Mike Vickers' Blog

August 31, 2013

British Parliament, Syria and Poetry

Filed under: History in the making, In Our Time, Poetry, Politics — derryvickers @ 9:11 am

Alf Young in today’s Scotsman quotes from Seamus Heaney on the debate on Thursday night in which Cameron was defeated in his attempt to seek permission for Britain to join the US to send a warning shot to Assad in Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people.

‘Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,

Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune

Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,

Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight

Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.

Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.

Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.’

See the full article @


Seamus Heaney died this week

If one looks at Syria itself a quote from Yeats seems more appropriate

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’

All three persona, Alf Young, Seamus Heaney and William Butler Yeats it would appear come from Ireland.

August 25, 2013

Festival of Politics – 24 August 13

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:10 pm

The Festival of Politics (FoP) is an event held annually and timed to coincide with the Edinburgh International Festival.  It is held in the Holyrood  Parliament Building.  Till now the FoP has been a very broad based enterprise with a wide range of panellists but this year there were less discussions and more concentration on the great and the good.  Nevertheless it was enjoyable and here are my notes on the four discussions I went to.

The Future of Europe and Small Nations. (Charlie Jeffery, David Edwards, Fabian Zuleeg, Tim Phillips (US), Peter Jones (Chair))

  • Small nations need shelter
  • Scotland still in favour of Europe 60% rather than England <50%
  • Almost certain that an independent Scotland would be a member of the EU
  • All European countries on the world stage are small and getting smaller
  • Scotland will get on well in Europe provided personnel happy to work twice as hard – Staff need to start early in their  careers
  • Top jobs not necessarily to the big boys
  • As changes in EU rules need be signed by all, small countries may use their veto
  • Centre of gravity of EU moving east German / Polish border – Germany French axis dead
  • English renegotiation – other than a few good sounding items, the other countries will say get lost
  • Power comes from what you attract not what you project: Scotland well placed to attract : exploit assets
  • Small states need to make alliances – middle Europe could be good – rather than the Nordics
  • It’s not potential power, its actual power that counts
  • The World is going distributed
  • Costa Rica good example on world stage

Culture and Broadcasting (James Boyle, David Elstein, Ruth Wishart, Brian Wilson, Magnus Linklater (chair))

  • Culture highly stratified in Scotland – 450,000 tickets sold for High Culture/Arts but taken up at 2% 3% high end of market – excludes TV and radio
  • Illiteracy in Scotland is high and worse in big cities
  • Introduce culture and thereby literacy through pre-school education
  • JD critical of recent review on broadcasting lead by  – spending £75m on a Scottish digital channel focusing on Scottish news and events misuse of scarce money – should be spent on developing talent and R&D
  • DE – BBC should restructure itself before the Referendum and get it out of the Independence debate
  • RW considers there needs to be a channel to get new talent on to the air waves
  • All agreed that BBC Scotland is currently a disaster – BBC would be responsive and quickly to public demand
  • I tackled JB after wards as to why has BBC Scotland so degenerated – his response that eth money had been diverted elsewhere at the Scottish end
  • Broadcasting the best way of distributing culture
  • All agreed that culture needs to be more distributed – BBC Alba got high praise – agreed that more distribution along these lines highly desirable

Identity and Community – the Happy Lands

  • Just watched the Happy Lands film – didn’t wait for the discussion which looked to be no more than ½ hour
  • The film a reconstructed documentary of miners’ strike in 1926 (at Glencraig?) – Things have changed for the better.  How different the documentary from the press reports at the time


  • Unfortunate to say the least the battle between Thatcher and Scargill killed off mining in this country.  Real Communities – Recently the Bathgate Brass Band performed at Linlithgow Arts Guild – simply great

The Power of Social Media (Rachel Gibson, Michael White, Kate Higgins, Gregor Poynton, David Torrance (Chair))

  • RG opened with a few slides – purpose: enhance citizens, lower information costs, make political actions, open new channel
  • Application for Presidential Elections from 2004 to Obama 2008 onto Obama 2012 – but looks to no longer novel – now just one of the politician’s armoury – 2008 the high point.
  • US politics money driven
  • SNP use in 2011, Labour on the back foot, BeppoGrillo Italian elections.
  • Do not forget that Twitter and Facebook are commercial ventures
  • MW – astonishing new technology but still require the doorstep call for the personal contact
  • Will social media displace the politician – no
  • Successful politicians all showmen; but increasingly need to be careful about what they do
  • No comments on digital newspapers eg Huffington Post and Newsnet Scotland

In discussion with MW and RG afterwards RG asked if Twitter is not passed it – we discussed whether the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square was driven forward with tweeting and I think we agreed it was;  newspapers will continue – still a need for more analysis  – newspapers selling news packages – Daily Mail, FT, Guardian – I mention I had read the Guardian Weekly for years.

August 21, 2013

Edinburgh Fringe on the Common Weal

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Lesley Riddoch, Philosophy, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 7:11 pm

Discussion today, 21 August 2103 on the Common Weal at the Fringe.  If you would like more on the Jimmy Reid’s Foundation: Common Weal go to http://reidfoundation.org/common-weal/.

Also Lesley Riddoch has just published a book ‘Blossom’ on the Future of Scotland published by Luath.

The points I picked up at the discussion are;

Robin McAlpine

  • Buildable, share more.
  • Not big state, rather radical decentralisation.

In Scotland.

  • The majority of the population earn less than £20,000.
  • There is effectively no labour market.
  • Increase quality of jobs and the tax problem goes away
  • Start to start again from first principles.
  • New set of Institutions
  • Independence is not an identity problem
  • At present the Independence debate is more like Civil War.

Lesley Riddoch – the Nordics.

  • 80 years of Hydro, land ownership by the communities.
  • Communities are empowered.
  • In Sweden anyone earning less than £30,000 does not pay tax

Looking at Scotland;

  • ‘Stand there till I fix you’.
  • Cameron cherry picks the bits he likes
  • Forget average shift, rather shift average.
  • Human capacity..

James Meadway.

  • Sharpest fall in living standards in England for generations.
  • Papers say that England is booming, housing market overheated. In practice only London is booming.
  • The rest of the UK is suffering; the government in Westminster pays only lip service to the North East , North West.
  • Councils in England are without any authority, everything is centralised in Westminster.
  • We are only 20% through the crisis

Robin McAlpine again

  • Corporates v the Individual
  • Throw away the Tax Code  – start again
  • National Investment Bank

Lesley Riddoch again.

  • What is required is common sense.
  • Too many armchair theorists – get out there at the grass-roots
  • Good things are happening in Glasgow
  • It’s a question of self-help.
  • Scotland does not make use of its women, compare the Nordics.
  • It’s all about owners of assets

The points I took on board are:

All agreed that we need decentralisation desperately -whether in Scotland or the whole of the UK.

The Left has been asleep – Rumpelstiltskin.

We are not using our human capacity.

There was no good feeling that Independence would bring decentralisation. In my opinion Independence could lead to more centralisation; the government will claim that only that way can they save the economic problems they have inherited.

The problem is that major change as suggested by the Common Weal will only be brought about by major active political intervention. Unfortunately none of the political parties at Westminster at least are willing to take on radical reform. It was tentatively suggested that the Jimmy real foundation should form its own party.

We are looking at 50 years of hard slog.

August 17, 2013

Scotland’s Population – no need to increase

Filed under: economics, Journalism, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:22 pm

Three interesting articles in the last few days of the Scotsman

  1. On Thursday Michael Kelly why the future doesn’t belong to Glasgow. Glasgow is no longer the vibrant city that it was in the 19th century.


  1. Today Alf Young has an article Time for push on population front .  He bemoans that Scotland’s population is growing much less than the rest of the UK. Like so many others he equates population growth to economic growth.


  1. In contrast on Friday the Scotsman: Boom time for  Scottish islands. Understandably Shetland is doing better than the other islands, however it is good to see that the Western Isles are also growing significantly.

What do I make all these articles. It is not surprising Glasgow is not keeping up with the rest of the World  indeed it would be surprising if it were. After all it is no longer industrial heart of Britain indeed it is not even industrial heart of Scotland; shipbuilding and building railway engines have long since moved away. Further Glasgow’s need for steel has also gone. Taking Alf Young’s dictum if economic growth decreases then population will decrease. There should be nothing surprising in this. What is gratifying is that the population of the Western Isles is growing this can only be a healthy sign.

All we now need is an electric interconnector between Western Isles and the mainland.  And given good broadband we could foresee an even greater increase in that islands population.  Also in Friday’s Scotsman is a little article about the GP moving to Jura from Yorkshire and loving it.

What’s Scotland should be looking for is a better distribution of its population and if the population does decrease there should be no stigma in this.

August 14, 2013

Good Music – Edinburgh Festival

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Music, Personal — derryvickers @ 7:00 pm

Last evening the concert was Patti Smith and Philip Glass celebrating the work of the poet Allen Ginsberg; the concert the concert was outstanding, the audience overwhelmed.  Folk/pop concerts are new to me.  Today I was much more in my normal environment at the Queens Hall. It was a group playing woodwind, string, piano and song. By Mozart, Schubert, Glinka and Brahms.  I particularly enjoyed the Schubert, the Shepherd on the Rock; there is no one better at writing music for poetry in the classical repertoire than Schubert.  The group was fronted by the clarinettist and the pianist. The group were mainly Australian. The clarinettist who played in all the pieces was Nicola Boud as did the pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout. Nicola Boud obviously delights in the clarinet and is reputed to have 30 different instruments varying instruments of from Mozart’s time up to the present. See her YouTube

You can hear today’s performance on the pod provided by BBC Radio Three: it will be available for the next week.


Why do I like the Queens Hall, it’s partly because I’m close to the players, it’s also partly because I am deaf and the groups that play are small and you can hear the each individual quite clearly. And of course the music comes directly to you, so different from either the TV or radio.

But back to my initial comment on “ normal environment”; is today’s concert  really that different from last evenings concert with Patti Smith and Philip Glass. Okay people would say that one is classical, the other approaches folk.  Today and last night I was watching and listening to groups playing, singing and making good music including poetry. In both cases the atmosphere was intimate and a Patti Smith said earlier in the day, it’s not just the players but it’s the audience as well who have to be partners in the performance.

August 10, 2013

Population, Land and the irrelevance of Independence to the fate of Scotland

Filed under: economics, Politics, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 9:12 am

There are two articles in yesterday’s Scotsman (09/08/12), the first on Scotland’s growing population and the second by Joyce McMillan on the Arts and Independence; taking first Scotland’s growth, the article takes the assumption that growth like economic growth is advantageous.  Yet taking a paragraph out of Joyce McMillan’s article, following independence, whatever the outcome, Scottish society will still face the same intractable issues of economic recession, structural unemployment, environmental stress, shameful inequality and routine abuse of power that plague governments across the planet.

If I now go back to the first article on growth I note from the map provided in the article that the growth has been concentrated in the south east around Edinburgh but that the growth in the Western Isles and in the Highlands has either been small or negative.  This takes me back to a previous blog where I make the point that sorting out the Highland land problem in making land more fully available to a wider population, will not necessarily get the population back into the Highlands or Islands where a growth in population would certainly be advantageous.

As I see it, independence will not solve either the problems that Joyce McMillan brings up, the dubious value of growth whether population or economic, or the repopulation of the Highlands and Islands. Joyce McMillan also makes the point that given that the only options available in the Referendum are Yes or No removes the possibility of a more Devo Max based solution which most of the population seek.

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