Where we are and where we will be

Where we are and where we will be
The idea of Edinburgh is a combination of place, soul and symbolic leadership of a nation

Thursday, 30 October 2008

What does it all mean Dad?

As my kids get ready for guising tomorrow I've been asked how I can be a Christian and celebrate Hallowe'en. Well here goes;

Hallowe’en is a weaving together of tradition and history which is captured in the diverse mix of symbolism that epitomises Hallowe’en events. We have witches, warlocks and dark spirits on one hand and light and new life in apples, sweets and sharing good things on the other. Some things come from the Samhainn or Samhuin, end of summer, beginning of harvest traditions, others from the Christian “Hallowing” or cleansing of the day before All Saints days, yet more from the Gaelic culture of spirits and good and evil. No one group can “claim” Hallowe’en as their own nor reject it as “against” their beliefs. What matters is what we tell our children.

As a Christian I believe in the power of hope and forgiveness even when these thing seem impossible. Hallowe'en is for me the preparation of a time when we clear our minds of negative thinking to reflect on the lives of all who have gone before us, family, friend and stranger, waiting to celebrate the potential of saintliness in everyone, known and unknown. It shows that death need not be the end and that a willingness to love and be loved can mean the lives of others can be changed for the better even we are dead.

The spirits and ghouls represent the pressures and forces that lead to bad choices. The light and food and fun and sharing speak of new life, harvest and the power of positive relationships that give us the strength to make good choices and live positively for others and for ourselves.

Carefully explained to children, the hallowe’en fun and laughter of guising, tumshie lanterns, dooking for apples and sharing out sweets can also speak of hope and love even beyond death and so should be enjoyed for that alone.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Never a truer word...

This is an old joke but it still rings so very true......

The Lost Balloonist

A woman in a hot air balloon realizes she is lost. She lowers her altitude and spots a man fishing from a boat below.

She shouts to him, 'Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am.'

The man consults his portable GPS and replies, 'You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

She rolls her eyes and says, 'You must be a Tory!'

'I am,' replies the man. 'How did you know?'

'Well,' answers the balloonist, 'Everything you tell me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you're not much help to me.'

The man smiles and responds, 'You must be a Libdem.'

'I am,' replies the balloonist. 'How did you know?'

'Well,' says the man, 'You don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and now you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met but, somehow, now it's my fault.

Its the wrong question...

A work trip and then a few days with the family up north has meant I've been too long away from key board and blog... but that's probably a good thing for my sanity!

Being abraod for a few days caused me to reflect on the "could Scotland survive on its own" debate. That reflection has brought me to the conclusion that that's the wrong question. There is no doubt that Scotland could "survive" on its own. That is not the point. The question is, would we improve not just our quality of life but the quality of life of both our neighbours and those we are as yet strangers to by being independent. That seems to me to be a lot less certain.

Take the HBOS/LLoyds TSB merger. I get the iconic thing, (though, interestingly, the TSB bit of LLoyds TSB is as Scottish in origins as any bank), so keeping it separate makes some sense. But it would only be viable to HBOS is now only potentially viable as a separate entity because of money it received from Westminster. So now we have a debate about a Scottish icon being "kept Scottish" only possible because of British economic capacity. Had we been independent we would not have had that capacity and the iconic bank might well have tumbled anyway, tumbled because, alone, we were not able to save it. So who wins then? Certainly not those furth of Scotland whose money and custom is just as important as Scottish support. And Scotland would have lost not just a bank but an Iconic part of its national identity.

Monday, 20 October 2008

In troubled times...

I have just spent nearly 11 hours on much delayed sleeper from Edinburgh to Euston so there was little good about this morning. That was until I tried to rebook my missed eurostar connection. Not only was the woman at the Eurostar ticket desk unbelievably helpful but we got into a conversation about scotland england and the union.

She asked "do the scots really want to break way?" "only some" I replied. "well everyone I know doesn't want you all to go. Its in tough times (I think she meant the credit crunch not my missed train!) that we discover how much we need each other." Her unexpected defending of the union flumoxed me and so she continued "we are always stronger together than apart" She is so right.

Salmonds mumping at the union in a crisis just so misses the point. In troubled times you discover why sticking together is much better. Now more than ever we should be standing up for the union. Not to defend the past but to protect the future. Together.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A good idea from the SNP... did I really say that!

In Pictura est puella, Ou est puella, Puella est Falvia, Ou est Falvia,,, Ecce Romani book 1.. 2nd year Latin class-1975! How earth can I remember that opening line from 2nd year Latin only the Good Lord knows especially as cannot remember any more or things that happened yesterday. I've long felt that my overall grasp of languages might have been much better had I not effectively dropped Latin by Christmas of that year ( I use to pay some-one in sweets to do my homework) because I couldn't see the relevance. How foolish I was.

So on that basis, (i.e. those sweets were wasted!), I think that Fiona Hyslop's comments about returning Latin to schools might not seem as daft as they first appear. Premised on the upsurge in Latin following the Harry Potter phenomena, the idea would be to help pupils get the first principles of language and that seems to make sense to me. It would need to be well resourced and well taught but it could open eyes to a whole new approach to the idea of literature and language as the place and the tools to search for meaning. Harry Potter has already brought thousands of kids to enjoy reading for the first time. The idea that the wee wizard could be the catalyst for a revival of an understanding of language itself would be the natural progression.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A rare night oot!

I went to a Ceilidh last night for no other reason than to dance! Usually my attendance at such events are because they are part of a wedding, charity do or other community activity but last night it was just because it was there! Its funny that we know its our traditional gathering but apart for those special occasions we think its what tourists do to get some "Scottish culture" and not for us locals. However, friends had asked my wife and I to go one held by the Ceilidh club just for a different night out, we though why not, and it was excellent. The band were called Teannaich. they were outstanding; offering a amazing mixture of soul, funk, swing and Jimmy Shand!

The dance floor was with at least 200 plus sweaty dancers although the many overseas students present meant some of the more complex dances ending up looking like a fight scene from a Jackie Chang movie! I ache all over this morning but we had a great laugh. Next night out planned is a salsa class with food included. I will keep you posted on the quality of the moves and the meal.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Reduced to tears for our city

The Full Council meeting, at 8 plus hours of it, was another waste of a day. 10am to 6.20pm and I am still no clearer as to what is the point of the Libdems. The SNP I understand, fundamentalist enthusiasts for a mythological small pool in which to be big fish, but the Libdems have no purpose. Time and time again they were exposed as being inconsistent, indecisive and willing to defend the indefensible because being in power is more important than what you do with it.

On the so called "wave three schools", (the five schools next in line to be rebuilt in Edinburgh), the report we received today could have been written a year ago. The angry parents delegation said so themselves. No progress, no funding and no plan how to get funding with the Scottish (no) futures trust in utter disarray.

The chaos of the road works in the city; a belated plan that has no leadership. the libdem politician allegedly in charge of traffic and transport said nothing in the whole debate about the fiasco

On the so called Fairer Scotland fund; the real hardship caused by their incompetent implementation process ignored; blaming instead the Edinburgh Partnership for setting the top down, restrictive funding criteria, even though the Leader of the Council chairs that body.

There must be a better way to do this but as yet I cannot see how because the present administration are so committed to rejecting anything anyone else says that conflict is the only result. I weep for our city and its citizens

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

"I don't believe it!"

You could not make this up! At tomorrows Full Council Meeting there is a paper on Edinburgh's Economic Resilience in the present credit crunch crisis. That's right and proper. We should be receiving reports of this nature at times like this. But wait until you read it. Here are just three of the policies the present SNP/Libdem mal-administration are proposing to beat the credit crunch;
  • target food waste in council catering services
  • switch off lights
  • promote use of bikes and walking
Here we are; Capital city of Scotland, world financial centre; middle of a global Credit Crisis and the City Council response is, clear your plate, switch of the lights and walk to work....

Oh how I wish I was making this up, but sadly, sadly I am not. It is so inept it would give even Victor Meldrew's struggles to believe a run for their money

All you need is love

I was delighted to attended the first Rock Trust annual lecture this evening with professor Mike Stein (who, somewhat bizarrely despite his north of England accent, is Jock Stein's second cousin!).

The Rock Trust runs Underground which one of the best projects I have ever come across. It provides support for young people on the edge of homelessness in ways =that no other project gets close to. Its hugely successful but because it is not "sexy" nor easily is its success definable, (how do you count the number of young people not homeless because of its work..), its on a constant financial knife edge.

It provides in spades what Mike Stein was talking about tonight, the need for young people to have a well balanced and effect social network (parents/carers, friends, colleagues, fellow members of clubs, supportive school etc) to survive what the world throws at them. Its what he called resilience and I would call self reliance; the ability to cope. I liked what he said a great deal. The quality of our human experience is directly related to the depth of our human relationships at lots of levels.

I reflected on the difficult public meeting I chaired last night where a bunch of teenagers turned up demanding "something to do". Trouble is, they don't really want "something to do". What they want is someone to care, to help them rebuild that resilience, real human relationships so that they can deal with the fact that they feel lost, left and unloved. Sadly we spend to long setting targets, accounting for cash and sitting in meetings to deal with what is really needed but is so difficult to deliver; love on the state..because that's to difficult and you can't capture it in a strategy or a number. Fortunately for some, Underground does it instead and for that we should be forever grateful.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Gordon shows the way

The New York Times have suggested that Gordon does good (their headline, not mine) on the package to save the banking system, (which is not quite the same as saving the banks). The Scotsman said similar things today as did Scotland on Sunday at the weekend,

There are two related things Gordon needs to do to make the most of this opportunity. He needs to translate this rebuilding of trust in him as a politician who has a plan into other policies )or in the case of 42 days, into listening and stopping them!). Connected to this but much more difficult is that he needs to make sure that the people know he sole focus is not the election but just what the country needs right now and in this most cynical of times that's a much harder task.

All of politics is about how the people feel and right now we feel we don't matter to the powerful. Gordon has "done good" with the places where power was abused, now he needs to help us feel he's "doing good" by the people who feel they have suffered because of those abuses of power and that's a whole lot more difficult a task.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The solution will not be found in cheap politcial point scoring

The credit crunch will hit us all no matter who we are so it is unacceptable of the SNP to try to engineer a political point even when everyone else is trying to work together. The claim that Scotland is owed £1b is nothing more than a "I haven'y a clue what to do so I'll blame it on Westminster" politics. After trying desperately to be the heroes of the hour with talk of buying HBOS when it was patently obvious that this was fairyland political posturing, the £1b claim is an attempt to create another "if only we were independent" story at a time when what is abundantly clear is that we need each other as nations more and more. Given that no Government is saying they can act alone, most Governments are saying they will follow the support model devised by Westminster and the cash needed by banks dwarfs the figure the SNP are demanding, what exactly is it the SNP think they could do that is not being don by Westminster? At a time when we needed statesmanship, their attempts at "oneupmanship" has simply let Scotland down.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

We cannot afford to fall

I had an outstanding day at the the Edinburgh Churches Climate Change Conference. 200 plus people of faith gathered together, determined to understand and to act on what is the most crucial of global issues. Even the credit crunch pales into insignificance given what will happen if we do not act now to reduce our carbon and our consumption.

With speeches from people like Chris Rapley of the British Museum and Michael Northcott of Edinburgh University and workshops as diverse as transition towns, micro generation, eco DIY, low carbon prayer, lobbying your politicians, act and music for the planet and much more there was something to motivate and inspire everyone,

You will be able to get all the presentations and speeches very soon at the conference website but there were a few gems to share with you now;

  • "Those that suffer the most from the effects of climate change are the one ones whose lifestyles contribute least to its coming"
  • "a Christian theology of climate change is as much driven by the call to love our unknown southern hemisphere neighbour as it is a debate about the garden of Eden or the big bang"
  • "we have a moral obligation to our global neighbour to change our destructive ways"

The conference was conceived as a catalyst to action for the Christian community in Edinburgh and beyond to be the powerful lobby it has to potential to be to demand action by politicians and also to be a witness for change in the communities where it serves. The Eco congregations movement, for example, puts words in to action at a local level, practicing what is preached. I hope and I pray that the conference will be just the first of many steps to the Christian community being in the forefront of the most important political movement God's earth has ever needed.

Friday, 10 October 2008

poetry; a sign of a healthy soul.

Meant to mention yesterday that it was National Poetry Day and the Poetry in St Andrews Square team spent several hours handing out free poems and offering a personal poetry shopper service! A simple but successful event with hundreds of poems given out and many happy customers.

It was not completely plain sailing. One "Edinburgh lady" looked somewhat distanfully at the proffered poem and said "oh not for me dear, I live here!"; an interesting insight as to how some Edinburgh residents of a certain socal order see their relationship to what happens in their city...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

maybe Marx was right about capitalism after all!

Despite consisting of nearly 1/2 a trillion taxpayers pounds the announcement of the Governments bank bailout seems to have had a "mixed" reaction in the city.

This irritates me no end. How ungrateful these chancers are who got us into this mess in the first place. I heard a so called "economics expert" on Good Morning Scotland this morning (sorry but I can't find the exact link) say first that the problem was that there were too many banks so there was too much competition but this intervention was bad news because it would remove competition. He then went on to say it would be better if instead a bank went down.

So let me get this right, competition is all except when there's too much of it. Government should stop this sort of thing but not intervene to sort the very thing that's been identified as the problem and its better if instead a bank goes bust, folk loose their jobs, mortgages savings pensions all in the name of improving competition which has been shown to be the problem in the first place. I knew I distrusted capitalist economics but these last few days have hardened then into outright dislike.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Boorish and Blinkered

Today's health and Social care committee was once again spoilt by a boorish convener who was so intent on conflict we at one point fell out over on something we were agreeing on!

In amongst the animosity oozing from the convener was a couple of good debates, one of which was the reports of the Council funded police officers. This was a plan begun by the Labour administration to fund addition officers to focus specifically on anti social behaviour issues. Recent numbers show that anti social behaviour crimes have dropped significantly where these officers are in place

Two things intrigue me about this. first; that the Libdems in particular are hailing this as a success when they consistently voted against budgets to increase the numbers of these officers. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, that you can spout all the number you like, people on the streets are not convinced that those streets are safer. This success story needs a completely different narrative but the SNP/Libdems fail to grasp that nettle and so this good news story is likely to not have the effect that it could have. Infact it is more likely to mean that folk are more cynical about political claims that bear little relationship to their experience

A feast fit for a community in celebration

I was honoured this evening to be a guest of the Edinburgh Pakistan Society at their EID dinner in the Brunton hall in Musselburgh. Fantastic food, excellent music, many old friends to meet from the Pakistan Community and beyond and I even won a prize (£10 voucher for a curry!) in the raffle! There is something special about a whole community getting together for a family event to celebrate what is a time of huge personal sacrifice (the Ramadan fasting) and then to invite us who do not take part in that journey to eat at the same celebratory table. If ever there was a sign of a community wanting to be part of the idea of "One Scotland, many cultures" it was tonight. I do wonder whether those of us who see ourselves as belonging to the "host culture" are ever as generous or welcoming or deliberate in our efforts to have the same commitment to diversity.

Monday, 6 October 2008

They do not tell the truth

Health and social care committee tomorrow has thrown up yet again the gap between words and action of the SNP/Libdems. At the August council meeting I proposed that we stop all tendering of services for the vulnerable until all those involved have been asked how they would like to approach making changes to their service. I was rebuffed by those who claimed that this was not necessary.

Now I see that one of the 6 priorities of the joint Physical and Complex disability strategy is "personalised budgets which empower people through person centred approaches and which offer choice and flexibility". Fine words but the reality for most vulnerable people who receive services not provided by the Council is that their service provider will be change whether or not they have a person centred approach or have been empowered or anything else that you can think of. It is hypocrisy of the highest order.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I was reduced to silence!

There are few things about the SNP/Libdem's incompetence that actually leave me speechless but this tale earned its teller silence from my lips. Apparently, when challenge about her complete lack of public statements about the utter chaos in Princes street last week caused by the roadworks for the trams; the Council Leader said "its not my job, that's the responsibility of the transport convener"

Unbelievable! Scotland's capital is at a standstill because of a huge error in the implementation of the biggest infrastructure project in decades and its nothing to do with the Leader of the Council...

This surely is taking their utterly unacceptable brand of "it wusny me" politics to the extreme and beyond!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Signs of light in the Labour tunnel

The "return of Mandy" caught me as unawares as it did everyone else and I am yet to be convinced that it is the right move in terms of what he will actually do, but it does offer four wee signs of hope;
  • That Gordon is willing to be brave and bold
  • That Gordon is willing to be decisive; (at last!)
  • That Gordon understands that unity in the party is more important that his own personal animosities and will act accordingly
  • and most importantly... the announcement happened with precious few leaks with none that happened in a manner that damaged the power of the decisions
Whatever Mandy might or might not do in office, this state of affairs feels a whole lot better than recent times

Thursday, 2 October 2008

there is no such thing as a free lunch

The SNP announcement that they are going to provide free meals for all kids in p1-3 has all the hallmarks of popular politics; to question it risks being portrayed as anti early intervention and taking food from wee kids mouths, but here goes;

It is argued that it helps bring calmer classrooms, that's one of the big claims of the Hull experience. But the afternoon too late, you've lost half the day by them. Free breakfasts would mean that effect would be achieved right away for much less money. In at least one school I know of in a difficult area, where over 80% of the children were persuaded and helped to take cheap breakfasts, that calming effect was achieved in the morning and lasted the day along with much improved attendance.

Its claimed that it removes stigma. A smart card system, as introduced in every high school in Edinburgh, removes stigma right away, means that those who need a free meal can get it and because the cost would be much less the level of incolme that qualifies for a free meal could be rasied. The smart card also gives you a tool that could that can be used for huge number of other educational and care purposes and avoids having to spend money on kids who do not need the service, giving more for those that really do need the support. Theologically its what I would call "a bias to the poor" which is a much better priority for a healthy society than feed dinners for the rich.

The suggestion is that it will help in the fight against obesity but what is the evidence that that is the case...and meals don't have to be free to be healthy or attractive.

It will cost a huge amount. That's why Hull stopped it. Given that we are already facing huge cuts in services, what will have to go to deliver this? Class sizes are growing, learning assistants have been cut, the cost of heating has gone through the roof, we have no money to pay for new school buildings, the list goes on, but somehow we are told that this is in the budget......once again its not our priorities any more, its central government; so much for devolving more power to local government then!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Worrying times for the faithful

I am noticing an worrying movement in attitudes to religion in the context of public policy which is not unconnected to the arrival of Sarah Palin on the American political stage. I have now seen a number of references to her very narrow views on based on her faith being used to challenge the idea of any faith based perspective contributing to the development of public discourse.

The reaction to the Royal Society's Professor Michael Riess comments that, "A student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one's world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson.” and that “creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view" in other words, its a good teacher to knows where their pupils are coming from, is very revealing in this context. He did NOT say at all that creationism should be taught in schools but that teachers need to know what they are dealing with when teaching science to those who believe in creationism. Professor Reiss seems to have been pilloried for being understanding about people who he did not agree with.

I think that Sarah Palin's theology is antithesis of the Bible I read. I think creationists are serious misguided, well ok, I think that they are just wrong. I believe that the evolutionary description of how we came to be on earth is about as accurate as we could have as a human narrative. It fits with my view of our relationship with God as creator and with my view of what it is to be alive through my eyes as a person of faith. But to pillory some-one because they wanted to understand how some-one sees the world when trying to get them to see things differently is also wrong and suggests that the reaction to Prof Reiss's comments was an example of those fundamentalists who would not have any mention of religion in any public debate be that on the presidential stage or in our classrooms rather than serious, constructive debate with those they do not agree with.

I do not expect everyone to agree with my world view but I do exert my right and that of my fellow believers to offer our views as part of the public debate that continues the writing of our common narrative of self understanding which is then amongst other things, reflected in our public policy making. I do not expect it to be rejected just because it is shaped by my faith as well as my experiences and my understanding of the world. Sadly and worryingly, it would appear that some folk are using the opportunity of world scrutiny of the narrow views of Sarah Palin to make sure that rejection is what will happen and that is not good for any of us.

Surgery Times

1st Wed @ Piershill Library, 30 Piershill Terrace.
2nd Wed @ Craigentinny Community Centre, Loaning Rd.
3rd Wed @ Duddingston Primary School, Duddingston Rd.

All 7:15pm -7:45pm

and the last Sat. Lochend YWCA, 198 Restalrig Road South
12noon -1pm

(no appointment needed, all during school terms)
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