class, not ethnic origin. It’s about Scots typically having a problem with those who value competition over cooperation; privilege over solidarity; public schools over equality; managerialism over soul.


It’s the ignorant colonising expatriate mindset that’s the problem. In contrast, those decent English folks who serve more than they take fit very well into Scotland. Only bigots would deny them equal standing.


Living in Scotland is like belonging to an extended family. It requires a basic grasp of customs, language, religion, philosophy, the arts and even personal styles such as body language.


Incomers who are ignorant of these matters should develop their awareness. If they were going to Nicaragua or Norway with a multinational company, they’d think nothing of being sent on a cultural training course. So why not here? After all, we’re a distinctive country too!


Recently someone told Vérène he finds it easier to connect with France than with Scotland.


As a French national, she understood why. Scotland can be a very uncomfortable country. It’s not just the weather. If your attitude doesn’t fit, you won’t either. The community and indeed, the land itself will reject you.


But if you choose to cherish and be cherished by the place and its peoples, then a kind of magic can start working. Doors will start opening. Hospitality and fostership will take you in. The resultant “Scots internationalism” is an amazing force for good.


It’s precisely because Scotland is a very powerful place that it can be difficult to connect with initially. There’s a power in the land, and you have to be ready to enter that power. But if you do, you’ll get drawn more fully into your own self. You’ll become more empowered.


As such, Scottishness is an elemental thing. It comes from being a community of place, and trying to be an inclusive one.


That takes cultural confidence. And courage. And we don’t need any World Cup to prove it.






No. 10, Issue 379, 13 June 2002, p. 15, "Equality is hard work for both women and men".



There are many ways of narrowing a woman’s horizons to boost the power of those men who don’t understand what a relationship is about.


Now that outright physical assault is illegal, shame, fear and guilt all come to the aid of the latter-day cavemen. And guilt-tripping seems to be the game being played out by James Tooley, professor of education at Newcastle University, who has just published a book called The Miseducation of Women.


Tooley describes himself as a onetime “Marxist feminist” who’s now seen the light. From his ivory tower he’s examined the research data and concluded that equal opportunities make women unhappy.


He claims that as the biological clock ticks past 40, women are asking, “Was it really worth it to replace the joys of motherhood and family life with a career of dubious worth and loneliness?”


This, he suggests, is the outcome of a feminist school curriculum that fails to educate boys and girls for the traditional roles that “evolutionary psychology” destined them for.


Professor Tooley puts himself forward as being anxious about women, but arguably, his underlying concern is with macho male identity. Career women, he says, make men “feel less masculine”. They “undermine the romance of being a provider”.


“Of course,” he concludes, “most would agree that the Taliban in Afghanistan took it all to a most unwelcome extreme … but that does not mean to say that we are right.”  He’d like to see the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act reconsidered and traditional male virtues like chivalry restored. Chivalry, he says, is about being polite to women!


What’s astonishing is that Professor Tooley is a member of the UK government’s school curriculum and assessment committee. He also moonlights as the director of a right wing think tank, The E.G. West Centre for Market Solutions in Education. Its web site presents him as “Britain’s foremost apostle of education privatisation”.


Equally disturbing is the doting media publicity he’s been getting. One wonders who wants to promote such ideas so uncritically?


Like many new right thinkers, Tooley offers half-solutions to half-truths. Yes, many middle-aged women may regret not having had children. But maybe the circumstances just weren’t right. Maybe they had other cares to carry. Or maybe they just never found an adequately supportive partner.


To suggest they had too much choice in life is simply victim blaming.


In a nauseously fawning Radio 5 interview the other night, Tooley refused to consider the idea that men and women should equally share domestic work and responsibility for being fully present to children.


Why not? It works brilliantly if you’re prepared to work on the relationship.


But to maintain a loving relationship of equals between two people requires an ongoing willingness to sort out one’s psychological baggage. And maybe that’s where Tooley’s problem lies.


His own mother was a nurse who worked night shifts. Maybe, like many patriarchal men, there’s a wounded child inside who’s still trying to grab an illusion of social stability and control. Maybe he’s simply projected his own unresolved childhood needs onto society.


Aged 42, unmarried and childless, Professor Tooley admits: “I suppose I have concentrated on my career and just haven’t met the right person yet”.


No wonder! Who’d have him?






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8 July 2002

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