Friday, 13 September 2019

In Conversation with... Nicola Sturgeon

Like many other young people in Scotland, my interest in domestic politics grew significantly around the time of the 2014 Independence Referendum. Since then, I have become deeply invested in the road toward Scottish independence and the UK political landscape in general. When I got the opportunity to attend an ‘In Conversation With…’ event at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Nicole Sturgeon as guest, I was both delighted and intrigued to see whether the First Minister carried the same strength in belief and conviction in speech in person as she does in the media. 

Interviewed by journalist Graham Spiers, Sturgeon spoke at length about the two main topics of the day; Brexit and Scottish Independence. Since the majority of the audience seemed like-minded in their political stance and enthusiastic supporters of Scottish independence already, the atmosphere felt warm, open and encouraging of Sturgeon to elaborate on any coming plans for a move toward a second independence referendum. On this, Sturgeon insisted that if Scotland should vote to become an independent country, it should be an independence internationally recognised, with no qualms about its legitimacy. This, Sturgeon emphasised, could only be achieved by going through the process of getting a section 30 order granted by the Westminster government so that the appropriate powers could be transferred to Holyrood, thereby allowing the Scottish government to hold the referendum. As many of us already know, however, a Tory government giving the go ahead for SNP to call another independence referendum is a difficulty unto itself. Tory PM after Tory PM have shown not so much reluctance as outright refusal to grant Scotland a vote for which it has proven it has a democratic mandate to hold.

Although she sympathised with Yes voters who may look for a loophole or shortcut to push through an independence referendum quicker, the First Minister maintained throughout the interview and the Q&A with the audience that took place afterwards that parliamentary procedure and democratic process should be present and respected at all times. So why, Sturgeon wondered aloud, is the question never put to Johnson and his Tory government as to why they are consistently unwilling to grant the section 30 order? Since by doing so, they are actively ignoring and rejecting the democratic will of the Scottish people? The exchange highlighted the way in which SNP demonstrate a measured and considered approach to such crucial issues such as independence and Brexit despite the soundbite politics of recent times. Indeed, Sturgeon showed a real desire to restore voters with clarity and detail, something she insinuated has been lost in the come-what-may, do-or-die politics of late.

On the matter of detail, when asked by Spiers why public feeling toward independence always wavered, with polls showing support for Yes either dipping or increasing but never remaining in the overwhelming majority, Sturgeon attributed it to her belief that the Scottish people always want to know why (or ‘how?!’). She refuted the suggestion from Spiers that we are simply ‘feart’ and instead praised the Scottish people in our desire to get to the bottom of things; to educate ourselves on matters, to truly understand things, to scrutinise and, crucially, to recognise the weight and consequences such a life-changing vote would have on our future and the future of generations to come. Sturgeon cited economic upheaval and Brexit turmoil as the reason why it is unsurprising that the Yes vote has struggled to find a continuum among Scots over the years, and underlined the importance of nuance when a question is put to the nation regarding its future. Say what you like about the independence referendum, Sturgeon remarked, but the white paper put forth by the Scottish government in 2014 contained a hefty amount of information about what an independent Scotland would look like. Could the same be said for Brexit?

On the subject of Westminster parties banding together to prevent a no-deal Brexit and to come together against Boris Johnson’s plans, or perhaps lack thereof, to crash out of the EU by the end of October, Sturgeon ended the talk on a hopeful note. The First Minister condemned the tribalism of modern politics and expressed the need for political parties to operate less out of party interest and more out of a common interest to see the country out of the political chaos from which it has been submerged for three years. In finding a kernel of common ground, Sturgeon indicated that in this agonising interim between Brexit Britain and a potential independent Scotland, positive change can emerge for parties and voters across the political spectrum.

Throughout the talk, Sturgeon did not shy away from any questions nor any insinuations from Spiers designed to undermine the urgency for another independence referendum as he asked, ‘so it wasn’t really a once in a lifetime referendum back in 2014, then, was it?’ Although Spiers seemed more on the wind up in his quip quoting Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond, Sturgeon’s response was one which echoed the words of political activist, Thomas Paine, when he said, “as we are not to live forever ourselves, and other generations are to follow us, we have neither the power nor the right to govern them, or to say how they shall govern themselves.” In other words, no one generation should determine the political destiny of the next generation to come. And although independence is what Sturgeon has fought for her entire political life thus far, she rejected the idea that independence would be a self-indulgent quest for the SNP, but rather the next step in protecting Scottish interests and responding to public mood as the tide seems to turn in favour of a Yes vote. After all, becoming an independent country is not a radical notion, she reminded the audience, nor a whimsical or romantic fantasy driven by illusions of Braveheart-style grandeur. It is natural for a country to want to lead itself, to vote on its own affairs and to navigate its own future. Sturgeon joked that the SNP wanted independence yesterday, but she made it clear that simply getting an independence referendum was not the summit of her ambitions. This time, Sturgeon wants to go all the way; to get a legitimate, credible and overwhelming win. This time, Sturgeon wants Scotland to say Yes.

Friday, 2 August 2019

TRNSMT Festival 2019

Attending TRNSMT Festival for the first time this year suggested to me that the unraveling state of the world around us may be having more of an impact than we think on our enjoyment of music festivals, particularly in Glasgow where religious and political tensions seem to bleed into many aspects of social life. Here I give my personal experience of TRNSMT 2019 and what I was disappointed to uncover over the weekend.

Located in Glasgow Green, getting to and from TRNSMT was relatively easy considering how central and, if you live in Glasgow, local a spot it is. Trains ran later to accommodate those who lived further afield and no night proved hazardous in getting a taxi home (Uber was the official transport partner for the festival this year so this might have been why). There is no camping at TRNSMT which could be good or bad depending on personal preference but for me, it was a total novelty to sleep in my own bed after a long day at the festival and to actually feel clean and ready when returning the next day. Over the three days, the portaloos were maintained to a high standard and regularly checked by staff and although the price of food and drink was quite high, I didn’t feel robbed. The turnaround in terms of the clean-up each day was really impressive, too. At the end of the night, you could barely see grass for litter but by the next morning, the Green was immaculate. Everything was made that much more enjoyable owing to the glorious weather, of course.  

However, despite all of the above, there was a side to the weekend at TRNSMT Festival which I had not anticipated. The sectarianism. Since TRNSMT usually falls around the same dates as the Orange Walk – a controversial decision which resulted in last year’s festival being held over two separate weekends so as to not directly coincide with the Walk – perhaps it was naïve of me not to have expected some sort of nod to it, if you like. But it was the scale of the sectarian chants and comments I overheard, most disappointingly from the younger contingent attending the festival, which took me aback. On the Friday, groups of boys chanted ‘f*** the pope’ to the chorus of ‘Sweet Caroline’ before Gerry Cinnamon took the mainstage. On the Saturday, as I was waiting in the queue for my bag to be checked and ticket to be scanned, a group of girls behind my sister and I, around fifteen or sixteen years old, were singing sectarian songs. One of the girls tapped me on the shoulder with a brash, ‘’scuse me, are you a Catholic?’ On the Sunday, I spotted groups of girls with ‘FTP’ and ‘WATP’ written in glitter across their arms and legs. Even on the Monday, once the festival was over, a video of a man making sectarian remarks toward a fellow festivalgoer went viral on social media.

In all cases, what struck me most was a feeling of palpable rage, but a rage from which I could detect no real substance. In other words, I got the impression that certain individuals weren’t quite sure why they were saying these things or asking these questions or singing these songs, but they were, and they were quite incensed about it. The obvious explanation would be that, what is being passed down from generation to generation is a narrow-minded and staunch mentality of how you must maintain division between Catholic and Protestant; Celtic and Rangers (with the very problem being that many conflate the two in the first place). Now with the rise of figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage normalising the use of racist rhetoric, it seems the floodgates of hate have been flung wide open, making individuals look to their football team to retain a sense of identity in the midst of a chaotic and uncertain world.

I believe organisers of TRNSMT Festival and other events similar must take responsibility for the behaviour of their audience so as to exemplify openness and tolerance as opposed to facilitating behaviour which derives from outdated and harmful attitudes. Organisers must be aware of the tensions that will occur during certain times in the Scottish calendar and be more diligent with their rules and restrictions in terms of audience conduct in response. For instance, I think the banning of football tops from the festival should be introduced next year, along with more rigorous behavioural checks, particularly at the entrance of the grounds. Although there are many anti-social behaviour signs erected on the approach to Glasgow Green, more staff should be on the ground near the stages so that offensive language can be reported, called out and dealt with quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, I hope that the younger generation will reject any encouragement from peers to proposition, provoke or humiliate others on the grounds of their religion, political persuasion or football team. Doing so has no place in today’s society and undermines the effort put in over decades to disperse such division. 

Ultimately, I’m so glad I went to TRNSMT Festival. Whether it’s Stormzy sampling Labour MP David Lammy’s speech on racial inequality in Britain to accompany an incredible and impactful performance, or Lewis Capaldi donning a Chewbacca mask in order to later auction it in aid of mental health charity Tiny Changes, music festivals can be an escape from life, an escape into music. Although we may be right in the centre of Glasgow, surrounded by high rises and the buzz of city life not too far off in the distance, we exist in our own place, a place that we have created unto ourselves; a place that exists the moment the festival starts and ceases to exist the moment it ends. In the midst of it all, though, we must remember that music and festivals and the magic made when both collide is solely reserved for the good of the soul, not for the scathing, backwards attitudes of those who attempt to drag Glasgow back into the regressive depths from which, in many ways, it has already emerged.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Graduate

Graduating from University has been one of the greatest achievements of my life so far. Regardless of how cliché it sounds, it's quite simply true. However, the university experience didn't come without its many challenges. Throughout my four years of study, there have been times where I've been so racked with nerves over an impending deadline, or so completely anxious at the prospect of an exam which I didn't feel particularly confident about, that I wondered if I would be able to see the challenge through to the end.

A moment of such which stands out is travelling to London for my cousin's wedding back in March. My dissertation was due for submission in a matter of weeks and although I was happy to get a change of scene, I knew that any hopes of escapism would be futile. I was correct. I had barely been in the airport two minutes before I spotted an American boy from one of my English Literature tutorials sitting across from me in Departures. He had his laptop out and was typing away intently. What was he doing? Was he writing his dissertation as well? What chapter was he on? Had he finished the first draft and was now editing? God, had he finished the whole bloody thing and this was him now flying home? I posited these questions to my mum, dad and sister, the panic rising in my voice. All three replied with an expression a mixture between bewilderment, sympathy and concern.

Nevertheless, as Nelson Mandela once said, "it always seems impossible until it's done" and now that university is done, I can now reflect somewhat objectively on my university experience. Doing so got me thinking of the advice I would perhaps give to my seventeen year old self about to embark on her first year at University of Glasgow. It goes like this:

1. Show up. Go to every class and lecture. If you're anxious about the class - go. If you feel disheartened by your performance in the class - go. If you're passing that particular class or module with flying colours - go.

I studied Spanish at university and so for me, feeling a bit insecure about speaking in front of the class in a foreign language or not understanding a tutor's question straight away was always a bit daunting. However, The Fear can only be negated by confronting the source from which the fear itself stems from. Showing up regardless of how intense these fears or doubts or nerves are is a promising start to growing in confidence and eventually becoming fearless altogether.

2. Use your resources. Meet your tutor or lecturer to discuss your grades further. This will help you gain greater insight into the feedback you've received. A lot of the time, feedback is brief and quite general so it really is worth hearing your tutor expand on the comments they have made so as to reassure yourself that you're on the right track, even if you didn't initially think so. Also, meet with Learning and Writing Advisers whenever you feel like you need extra support.

I only started using the Academic Learning services in Junior and Senior Honours and regretted not doing so earlier once I realised how helpful they were. Most advisers are young PHD students who are just as appreciative that you have went to them for help as you are for them to be helping you. Ultimately, every effort you make to improve the standard of your university work will work in your favour. And if you believe in the law of attraction like I do, then not only will your tutors, lecturers and classmates recognise it, but the universe will too.

3. Don't neglect your mental health. University can be full on - mentally, emotionally, socially, academically - so it's important to always be mindful of yourself. We're all built differently and can withstand different pressures but you know yourself better than anyone else does. If you feel like you need a day off just to catch up on sleep or have a coffee with your friend or to simply zone out on your own for a few hours then absolutely do it. After all, these things are therapy in their own way, and offloading to those closest to you can be immensely cathartic during those times when you need to talk yourself out of your own head.

The accessibility of mental health services for students and young people in general remains such a sore subject, and many feel let down or unsupported by such services particularly within their university. I really hope that, since the stigma that has surrounded mental health for decades seems to finally be lifting, a substantial improvement will be made to the way in which mental health is approached and dealt with for the next generation of students. For some, probably for the vast majority in fact, keeping on top of their mental health is not as simple as doing yoga or lighting a candle or hashtagging 'self care' on Instagram. On the contrary, it is very real and sometimes a great strain to maintain a good and healthy headspace and so, in my opinion, making your mental health a priority from the get go is vital. Work hard to make your future a bright, secure and successful one, yes, but look out for yourself in the present as well because that's the person who will take you there.

Navigating the world of work post-graduation is another kettle of fish of course, and something I'd like to write about when I have a bit more experience of it. For now, I hope this advice will suffice for any students out there who feel a bit overwhelmed or stressed. Keep the heed!