Mike Vickers' Blog

October 14, 2018

Festival of Politics

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, History in the making, Land Ownership, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:29 pm

For the last 15 years The Scottish Parliament has been holding a Festival of Politics.  The festival typically provides 20 events: talks and panels on topics of political interest both current and from the past,  local and world wide.  I have attended for the last three years and below I provide very brief summaries as to what I picked up from the 5 events I attended this year.

Red Clydesiders

Panel: Maggie Craig (Writer on Scotland); Billy Kendrick (from Dundee and it showed); Prof Ian McClean (Oxford University) and Monica Lennon MSP Chair (Labour, Central Scotland).

Introductions by all on Red Clydeside but see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red Clydeside for more.

The speakers emphasised the role of women in the strikes and the movement as a whole; MC in particular considered that the role was / is almost wholly ignored.

Religious intolerance rife during the WW1 War Years.

Names of the persona were remembered. There should be a plaque in 2019 to recognise Red Clydeside.

The real start of the Labour Party (ILP) but the Communist association had been around for some time. Council Housing after WW1 was good quality but has got worse ever since (IM).

The current problem with the Labour Party is the lack of leaders.

What Glasgow did, Dundee did it too (BK).

People Parliaments Possibilities

Panel: Birgitta Jonsdottir (Iceland, mother and political activist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birgitta_J%C3%B3nsd%C3%B3ttir); Brett Hennig (Sortition Foundation, Australian); Jamie Kelsey-Fry (professional panellist) and Shelagh Wright Chair (daughter of Canon Kenyon Wright).

BJ described drawing up the proposed constitution for Iceland; she was very proud of the work done. But constitution so far rejected by the parliament.

Current Elections ‘aristocratic’.

BK: Democracy by random selected committee (Sortition); applied in Ireland for change to Abortion Laws group assembled for a few weeks and then became the then current law.

JKF: throw out everything, economics is broken and start again even the laws; Taxation is politics. Remember the Occupation of St Pauls. All the good work being done in Madrid by new woman mayor; Frome is moving this way.

All agreed that the Young should lead the way.


In Conversation with Dame Margaret Hodge held in the main council chamber

Ken Macintosh (Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament)

Margaret Hodge one-time Chair of the UK Public Accounts Committee 2010-15

MH, a Jew, came out of Germany before WW2; Welcomed into the UK in London and became a Labour supporter immediately and still is; she is still an MP for Barking.

An economist by trade

She was Council Leader for Islington and remembers Jeremy Corbyn well (MP for Islington North). Corbyn is still quoting the same policies he said 20 years ago

Have never been close friends leading to Corbyn’s Anti-Semitism remarks direct at Hodge.

Not a practising Jew and critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians but still fell out with Corbyn

She managed the Public Accounts Committee through consensus. Her track record was 246 out of 247 successes. Lost the Royal Mail privatisation which she most regrets. Journalists can be on your side through good relations but its so easy to lose connections.

One needs to recognise the value of money

Auditors help Governments to set the rules then sell themselves to large companies to circumvent the rules. This is immoral.

She was persuaded to put one person under investigation under Oath but then couldn’t find a Bible. Since then she believes that putting people under Oath is correct. Money Laundering is rife.

The HMRC make tax deals but as the HMRC is not a ministerial organisation these deals remain undisclosed: this needs correction.

Governments are little better: the justification for the two aircraft carriers was not forthcoming by Gordon Brown.

Global Companies are not moral despite what they state. Needs to be one unified global set of accounts. Facebook has never been held to account.

Final words; Build Trust, Connect with People, still supports Labour values.


A Forgotten History: The Scottish Clearances

In Conversation with Tom Devine held in the main council chamber

Ken Macintosh (Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Professor Tom Devine: historian of Scotland – excellent speaker

Professor Stana Nenadic in attendance

The Main debating chamber was full as well as the public gallery

The Clearances: forgotten – well not by the audience!

The subject was Tom Devine’s new book on the Scottish Clearances. He frequently emphasised that his book is totally underpinned by historical research over 30 years.

TD has given as much attention to the Lowland Clearances as to the Highlands. He doesn’t dismiss the Highland Clearances but considers they have been for the last 150 years romanticised. John Pebble’s book is a good read, sold over 25,000 copies, but has a lot to answer for; Victorianism has not helped.

Tartan Products are the best-known brand worldwide. TD considers the Lowland Clearances started first and Lowland Managers migrated with the lessons they learned to the Highlands. TD considers the Lowland clearances were much more subtle; a tenancy agreement came to an end and the tenant was out. In the Highlands durcus (correct word please) remained strong and new landlords with little interest in it just deposed the crofters.

SN believes a major driver of the clearances was the landlords’ need for money to support their elevated life style (conspicuous consumption); gentrification.  Typically, families would have ten or more sons who just couldn’t be supported on the land; joined the army and were with their tenants the backbone of the imperial regiments about, Waterloo. Their tartans help builds the brand.


Who Owns and Stewards Scotland

Panel: Andy Wightman (the Poor had no Lawyers); Bob MacIntosh (Land Commission); Ninian Stuart (Centre for Stewardship); David Johnson (Scottish Land and Estates Commission) and in the chair Deputy Presiding Officer – Name please.

There are few owners of land in Scotland; most small farmers are tenants. Agreed that the drive must be to get more young people under 30 on to the land.

Land value is very difficult to assess; AW land value near towns gets out of control once planning permission sort.

Land Value Tax brought up, but DJ said many reasons why difficult to quantify.

House prices fluctuate widely cf Germany where prices have been stable of years; the Germans heavy investment deposited in banks which is reinvested in new businesses.

Secure Tenancy is drying up as landlords unwilling to be unable to terminate at tenancy end. Nevertheless, Land is still a free market.

Brexit will make a difference in subsidies and margins which are already very small will reduce further.

Climate change will drive tree planting and NS is keen on huts but not holiday homes.

DJ expressed the need for much better understanding across the communities

Government needs to be more active in stewardship and technology is becoming very important.

The Land Register is improving. Common Good needs to be better document (AW).

AW is looking forward to a new Land Reform Bill hopefully next years

But surprising the meeting was low key with little acrimony.

If I could have remembered the Author I would have stood up and quoted Mark Twain

“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

August 23, 2018

The Handlebards

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Music, Personal — derryvickers @ 6:57 pm

The Handlebards play this year at the Edinburgh Festival is Twelfth Night. If you have not come across them, they are four young men travelling the country on bikes performing Shakespeare (known as the Bard). They have been doing so for at least four years. They carry all their props, usually little more than a few costumes and a curtain to change behind which they do all the time, as the four of them play ALL the parts.

Their blurb states We are a troupe of cycling actors who carry all the set, props and costume needed to perform extremely energetic, charmingly chaotic and environmentally sustainable Shakespeare plays across the globe’. Their diction is perfect Shakespeare and they are word perfect.

To Twelfth Night it’s a silly comedy where twins Viola and Sebastian who get shipwrecked on a small island and are parted in the Storm (a typical Shakespeare theme). The sister dresses in men’s clothes so much so that they are indistinguishable and get involved in love affairs between the two important people on the island Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia. It all finishes with Viola pairing with Duke Orsino and Sebastian with Countess Olivia. But there is much fun and confusion in between.

As usual with Shakespeare there is a second plot with the servants Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria plan revenge on Malvolio, a pompous official, with a plan to persuade Malvolio that Olivia fancies him and wishes him to show his affection by dressing up in yellow including crossed garters; Maria knows that Olivia hate all these things. Malvolio takes the bate and speaks the famous quote “’Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. Suffice to say that when Malvolio appears before Olivia, she is bewildered and despatches Malvolio to an asylum.

For more on the play go to:

Sorry, this all seems a nonsense play which it is; but played out by the Handlebards it is hilarious and provides for good audience participation even to dragging members of the audience on stage. When Malvolio gives his famous quote, the whole audience chanted also. Throughout the four players were constantly changing garments and when Viola and Sebastian were finally both on stage of course they weren’t, only their hats that they had worn throughout were there held by their two final partners with the actual player dancing from one to the other changing his speaking genders accordingly.

They included in this show a significant number of Shakespeare’s lyrics.

For a flavour of the Handlebards try:


But tghe only real way to appreciate sheer joie de vivre of the Handlebards is to see one of their shows

BTW There are now the Girls Handlebards

August 25, 2014

Marvellous music composed in extreme adversity

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Music, Personal, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:04 pm

Away from the politics – well not the usual politics.

Today at the Edinburgh Festival it was Sofie Von Otter and ‘friends’ as they now say, at the Queens Hall.  One friend was Daniel Hope, violinist, born in South Africa and brought up in Britain (I have to be careful at this time whether I say Britain or the UK).

Anyway the concert was superb.  All the music was written by Jews interned in Theresienstadt (Bohemia) .  None of them survived – all sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  It’s amazing how their music survived – one lady, llse Weber,  buried hers in the ground – how much more didn’t survive.  Mixture of sad, traumatic, thoughtful and even a few comic songs.  A flourishing, outpouring of music under unbelievable adversity.  The only composer I had come across before was Pavel Haas – but what about Robert Dauber, Viktor Ullman, Karel Svenk, Martin Roman, Erwin Schulhoff, Carlo Sigmund Taube.

Von Otter sang well and could let it rip when the songs demanded but this was seldom.  But to me it was the violin of Hope that brought the tears to my eyes –Schulhoff’s Violin Sonata No2 and his Sonata for solo violin were stupendous.

A concert to remember.

It is a complete paradox to me how the Israeli government can wage such war against Gaza, after they suffered so much in WW2.  May be its just continued insecurity

August 13, 2014

Politics and the failure of the West to move on

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, Europe, Politics — derryvickers @ 6:17 am

We attended a talk on Politics with David Runciman, professor of politics Cambridge University – at the Edinburgh Book Festival

  1. Thesis – Since 1989 when the Wall came down technology / technocracy has changed beyond belief (eg self driving car done 100,000 miles on real roads in US – (pity the US has no trains!)) but politics hasn’t
  2. 3 UK parties still the same
  3. Teaching students who weren’t even born in 1989
  4. China governed by engineers
  5. Clash of political classes – the West and China – sometime
  6. West – Europe and US politics dysfunctional
  7. 9/11 has had little change in West – but rest of world has changed
  8. Horror in Syria and Iraq
  9. Yet politics not obsolete.
  10. Only Politicians can bring the multinationals to order eg Cameron can stop Google (but does he want to?)
  11. To question will Scotland be different – well may be for a few years, but will just drift back.
  12. To question How should politics change? he gave no answer (may be his book has) but he stressed that it will and must – the people will demand it.
  13. There remains the question not posed on how Middle East horror will be contained.

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 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.

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